The President of La Foundation “Los Monos, Selva y Vida,” Yvan Bouvier casts an intimidating silhouette. An unsheathed machete is tethered to his waist, a lit cigar hangs between his firmly clenched teeth as he stares intensely into his backyard surveying a group of woolly monkeys living in their newly constructed park. Except for the intermittent puffs of cigar smoke, he stands motionless. His hands firmly planted on his hips, not unlike the ubiquitous statues of South America’s great liberators that solemnly keep vigil in the middle of every town square. Though he looks younger than his 52 years, there is a tiredness that seems permanently etched below his eyes giving the impression that he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in quite some time.
Roughly a decade ago, Yvan and his then wife moved to Ecuador from Switzerland to build their dream home near a small town on the edge of the rainforest. They planned on spending their twilight years growing their own vegetables, raising a small collection of livestock, and otherwise peacefully growing old in their little slice of jungle paradise . . . Fate, however, was busy hatching other plans.
Near the small town next to Yvan’s jungle compound lives a family who has recently paid a handsome sum for a baby woolly monkey they purchased from illegal poachers. The family, needless to say has no experience caring for wild animals and is finding their new charge too great a burden and needs to find alternative arrangements for their ill-gotten “pet.” Word gets out that there is a foreigner with a large amount of land in the middle of the rainforest, and the family with the baby monkey asks for his help.
When Yvan Bouvier, said that he’d take the baby monkey from the troubled family, it’s doubtful he knew that he was making a decision that would forever change his life. Ten years later and his retirement home has become a rescue center for wild animals. Animals, who’s human family’s best intentions simply weren’t good enough.
Long after Yvan decided to open his home and dedicate his life to orphaned monkeys, he finds himself in the middle of battle he willingly admits he’s losing. Two of the species of monkeys that he cares for, the woolly and spider monkeys are on the list of endangered species. As proof, he cites the fact that the spider monkeys who once lived on Ecuador’s coastland, have now vanished. A fact that not even the Ministry of the Environment seems troubled by. The odds, he is quick to tell anyone who’ll listen, are not good. But, that doesn’t mean that he’s ready to give up.
Quite the contrary, Yvan and his team at Paseo de los Monos are busy forging plans to help prepare the animals for release back into the wild. He hopes they can raise enough money to buy a lot of land next to a National park that can serve as a base to study and research the monkeys before they ultimately are released to fend for themselves. To date, I’m told there have been no successful documented reintroductions of captive woolly monkeys back into the wild. But, Yvan and his team see hope in the group that now inhabits the park. Among their numbers is a monkey who was born in the wild, and they think that she can teach the other monkeys how to find food, avoid predators, and live without the care of human beings.
When he isn’t thinking of ways to improve the living conditions of the animals currently under his care, he is thinking of ways to elevate the reputation of the spider and woolly monkeys. His hope, that if you know these remarkable animals, you too will have a vested interest in their preservation. He is on a 24 hour/7 day a week mission, hardly ever taking a day off from his quest to champion the cause for these monkeys. And in many ways, as fate would have it, his adopted children.
This is not only Yvan Bouvier’s story, it’s now his life’s mission:
Name: Yvan Bouvier
Occupation: President, La Foundation “Los Monos, Selva y Vida”
From: Montreaux, Switzerland
How did your home because a rescue center for monkeys and other neglected animals? At the time, there didn’t exist any places where people could release their animals and this house is inside a primary forest and the people from the town begin to bring their animals here. So when I accepted the first monkey, I didn’t know the consequence of this decision.
What was the consequence? So, the consequence was that I was living here with a lot of domestic animals like pigs, chickens, and a lot of plants and I had to let all of that go in order to receive the monkeys. So life was difficult at this time because we didn’t have anything to eat.
Why are these monkeys so important to you? It’s because they are innocent. They can choose nothing about their life. Humans have decided everything for them, and we’re still deciding for them. We’re like God. We have complete power over all the animals and I think that we have to use this power for good. We have to repair the past of these animals because all of them are victims. And they are all orphans, for animals it’s difficult to be orphaned because they don’t get to grow up with their own father. They have to grow up with a father of a different species.
Since you started Paseo de los Monos, how has the center changed? Now, nobody has any experience with these animals (the woolly monkeys). There are no studies about behavior, so we always have to adapt to the animals. When they were babies they were free and we didn’t know that they would change when they became adults. So we made a park for them because he had to adapt to their behavior.
Your work here is for the preservation of these animals and their species? Yes, it is for the animals because now we are still cutting down trees. The forest is always getting smaller. One day we will have to re-forest the planet, but the forest without animals will not grow. It won’t be healthy. So we are waiting, maybe 50 years for reforestation and until that happens we have to preserve the species.
