, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 65–68

Predation of wild spider monkeys at La Macarena, Colombia


    • Graduate School of Environmental Earth ScienceHokkaido University
  • Kosei Izawa
    • Department of Animal ScienceTeikyo University of Science and Technology
Short Communication

DOI: 10.1007/s10329-007-0042-5

Cite this article as:
Matsuda, I. & Izawa, K. Primates (2008) 49: 65. doi:10.1007/s10329-007-0042-5


The killing of an adult male spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth ) by a jaguar (Panthera onca) and a predation attempt by a puma (Felis concolor) on an adult female spider monkey have been observed at the CIEM (Centro de Investigaciones Ecológicas La Macarena), La Macarena, Colombia. These incidents occurred directly in front of an observer, even though it is said that predation under direct observation on any type of primate rarely occurs. On the basis of a review of the literature, and the observations reported here, we suggest that jaguars and pumas are likely to be the only significant potential predators on adult spider monkeys, probably because of their large body size.


PredationSpider monkeyJaguarPuma


Cheney and Wrangham (1987) presented the first comprehensive review of predation on primates. By means of a questionnaire they gathered unpublished data from researchers who had conducted long-term field studies and concluded, because of lack of predation evidence, especially lack of directly observed cases of attempted or successful predation, that predation on any type of primate rarely occurs.

Atelines (Ateles, Brachyteles and Lagothrix) are large-bodied monkeys of the subfamily Atelinae; it is therefore believed there is little predation pressure on these monkeys (Terborgh 1983). This belief is compounded by the fact that spider monkeys often move in fission–fusion systems (small parties), which would be dangerous if there was a great risk they would be preyed upon (Symington 1987).

As more long-term studies of atelines have been conducted, more cases of predation have been noted. For example, although Cheney and Wrangham (1987) reported only one suspected instance of predation on Atelines (a red howler monkey) Di Fiore (2002) reported thirteen observed and suspected cases, of which eight occurred in populations of howler monkeys (Alouatta), four in spider monkeys (Ateles), and one in muriquis (Brachyteles). In addition to those in Di Fiore’s review, two other instances of predation on muriquis have been reported (Printes et al. 1996).

This report describes the killing of an adult male spider monkey by a jaguar (Panthera onca), which occurred directly in front of an observer, and an attempt at predation on a female spider monkey by a puma (Felis concolor).


This study was conducted at the Centro de Investigaciones Ecológicas La Macarena (CIEM), La Macarena, Colombia. The study site is located on the right bank of the Duda River, a tributary of the Guayabero River in the Orinoco Basin. The CIEM is located at 2°40′N and 74°10′W, at an altitude of about 350 m above sea level. The mean annual precipitation at the site is 2,600 mm (Kimura et al. 1994).

With colleagues we studied three groups of spider monkeys with adjoining ranges for 24 months (288 total observation days) from 1997 to 2001, for 19 months (304 days) from 1997 to 2002, and for 15 months (186 days) from 1998 to 2002 (groups MB-1, MB-2, and MB-3, respectively; A. Inaba, A. Nishimura and Y. Shimooka, personal communication). They were well habituated and identified. Although each group was studied using different methods by each researcher, we mostly walked observation trails in the territory of our target group in the early morning and then followed that party as long as it was visible. The groups comprised 25 individuals in January 2000 (4 adult males, 11 adult females, 7 subadults, 3 juveniles and infants), 30 in January 2002 (5, 10, 2, 13), and 15 in September 2002 (3, 6, 1, 5); the home ranges of each group from 1997 to 2000 were 117, 152, and 121 ha, respectively, with little range overlap between the groups (Inaba and Izawa 2000; Izawa 2000a; Shimooka 2005).


Case 1. Capture of an adult male spider monkey by a jaguar (Panthera onca)

On 4 November 2002, between 08:14 and 09:00, one of the authors (IM) heard 11 “long loud calls” of spider monkeys (which can be heard from up to 1 km away) coming from the border between the home ranges of MB-2 and MB-3. At 09:10, the observer approached the source of the calls from approximately 200 m away to make further observations.

At 09:22, the observer heard the branches shake violently and saw several spider monkeys. They were moving quickly, emitting growls (gwo gwo), screams (kyi kyi), and mobbing-call vocalizations (Izawa 2000b). All the monkeys were very excited and continued emitting many different-sounding calls. When the observer reached a point for easier viewing, one adult ran toward him on all four legs along the research trail, passing by him ∼1 m away. The next moment a jaguar nearly 2 m in body size appeared behind the monkey. It swung its right forepaw on to the neck of the monkey and floored it with one blow. When the jaguar brought its mouth close to the back of its victim it noticed the observer’s presence. The jaguar then moved its forepaw off of the neck and took a step toward the observer, but stopped and just gazed at the observer for approximately 2 min. The monkey did not move even after the jaguar removed its paw. Four other monkeys were standing in a 15 m high tree 10 m from where the jaguar caught the monkey. They emitted mobbing calls (Izawa 2000b) and shook branches towards the jaguar both before and after the attack occurred.

At 09:26, the jaguar moved a step back, changed its direction, and left the site leaving the victim behind. The four monkeys followed the jaguar, moving from tree to tree, for about 200 m. As they moved, they jumped powerfully, continuing to shake branches and make mobbing calls. After the jaguar had left, the victim was still breathing, but remained motionless with vacant eyes. There was no sign of bleeding or obvious physical injury. At 09:33, the monkeys once again returned to the tree near the victim. Their earlier excitement had settled and they stared at the victim from the tree approximately 15 m high. Two of them sometimes took turns to groom each other. At 09:40 the victim died and the four monkeys left the scene shortly afterwards, at 09:43.

