With his misshapen, bent arms dragging alongside him, tiny Etsa slowly shuffles across the dusty floor before gently leaning his furry head against my knee.
The pitiful sight of this small brown woolly monkey is hard to watch.
Etsa is five years old, but due to being kept in a box and denied sunlight by his captor, he has developed rickets and is now a fraction of the size he should be.
He is one of more than 60 animals to be found at Paseo los Monos, in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The volunteer-led organisation based in a section of primary forest cares for rescued monkeys and other trafficked wild animals, including coatis (a type of racoon native to Latin America) and even a baby otter.
Through the gaps in a small enclosed cot from which several cuddly toys swing, we catch a glimpse of an adorable one-and-a-half month old capuchin monkey that staff are currently nursing as his mother did not produce any milk.
As she carefully lifts him out of his cosy bed to offer him a teated bottle, volunteer Viviana explains: “Animal trafficking is the third largest illegal trade in the world, after weapons and drugs.
“There is a big demand for baby monkeys as pets. But for traffickers to catch a baby monkey, they will have to kill on average five adult monkeys – the mother, who usually carries the baby when it is young, and then the adult males who will retaliate if they see the mother under threat.
“When the baby grows up, people find they cannot look after it anymore as its behaviour will change a lot. That’s how some of our monkeys have ended up here.”
The chance to observe up close these fascinating creatures, most of whom roam freely around the surrounding forest, is spellbinding.
With their tiny hands and fingernails, they expertly peel fruit or reach up to grasp your arm. Their inquisitive nature means they are always studying something new – a pair of sunglasses, a camera, a velcro pocket strip.
As I stroke Etsa’s fur, Phil reaches up to remove another young monkey from his head, where it has been happily snuggling for a while.
He chuckles as it immediately wraps its tail around his arm and starts licking his leg, soon attracting a couple of others who muscle in to get in on the rugby playing-peg action.
Apparently they love the taste of salt, and Phil’s sweaty limbs appear to be the equivalent of a five-star gourmet meal.
Even Esta abandons me and hobbles over to have a taste.
A few metres away a red-furred racoon snuffles about by a large tree root, while another monkey sits down and starts ruffling through the hair of one of the many friendly dogs on site, as it lazily acquiesces.
Another volunteer tells us: “I spent a week helping out and even in that short time, it was amazing to interact with the monkeys.
“They are so clever, calculating and unmistakeably humanlike in their behaviour.”
Suddenly there is a loud screech and a commotion behind us, and a volunteer legs it over to separate the otter from a woolly monkey. Being a baby, he loves to play fight, but his games aren’t always appreciated by the perceptive primates.
Luckily it’s soon feeding time, which always puts a stop to the monkeying around. For a bit.
For more about the project or volunteering see: http://paseolosmonos.webs.com/