In spending time speaking with you over the last two weeks, I know why the spider monkeys and the woolly monkeys are important to you personally, but why is their conversation so important for the environment? Because they are becoming extinct. Here in Ecuador there is a bad experience for the spider monkey from the coast, they are nearly extinct. And until now, no one cared about them. And this can happen to the spider monkey and the woolly monkey here in the rainforest too. So somebody has to do something and we will try to do something for them.
Can you explain their roles as “farmers of the forest?” They help spread the seeds around the forest. They make sure that the seeds don’t just fall on the floor and grow near the original tree. Monkey’s more than other animals, move the seeds around the forest. They eat the fruit and the native fruit has to go through a process in the digestive tract and when they leave the excrement in a new location the seed is able to grow. That’s why they are called farmers of the forest.
You’ve also linked human survival to the survival of the monkeys, why do you think the two are linked? Because we all share a relationship with the planet. If the woolly monkeys die, the forest will die, and if the forest dies, we will die.
I’ve heard you say that you feel as if you’re paddling upstream on a daily basis, in terms of your efforts to save the woolly monkey and spider mans. I feel like most people, if faced with waking up everyday to face a task they think is impossible to accomplish, would give up. What keeps you fighting for these monkey’s futures? Because maybe there is a small chance that we will do something successfully. It’s more difficult for them than it is for us. But, we will try to do anything that we can do for these monkeys.
What is your plan for the group of monkeys in the park? Our idea is to but 100 hectares of land near a National park. A place where there are no hunters. We want to move the animals there and follow them to know where they going and how they are doing, until they move into the National park.
You’ve said that the monkey’s lives in captivity here, will be doubled what their life span would be in the wild. For example, here they could live for 24 years, in the wild they might only live for 12 years. Do you personally think that liberation for the monkeys is in their best interest versus having a longer life here? It’s evident that they will looker in the park where we can care for them, but after two or three generations in captivity they can lose their instincts. So, if we wait for too much time we run the risk that we can’t release them in the wild.
Let’s say I come back to visit Paseo de los monos a year from now, how do you think the center will have changed? Here we have first the priority to build a park for the other alpha woolly monkey that is alone. So we will have two complete groups of woolly monkeys, that is the priority. After that, after doing some projects for them, we will need some money. To raise money, we want to build a place where we can show snakes. There are two reasons for this, one is that its necessary to educate the population here about snakes, is it useful for not, is it dangerous or not, and the second thing is that we think many people will want to see these snakes and we will use that money for projects for the spider and woolly monkeys.
What about in five years? It’s always been the same. The project is to have a lot of land near a National park where we can move the adult animals so that we can keep the center a place for adoption for the baby animals.
Why do you think people aren’t interested in helping save these two species of monkeys from extinction? Because public opinion is more focused on the known species like Gorillas, chimpanzees, and baboons because they’ve seen them in television, movies, and some circus so they have more sympathy for them. But, if we speak about unknown animals, humanity doesn’t feel anything because they don’t know them.
You’ve mentioned there aren’t any scientific studies into the Woolley monkeys, but in the time that you’ve spent with them, what have you learned? Yes we have observed a lot of different behaviors similar to ours, but we don’t know the reason for these behaviors. Ten years is not enough time understand how they think, why they move, why they do a lot of things. Ten years is just the beginning.
I’ve heard you say many times that “the monkeys eat before we do.” it’s a motto that you live by, you take it very seriously. Why is that? Because it would be selfish of us, not too. They all arrived here as babies. I consider them like family. There was one spider monkey, I had to teach him how to walk, how to move. They are like my adopted family, that’s one of the reasons.
For people who haven’t, or won’t have the opportunity to visit places where these monkeys live, what can they do to get to know these monkeys and help out with their preservation? They can help by just learning about these animals to get to know them. And afterword, if they develop feelings for these animals, then they will know how they can help these animals. But, first they have to learn that they exist.
What else would you like people to know about the mission of Paseo de los Monos? Here a lot of people come because they are curious and distraction without knowing the mission of Paseo de los Monos. They don’t know that we have a project and an idea of how we can help these monkeys. We are not just here for exhibition.
If you feel moved to help aid the Paseo de los Mono’s mission you can donate to their cause:
Calle General Villamil y Francisco de Orellana
Compte No :320-007027-4
Puyo / Pastaza Ecuador
Swift o iban : BINTECEQ
Or you can make a donation to the Primate Recuse Network, a non-profit based in the United States that helps raise funds for Paseo de los Monos, as well as, a rescue center in Venezuela. For more information, click here.