Editor's Note, March 2023
Written by Marian Starkey | Published: March 13, 2023
Spider monkeys swung from the trees above me, eating young leaves and seeds, some carrying babies on their backs. One, who seemed to be the father of a sleepy infant clinging to its mother a couple branches away, stared down at me indifferently while he peed from above, nearly hitting me with his stream. Moments later, a gang of three males chased me and grabbed the paper bag in my hand, hoping that it contained food. When they discovered flip flops and a rash guard, they let go of the bag and ran back into the forest, screeching with disappointment.
I’ve been visiting the Caribbean coast of Mexico each winter for a few years now. One of the highlights of my annual trip is observing the spider monkeys that live in the forests there. They come out at dawn and dusk, and many of them are habituated to humans, as evidenced by the anecdotes above from my latest trip in January. It’s important not to feed them, although I cannot honestly say that I’ve never given a banana from the breakfast buffet to a pleading primate. The few times I have, the monkeys have plopped down right in front of me to peel and eat the fruit, paying me no mind once they’d gotten everything of interest that I had to offer.
The hotel where I stay is serendipitously situated on the far end of a stretch of seaside resorts, which means that two sides of it are bordered by forest. Looking at a satellite map of the region, it’s plain to see what would happen if the hotel expanded or if a new resort was built next door—more of the spider monkeys’ forest habitat would be destroyed. The dark green of today’s map would become a multicolored patchwork of buildings, service roads, parking lots, and swimming pools. (Of course, this is exactly what happened when the hotel where I stay was built.)
Habitat degradation and loss is the greatest threat to species in every major world region, according to WWF’s latest Living Planet Report (data from the report is depicted in this issue’s Pop Facts infographic). We destroy wildlife habitats by converting them to agricultural land to feed more people, by replacing them with human settlements, and by extracting the natural resources they contain. The larger our population grows, the less territory wildlife has to thrive—or even to survive.
One organization that we’ve been working with for many years addresses the human-wildlife challenges that exist at the edges of mountain gorilla rangeland in Uganda by improving the health and livelihoods of people and by protecting gorillas’ health, safety, and habitat. The Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, is publishing her memoir, Walking With Gorillas: The Journey of an African Wildlife Vet, on March 14, and we’ve reprinted the chapter about her organization’s family planning program in this issue. Please enjoy this excerpt and then read Dr. Gladys’s book and join us (and her!) for our Page Turners book club meeting on May 9.
Not every species has a dedicated champion the way that mountain gorillas have Dr. Gladys or chimpanzees have Jane Goodall, but I like to think of our members as champions of all wildlife, writ large. Together, through our efforts to strike a sustainable balance between people and the planet, we can ensure healthy and intact habitats for all the planet’s spectacular species.