What does a zoo do when it has a newly singled spider monkey? They contact the matchmaker or Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinator in this case.

And that’s just what Lee Richardson Zoo did after Daisy, the red-bellied spider monkey, passed away last September. Bruno, the 23-year-old male spider monkey, has been getting lots of added attention from his caretakers since that time, but the company of other spider monkeys is preferred for a spider monkey when possible. After all, they speak the same “language.”

So when the matchmaker (SSP coordinator) gets notified of a lone primate, they gather all the pertinent information and begin to look for a match. Sometimes this is for companionship, and other times there’s a possibility of reproduction to help keep the population genetically healthy. There may be a number of animals to match up at any one time, enough so that every one of them may not end up with a recommendation to join another. There are only so many open spots. Some spots are for females, some for males, some for non-reproductive animals and others for reproductive ones with the right genetic makeup to support the population.

It’s quite complicated and utilizes special computer programs designed to produce the best recommendations for the population as a whole. SSPs often have big planning sessions once a year that can last hours to days to cover the entire population. There are many things to consider: age, location, medical history, behavioral history and more. Social issues specific to the species also have to be considered. Male spider monkeys really don’t get along with each other very well at all, so in Bruno’s case, the number of possible companions was drastically cut — only females need apply. With up to date information added, the computer program does its thing, the SSP coordinator and institutional representatives (speaking for the specific animals involved) bring in the less tangible issues (i.e. behavior, likes and dislikes), and if you’re lucky, a possible companion is identified and then the families (zoos) start discussing arrangements.

Bruno is a very special spider monkey. He has experience living compatibly with an older female (Daisy). That was the winning ticket in this case, since there is an older lone female at another zoo also looking for a companion. Kelly is 39 years old, and her zoo, of course, is looking for the best match for her just like Lee Richardson Zoo wants the best situation for Bruno. Male spider monkeys can often be quite rambunctious, which can be a bit much for an older animal. After looking through all the available males, Bruno was selected as the best possible companion for her. Discussions took place, a pre-travel physical exam and various medical tests were performed, and plans were made for Bruno to travel to the Phoenix Zoo to meet his new companion.

While we at Lee Richardson Zoo will all miss Bruno a lot, we’re glad he will have a spider monkey companion (and glad Kelly won’t be alone any longer either) and know the staff at the Phoenix Zoo (also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) will take marvelous care of him.

If you’re wondering how this affects the new primate habitat that was approved for funding by a sales tax during the November 2017 election, the architectural plans are getting closer to the final design stage (where is the hose bib located, how many electrical outlets, how thick is the glass, etc…). Bruno and the neighboring lemurs would have to move before construction, and winter definitely isn’t the best time for animal moves, so this move, as well as the recent departure of the red ruffed brothers who are temporarily vacationing at the Sedgwick County Zoo, facilitates the upcoming construction.

The process of change isn’t always fun, but the improved conditions offered by the new primate habitat for the animals that will live there, the staff that will work there, and the zoo guests who will have a chance to make a special connection with the animals while visiting the habitat, are certainly worth it. Stay tuned for more updates on the projects as things progress.

Lee Richardson Zoo invites you to attend a bon voyage party for Bruno to wish him well with his new companion at the Phoenix Zoo. The gathering is 2 to 3 p.m. Oct. 13. There will be activities, special treats for Bruno, and a Keeper Chat.


Kristi Newland is the executive director of Lee Richardson Zoo.