The observer returned to the base camp as he felt fear of the jaguar. At 14:09, he returned to the location where the monkey had been killed. Although 4 h had passed, the dead monkey remained there in the same position as when the jaguar had killed it. There was no sign the jaguar had returned. Rigor mortis had already occurred, with numerous flies gathering on the carcass’s eyes, mouth, ears, and buttocks. Its body length, tail length and weight were 62.5 cm, 89 cm and 9.0 kg, respectively.

The recorded features and photographs of the carcass were later investigated by Shimooka, who had studied the MB-2 group for a long period. Her careful examination revealed the victim monkey was adult male “G” belonging to the MB-2 group, and the surrounding four monkeys were identified as two adult males “Bl” and “De”, and two sub-adult males “Co” and “Ze” (born in 1993–1994 and 1994–1995, respectively). Because G had a larger body than the other adult males of the MB-2 group it was assumed he was the oldest male of the group.

Case 2. Attempt at predation on an adult female spider monkey by a puma (Felis concolor)

This observation was made by one of the authors (KI) on 21 December 1999. At 16:57, the observer came across four monkeys from MB-1 eating soil at a terrestrial mineral lick or salado, located below a sheer cliff, 200 m from the base camp. Spider monkeys are often seen to come down the salados from the trees to take soil, mud, and water (Izawa and Mizuno 1990; Izawa 1993). When he encountered these monkeys an adult male “Sa” had already stopped eating the soil and was resting in a tree on the ridge with dried soil around its mouth. There was an adult female “Ba” and a young female “Em” on a low tree beside the cliff close to the salado. At 17:04, Ba and Em came down from the tree, very slowly and prudently, and climbed down along the exposed hanging long roots. They walked away on all four legs along a grass patch with their tails rolled up. Because the salado was located below that point, and the observer was on the upper edge of the cliff, only part of the salado was visible. At 17:21, Em climbed up with a large grey salado clod in her mouth. She sat in the tree she had been in previously and passed the clod from her right to left hand, then started to eat it. Sa had moved to another tree approximately 30 m away and had begun eating vine shoots there.

At 17:24, there was a sudden loud scream from one of the monkeys. At that moment, Ba jumped on to a slanted Cecropia tree (DBH approx. 17 cm), running up it on the salado side. When she had climbed approximately 3 m up the tree, an adult puma leapt on to the trunk and ran up towards her. The puma narrowly missed Ba, half turned on the trunk, and ran down with short steps.

The puma walked slowly along the edge of the cliff, and went away along the right side of the bank of the Duda River, in the downstream direction, at 17:26. Ba followed the puma with her eyes, her chin sticking out, and three other monkeys on the ridge also watched intently. At 17:27, Ba shook the branches of the Cecropia tree and chased the puma along the grove on the cliff’s edge while emitting numerous mobbing calls (Izawa 2000b). Her calls continued until 17:43. Three other monkeys followed Ba along the ridge jumping from tree to tree, but did not make any calls at that time.


Four cases of predation on spider monkeys have been reported from other research sites. In three of these the predators were confirmed, from analysis of feces, to be jaguars and pumas (Emmons 1987; Chinchilla 1997); the fourth was by a crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis) on a juvenile while apart from its mother (Julliot 1994). Apart from these reports, three attempts of predation on adult spider monkeys by tayra (Eira barbara) have also been observed in Costa Rica, although none was successful (C. Chapman, personal communication). One instance of a jaguar preying on a muriquis has also been reported (Olmos 1994). The identity of the predator was ascertained by analysis of the feces. There are also two other cases strongly suggestive of predation on muriquis (Printes et al. 1996); one was by a tayra and the other by a grey-headed kite (Leptodon cayanensis). In both instances the victim monkeys were 13-month-old infants. There have also been four reports of predation on howler monkeys by jaguars or pumas (Alouatta) (Peetz et al. 1992; Chinchilla 1997; Cuaron 1997), and four other cases by harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) on adult howler monkeys (Rettig 1978; Eason 1989; Peres 1990; Sherman 1991).

The cases listed above and the two observed in this study show there is a possibility that jaguars, pumas, and tayras are predators on adult spider monkeys and muriquis. In particular, evidence of successful jaguar and puma predation suggests they are the most threatening predators on the adult monkeys. For infants and juveniles of these species and for adult howler monkeys, however, even small carnivores and raptors can be predators. Four of the predators listed above—jaguar, puma, crested eagle and tayra—inhabit the CIEM (Cadena et al. 1998; Stevenson 2002)


We are grateful to Colombia–Japan primate research project members C. Mejia, A. Nishimura, K. Kimura, Y. Shimooka, and A. Agumi for critical suggestions and kind guidance throughout this study. We thank the Ministry of Environment of the Colombian Government for granting us permission to undertake the investigation in Macarena-Tinigua National Park. This study was supported by grants from the Monbusho International Scientific Research Program (09041144) and from the Monbusho COE Program to O. Takenaka (10CE2005), and a grant for Biodiversity Research of the twenty-first century COE (A14). We also thank Y. Katsuta, C. Thomas, and T. Ikeda for the proofreading of this manuscript. Finally, we are grateful to C. Chapman and two anonymous reviewers for fruitful comments and information that improved this manuscript.

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© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer 2007