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J the black-handed spider monkey inspects his new brace, which is on his foot.

Even J is curious about his new footwear!

During a recent play-wrestling match with fellow black-handed spider monkey Mateo, it was easy to ignore the brace on J’s foot. The duo gave each other a few pushes and nips using all their limbs – including their prehensile tails – to hang on to the top of their habitat. A quick breather gave J and onlookers a minute to check out his new footwear.  

This new brace will hopefully correct issues with 1-year-old J’s gait, which started after his right foot was injured during the first introductions to our spider monkey troop last fall. J first arrived at our Zoo as a 5-month-old after being confiscated at the United States-Mexico border.  

J’s foot healed in a way that causes him to walk on the outside surface of the foot. This is not a normal weight-bearing surface, so he started to develop pressure wounds and scrapes along that side of his foot, said Dr. Kyle Donnelly, one of our staff veterinarians.  

Our animal care team reached out to Hanger Clinic in Melbourne, a local orthotic & prosthetic patient care provider that custom-designs devices for people – and sometimes animals. One of their most notable animal patients was Winter, a young dolphin who needed a prosthetic tail to swim again.  

Joshua Kenny, a licensed prosthetist orthotist with Hanger Clinic, took on J’s case – a new puzzle for Hanger Clinic, which had never made a brace for a monkey.  

“I was grateful for this opportunity to innovate and use what I know about fitting humans to help J,” Joshua said.  

J the black-handed spider monkey moves through his habitat wearing his new brace.

J the black-handed spider monkey isn’t slowed down by his new brace!

The process of creating this device for J began with a visit to the Zoo to see the young monkey in action. After talking to our team as well, some potential challenges that would need to be addressed in the brace design became apparent to Joshua.  

Airflow through the brace was important – our animal care team was concerned with how sweat and humidity may affect any healing injuries. The brace also needed to allow J to use a wide range of motion.  

 “I knew there would probably be a lot of trial and error before finalizing a brace that would allow J to be as active as possible,” Joshua said.  

In January, Joshua visited the Zoo to create a cast of J’s foot and leg to use while designing the brace. J was anesthetized and given a full exam before Joshua wrapped gauze and plaster around J’s foot to create an impression. After carefully removing the makeshift cast, Joshua took a few extra measurements of J’s leg to ensure the cast’s accuracy.  

An initial prototype was created and tried on J mid-March. Joshua made some adjustments like cutting out about 60 percent of the brace’s weight and creating a hole for J’s thumb. Both adjustments will help J be able to move and climb normally.  

A person shows the new brace for J the black-handed spider monkey

The finished brace!

The finished brace is a plastic frame covered in padding, with extra cushion at the foot area. Velcro tabs will help keep it snug against J’s leg. The main velcro tab fastens in the back of his leg, a modification that will hopefully keep J from taking the brace off.  

Still, there may be some more modifications that will need to be made as the brace gets consistently used. J started wearing it for short increments once a day under the watchful eye of our animal care team. He is now wearing it for longer periods of time, and we hope to have him wear it throughout the day soon.  

“Our hope is that the boot with provide the area protection to allow healing while also encouraging J’s foot to reposition itself in a more normal position over time,” said Dr. Donnelly.  

You can spot J – and his new footwear – in our Rainforest Revealed area! Check them out in one of the spider monkeys three living spaces (don’t forget to look in the sky tunnels too!). 

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.