Monkeys caged, traded illegally, kept as pets, shot for meat or used as entertainment for tourists. It is still happening every day. Also in Colombia. Fortunately, these monkeys are increasingly being rescued from this cruelty and protected in a monkey rescue center. The Maikuchiga Foundation is one such rescue center. Since 2006, hundreds of monkeys have been taken in here to give them a second chance. A good and safe life in the tall trees of the Amazon rainforest, as it should be. In addition, the foundation focuses on conserving nature and biodiversity in the Amazon region of Colombia. A wonderful project and time to visit. Will you join me?
Maikuchiga Foundation: monkey rescue and rehabilitation center in the Colombian Amazon
In 2006 Jhon Jairo Vasquez together with American biology Sara Bennet, founded the Maikuchiga Foundation. The name Maikuchiga means“history of the monkey” in the language of the indigenous tribe Tikuna. Jhon Jairo grew up in the indigenous village of Mocagua and belongs to the Tikuna tribe. His life is dedicated to protecting monkeys and preserving the beautiful Colombian biodiversity and other animals in the Amazon region.
Maikuchiga Foundation was established as a rehabilitation center for monkeys rescued from illegal animal trafficking. Here they give the monkeys a second chance. In addition, the foundation is committed to raising awareness about conservation and animal welfare. This is much needed as the clearing of rainforest and shooting and trapping of animals for meat or trade is a major problem for biodiversity. The foundation will engage in discussions with the indigenous people about this.
Maikuchiga Foundation’s goals: to keep animals out of tourism as much as possible
Jhon Jairo is visibly committed to preserving the rainforest and the animals that live in it. We speak to him during our visit and you can see the love and passion he has for nature.
The goals he has set for his foundation are also clearly being met. Here a few goals highlighted:
- Discourage the commercialization of wildlife. This objective is observed even to the level of tourism. We must first ask owner Jhon Jairo if we can take pictures. Sometimes he says yes, sometimes it’s a no. The foundation is there for the monkeys and not for tourists. Anyone can visit, but only with a guide, by appointment and not too many at a time. Sustainable tourism is the focus. This place is the area of the animals and it should stay that way.
- Develop programs and materials for environmental education in the region. A very important cause for which they are actively working. Education is very important to make indigenous people aware of the need to treat the rainforest and its animals responsibly.
- Contribute to research based on scientific knowledge. The Maikuchiga Foundation is also used for research. Not only to monkeys, but actually to everything about the Amazon. If you are interested in that, you can also do internships or scientific research here, for example.
Which monkeys are taken care of at Maikuchiga Foundation?
The foundation takes in all the monkeys that live in the Amazon. There are quite a few, but the monkeys most commonly seen are these 6:
The woolly monkey
The woolly monkey is one of the most endangered species in the Amazon rainforest. This is because of the massive destruction of its habitat, hunting and the illegal pet trade. In addition, this monkey is also often used in tourist centers to entertain people. It is a beautiful monkey and that makes this creature extra vulnerable. The use of these monkeys in tourism has a major impact on the population and further threatens the survival of the woolly monkey. Another reason never to visit the popular monkey island (see further under “Don’t go to Isla de los Micos”).
Squirrel monkeys and tamarins
Squirrel monkeys and tamarins are among the smallest monkeys around, their habitat is the rainforests of South America. They live in groups of about 100 monkeys and are very social. Living in a group is necessary to protect themselves from predators. In addition, in a group it is easier to find food. In English, these monkeys are called“squirrel monkeys” because of their way of locomotion in the trees.
Unfortunately, the small size of the squirrel monkey makes these monkeys very vulnerable to illegal pet trafficking. Without their group, without protection and proper nutrition, these monkeys get sick quickly and can transmit dangerous diseases to humans. The illegal trade is also causing the population of squirrel monkeys and tamarins to drop dramatically, increasing the risk of being labeled an endangered species.
Saki monkeys live high in the trees of the Amazon rainforest. They regularly jump huge chunks from tree to tree, giving them the nickname“flying monkey”. These monkeys live together as a family, but are also often seen with other species, such as howler monkeys and squirrels. Due to the lack of data, it is not known exactly how many Saki monkeys there are and what their natural population is.
Capuchin monkeys are known for their intelligence and are closely related to squirrel monkeys. Capuchin monkeys are found throughout much of South America, northern Argentina, Belize and Honduras. Both at sea level and in the mountains.
The capuchin monkey is the monkey most often featured on social media in selfies and videos. These monkeys are often dressed in human clothes and used for doing tricks. All to entertain people. Even though the monkey seems to like this, this is pure animal cruelty. Consequently, most of the capuchin monkeys taken in at Maikuchiga Foundation come from the illegal (domestic) animal trade. This is not only terrible for the monkeys, but also makes the natural population of capuchin monkeys very vulnerable.
Initially, the indigenous people did not hunt howler monkeys because they considered them disgusting. However, this changed after the population of other ape species declined. Now howler monkeys can be found in markets as a piece of meat or for sale as pets. As a result, the population is declining more and more. The howler monkey is also among the essential species of the forest, also called umbrella species because they are the sowers of the forest. Unfortunately, not enough figures are available on the exact population of the howler monkey.
