Woollys have a long, relatively heavy, and fully prehensile, tail. They use it as a fifth hand while climbing around in the trees looking for food. There is some debate, and they vary in weight over the course of a year depending on food supply, but they are at least tied for the honor of being the largest New World monkey.
Both Woollys were fully aware of us in our skiffs as we watched and photographed them. The youngster was the shyer of the two, but even he/she was not all that concerned about us being there. At times our boats were within 10 feet of the branches and vines they were climbing. I don’t know how they knew we were not hunters…since the main predator of woolly monkeys (perhaps the only predator of adult Woollys) is man, but they seemed confident that we meant them no harm, and went about their business for as long as we watched…a half hour or more…and were still there foraging when we moved on.
Most of us have seen monkeys (and great apes) in zoos, but it is a totally different experience to see them in the wild…in their own world, where we are only visitors. This encounter is certainly right up there with my most awesome wildlife experiences. It left me with a feeling of quiet wonder, and a rare awareness of undeserved privilege.