Houston Zoo Experts Rally to Save Extraordinarily Small Infant
On Jan. 15, 2022, the primate keepers at the Houston Zoo found a surprise waiting for them when they approached the Goeldi’s (pronounced “gell-dees”) monkey night house—a tiny baby hanging onto a branch in her enclosure. The team moved swiftly to reintroduce her to her mother, Kylie. In doing so, the animal care professionals found the infant to be significantly smaller than a typical Goeldi’s newborn. Usually, the primates are around 50 grams or larger at birth, but this tiny one weighed in at only 34 grams, about the weight of a standard light bulb.
Unfortunately attempts to encourage Kylie to take the baby—named Betty in honor of the late, beloved actress and animal lover, Betty White—were not immediately successful so the team made the decision to hand-raise Betty while continuing to encourage parental bonding. Betty and both of her parents, Kylie, and father Opie were moved to the Zoo’s state-of-the-art Animal Hospital to further her care under the supervision of the veterinary staff.
The Houston Zoo is following best practices established by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for Goeldi’s monkeys which has seen the successful raising of Goeldi’s monkeys in the past. To-date, the smallest to be raised to adulthood was 42 grams. However, the Houston Zoo care team is cautiously optimistic about Betty’s chances. The team anticipates the hand-raising process to take more than three months. Throughout which Betty will spend as much time as safely possible with her family, who will always be within sight of their baby.
The Houston Zoo’s animal care team has extensive knowledge in hand-raising primates. Late last summer, the team spent months raising a ring-tailed lemur, Cleo, who was smaller than they expected her to be for her 6-week age and not using her hind-legs to grip mom as tightly as she should. Cleo is now making great strides at rejoining her troop. In 2020, the team also hand-raised an infant Schmidt’s red-tailed monkey, Peter Rabbit.
Goeldi’s monkeys are small, predominantly black New World primates that weigh around a pound. They live in groups of two-12 individuals in the Amazon rainforest and are mostly arboreal, meaning they can be found up in the trees. A female Goeldi’s monkey is pregnant for about five months, after which, she typically gives birth to a single offspring who she carries on her back for about a month before allowing dad to take his turn carrying the baby. Baby’s size and strength is imperative to survival for infant monkeys, and if they are too small or cannot grip onto their parents’ fur, they will not survive un-aided by animal care professionals.
The Zoo partners with wildlife-saving organizations in Central and South America to protect the wild counterparts of the animals at the Zoo. The Zoo provides support for conservation work that informs wildlife protection strategies that benefit primates like Goeldi’s monkeys, howler monkeys and cottontop tamarins in Central and South America. At the Houston Zoo, Goeldi’s monkey can be found in Wortham World of Primates and Natural Encounters building.
The Houston Zoo is working to save forests and the animals that live in them, like Goeldi’s monkey, by reducing or using recycled content paper wherever possible. By using recycled content paper, everyone can help protect forested homes for animals.