The spider monkey is the monkey species with the largest brain and is also known as one of the smartest monkeys. They live in the rainforests of South America and have a striking appearance due to their disproportionately long limbs. All 7 species of spider monkeys are endangered, with the brown spider monkey being among the critically endangered species. Spider monkeys are known for their ease of breeding in captivity. In addition, they are popular for hunting by local indigenous people: because of their large size, these monkeys are seen as an important food source. Another threat is the destruction of their habitat through logging and land clearing. Like other monkeys, of course. As if this did not give the spider monkeys enough to contend with, they are also susceptible to malaria, and it is precisely this species of monkey that is being used in laboratory studies on this disease.
How do the monkeys live in Maikuchiga?
The monkeys in Maikuchiga live completely free in the jungle. So they are not locked in a house, but can leave whenever they want. The purpose of the foundation is to take in the monkeys and guide them to a free life. After several years, the monkeys are often released into the rainforest, or they go off on their own, never to return.
Are you guaranteed to see monkeys?
There is a house where the monkeys can go inside and get food. It is all open and it is not guaranteed to have monkeys. If you come for the monkeys during lunchtime then it is likely that there will be monkeys, but you should note that it is also possible that they may not appear. In addition, it depends on how many monkeys are living in the shelter at the time, as this varies from time to time as monkeys go back to live on their own and new ones are brought in. During our visit, there were 6 monkeys.
Do not go to Isla de los Micos
There is a famous monkey island in the Amazon called Isla de los Micos. Here come many tourists who want to see monkeys and is very popular. However, this is purely for the tourists and not for the monkeys so it is really not recommended to go there. As mentioned earlier, this endangers the monkeys’ survival. If you want to travel in a responsible and sustainable way, visit Maikuchiga or another place where monkeys are properly and naturally cared for. Monkey Island is more like a zoo, where money and entertainment are more important than animal welfare.
The monkeys are cared for with love and attention
The monkeys are clearly well cared for; they lack nothing. Especially not on trees to climb and fruit, since they thus live in complete freedom. I found this to be a special aspect of this place: they are not locked up. The monkeys know their caretakers well, as you can see. Founder Jhon Jairo Vasquez was present and a volunteer from France, and both treated the monkeys with love. The founder and volunteers also know everything about monkeys and the rainforest, they are extremely knowledgeable and you can ask them anything.
Volunteering with monkeys in the Amazon in Colombia
In Maikuchiga, you can also do volunteer work or an internship. Ideal for people who love animals and want to contribute to conservation and have animal welfare as their number one priority. You can contact them through Facebook contact them if you like.
When you volunteer here, you live for a while far away from civilization in the indigenous village of Mocagua. For a little Internet, you have to walk quite a bit (they are working on better coverage though) and you live quite primitively. A beautiful experience. In addition, this location belongs to a place where you by volunteering actually contribute something to the conservation of biodiversity.
Would you like to help the foundation but not travel all the way to the Amazon to do so? You can also here support.
Visit the monkeys at Maikuchiga Foundation
We visit Maikuchiga Foundation from our stay in the Amazon Casa Gregorio. This is not standard in the program, but you can choose from this as a substitute for another tour. From Casa Gregorio, it is about an hour boat ride to the entrance of the indigenous village of Mocagua. A place focused on ecotourism. Going here alone is difficult, nowhere does it say anything about the monkey sanctuary, so you have to arrange transportation at your hotel and best to book your arrival in advance.
You can also see the monkeys on a day trip from Leticia , but of course it is much more fun to actually stay in the Amazon than in the larger city.
The visitor center
Once the boat is docked, walk up first where you will arrive at the visitor center. There you have to leave your information and pay. In our case, it was included in the cost of Casa Gregorio (you pay the full package here). You can’t visit without a guide. If you have a reservation the guide will be waiting for you to take you to the shelter.
Street art in the indigenous village of Mocagua
To get to Maikuchiga in the dry season, you must first walk for half an hour through the village of Mocagua. No punishment, as the village consists of wooden houses on stilts, each of which is beautifully painted with murals. We did not do this, but if you are interested you can ask at the visitor center for a tour of the street art with explanations of the drawings. In the rainy season, you go most of the way by boat and walk a short distance. At the end of our walk, about 5 minutes before we arrived at the foundation, we already spotted a few monkeys in the tall trees. So amazing!
Meet the Maikuchiga Foundation
After a half-hour walk, you will arrive in Maikuchiga. Now you can relax on a bench while Jhon Jairo tells you all about the foundation, the monkeys and how they work. During his story and afterwards, you can admire the monkeys. See how they live and are cared for and , above all, enjoy these extraordinary animals.
Lunch in Mocagua
After about 1 to 1.5 hours, we left again, heading for lunch. In a beautiful spot in the native village. And lunch overlooking the Amazon River. Where, by the way, on the way back we saw many dolphins encountered. At the restaurant, you get fish (or meat, but more likely fish due to the location) by default, but like me, you can also opt for a vegetarian meal.
How important do you think animal welfare is while traveling?
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