Oldest Spider Monkey In The World at Fort Rickey

Rebecca StedmanFort Rickey, Spider Monkey

Gummy the world's oldest spider monkey lives at Fort Rickey Zoo

“Gummy” came to Fort Rickey in 1981 from The Rare Feline Breeding Compound in Florida. At that time, she was 19 years old. For the previous 18 years, she had lived at The San Diego Zoo who had acquired her as an infant from the Tarpon Zoo. She was presumed to have been wild born in 1962.

She was shipped, along with her newborn infant to The Rare Feline Breeding Compound who immediately transferred her to Fort Rickey. Her infant is now 26 years old and is living at The Potter Park Zoo in Lansing Michigan with her family. When she left Fort Rickey, she was named “Gumbelina” after her mother, (who has not had any teeth other than molars since before coming to Fort Rickey).
Since coming to Fort Rickey, Gummy has continued to breed and have babies right up to the age of 35. She is now 44 years old and is recorded in the zoo record books as the oldest of her species ever recorded.

Currently, she lives with her twenty-year-old daughter and nine-year-old granddaughter.I am often asked which is my favorite animal at Fort Rickey. I answer this way…My favorite animals are my dog, “Otis” and my cat, “Cat.” But, my favorite zoo animal is “Gummy.” She has an exceptional personality. Some Keeper early in her life treated her very, very well. I have attempted to find out from the San Diego Zoo who that might have been but they have not responded to my correspondence. I think it would be wonderful if I could arrange a reunion after all these years.

Almost all species of monkeys are temperamental and prone to bursts of aggression. That is true of Spider Monkeys and, on occasion, that has been true of Gummy too. But the aggressive bouts with Gummy are all pretty predictable and understandable if one takes the time to pay attention to the dynamics of monkey groups.

The outbursts are usually triggered by one of the other monkeys and seem to be a “pack” response to some perceived threat. When that happens, the group responds aggressively as a unit and things get pretty loud and unpredictable for a short time. It would not be safe for a person to be in with the group during such an episode and the rules here do not allow keepers to be in that situation.
What sets Gummy apart from all the rest, other than her exceptional age, is her desire to be affectionate towards her Keepers. In the morning when I start my routine, the first thing that I do is to take a minute to say good morning to Gummy. She comes to the door of her holding area, reaches out between the door and the opening and gently wraps her arm around my neck. We say a few things in “Spider Monkey Talk” with our faces pressed close together. I sniff her chest glands like a polite Spider Monkey must do in such a greeting. They smell sort of smoky and oily and the morning begins. This is not something that she learned here. She came to us with this behavior and had to teach it to us. It is very tender and means a great deal to me.

Even though all of her offspring have grown up with this role model, none of them have demonstrated this desire to be affectionate. They have all developed as typical monkeys and would rather pull my hair or rattle the kennel doors at me or just keep back away from me. When the question is asked, “How old can Spider Monkeys live to be?”…. the answer at this point is….”We will know when Gummy passes on.

She has had a wonderful life here at Fort Rickey. We don’t know how much more time we will have to enjoy this very special individual but we consider ourselves lucky for each day that we have her.