It's so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from the trees (2024)

MEXICO CITY -- It's so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from the trees.

At least 138 of the midsize primates, who are known for their roaring vocal calls, were found dead in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco since May 16, according to the Biodiversity Conservation of The Usumacinta group. Others were rescued by residents, including five that were rushed to a local veterinarian who battled to save them.

"They arrived in critical condition, with dehydration and fever," said Dr. Sergio Valenzuela. "They were as limp as rags. It was heatstroke."

While Mexico's brutal heat wave has been linked to the deaths of at least 26 people since March, veterinarians and rescuers say it has killed dozens and perhaps hundreds of howler monkeys. Around a third of the country saw highs of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.

It's so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from the trees (1)

In the town of Tecolutilla, Tabasco, the dead monkeys started appearing Friday, when a local volunteer fire-and-rescue squad showed up with five of the creatures in the bed of a truck.

Normally quite intimidating, howler monkeys are muscular and some can be as tall as 90 centimeters (3 feet), with tails just as long. Some males weigh more than 13.5 kilograms (30 pounds) and can live up to 20 years. They are equipped with big jaws and a fearsome set of teeth and fangs. But mostly they're known for their lion-like roars, which bely their size.

"They (the volunteers) asked for help, they asked if I could examine some of the animals they had in their truck," Valenzuela said Monday. "They said they didn't have any money, and asked if I could do it for free."

The veterinarian put ice on their limp little hands and feet, and hooked them up to IV drips with electrolytes.

So far, the monkeys appear to be on the mend. Once listless and easily handled, they are now in cages at Valenzuela's office. "They're recovering. They're aggressive ... they're biting again," he said, noting that's a healthy sign for the usually furtive creatures.

Most aren't so lucky. Wildlife biologist Gilberto Pozo counted about 138 of the animals dead or dying on the ground under trees. The die-off started around May 5 and hit its peak over the weekend.

"They were falling out of the trees like apples," Pozo said. "They were in a state of severe dehydration, and they died within a matter of minutes." Already weakened, Pozo says, the falls from dozens of yards (meters) up inflict additional damage that often finishes the monkeys off.

Pozo attributes the deaths to a "synergy" of factors, including high heat, drought, forest fires and logging that deprives the monkeys of water, shade and the fruit they eat, while noting that a pathogen, disease or other factor can't yet be ruled out.

For people in the steamy, swampy, jungle-covered state of Tabasco, the howler monkey is a cherished, emblematic species; local people say the monkeys tell them the time of day by howling at dawn and dusk.

Pozo said the local people - who he knows through his work with the Biodiversity Conservation of The Usumacinta group - have tried to help the monkeys they see around their farms. But he notes that could be a double-edged sword.

"They were falling out of the trees, and the people were moved, and they went to help the animals, they set out water and fruit for them," Pozo said. "They want to care for them, mainly the baby monkeys, adopt them."

"But no, the truth is that babies are very delicate, they can't be in a house where there are dogs or cats, because they have pathogens that can potentially be fatal for howler monkeys," he said, stressing they must be rehabilitated and released into the wild.

Pozo's group has set up a special recovery stations for monkeys - it currently holds five monkeys, but birds and reptiles have also been affected - and is trying to organize a team of specialized veterinarians to give the primates the care they need.

Belatedly, the federal government acknowledged the problem Monday, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saying he had heard about it on social media. He congratulated Valenzuela on his efforts and said the government would seek to support the work.

López Obrador acknowledged the heat problem - "I have never felt it as bad as this" - but he has a lot of human problems to deal with as well.

By May 9, at least nine cities in Mexico had set temperature records, with Ciudad Victoria in the border state of Tamaulipas clocking a broiling 47 C (117 F).

With below-average rainfall throughout almost all the country so far this year, lakes and dams are drying up, and water supplies are running out. Authorities have had to truck in water for everything from hospitals to fire-fighting teams. Low levels at hydroelectric dams have contributed to power blackouts in some parts of the country.

Consumers are feeling the heat as well. On Monday, the nationwide chain of OXXO convenience stores - the nation's largest - said it was limiting purchases of ice to just two or three bags per customer in some places.

"In a period of high temperatures, OXXO is taking measures to ensure supplies of products for our customers," parent company FEMSA said in a statement. "Limits on the sale of bagged ice seek to ensure that a larger number of customers can buy this product."

But for the monkeys, it's not a question of comfort, but of life or death.

"This is a sentinel species," Pozo said, referring to the canary-in-a-coal-mine effect where one species can say a lot about an ecosystem. "It is telling us something about what is happening with climate change."

Copyright © 2024 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

It's so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from the trees (2024)


Do howler monkeys come down from the trees? ›

Howler monkeys usually stay in the treetops but may come down to the ground during very dry weather conditions. Known as the rockstars of the jungle, these monkeys can produce howling calls that can be heard up to three miles away, particularly during dawn and dusk.

Does Mexico have howler monkeys? ›

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The number of heat-related howler monkeys deaths in Mexico has risen to 157, the government said, with a tragically small number of the primates treated or recovering.

How long do howler monkeys live for? ›

In the wild, howlers live to be between 15 to 20 years old. In human care they often reach 20 years old.

What are some interesting facts about the black howler monkey? ›

Fascinating Facts
  • Howler monkeys are the largest of the New World monkeys.
  • While this species eats more leaves than any other New World monkey, it does not have a specialized stomach.
  • Calls from these primates can be heard up to three miles away.

Are howler monkeys aggressive to humans? ›

Howler monkeys are not particularly dangerous to humans. They spend most of their time high in trees, so they don't have much interaction with humans at all. They are not known for being aggressive animals, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened.

What hunts howler monkeys? ›

Though humans are their greatest threat, howler monkeys do have a few natural predators as well. Jaguars, pumas, and harpy eagles are their main predators, and they are sometimes hunted by large snakes. When threatened, howler monkeys use the loud call that gave them their name.

Are the monkeys in Mexico friendly? ›

They are friendly to everyone and may even sneak onto your balcony at some point! It is crucial to remember not to feed these animals because they are incredibly unpredictable. So, if you see a Spider Monkey on your vacation, make sure to keep your distance and enjoy them from afar.

How long do Mexican monkeys live? ›

In wild-living populations, individual longevity is strongly affected by habitat quality and susceptibility to local (human) hunting. Assuming infants reach adulthood, members of this species live around 25 years. In captivity, individuals may live significantly longer.

What is the most common monkey in Mexico? ›

The Mexican spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi vellerosus), also known by its mayan name "Ma'ax", is a subspecies of Geoffroy's spider monkey, and is one of the largest types of New World monkey. It inhabits forests of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras.

Are howler monkeys intelligent? ›

Howler Monkeys are actually quite intelligent.

Are howler monkeys friendly? ›

While they are not usually aggressive, brown howler monkeys do not take well to captivity and are of bad-tempered and unfriendly disposition.

How many babies can howler monkeys have? ›

Howler monkeys have a gestation period of 6 months and give birth to one baby. All infants are born golden and, if male, they gradually darken until they are completely black in colour at around 2 years old. They live in groups of around 5-8 individuals.

What makes a howler monkey special? ›

Unlike Old World monkeys, howlers and other New World species have wide, side-opening nostrils and no pads on their rumps. Howlers also boast a prehensile tail. They can use this tail as an extra arm to grip or even hang from branches—no Old World monkeys have such a tail.

Why do howler monkeys yell? ›

Howler monkeys are the loudest of all monkeys. They call to let others know where their territory is, alerting them to stay away. The calls sound like a loud whooping bark or roar. After one group of howlers call, another group answers.

Do howler monkeys eat meat? ›

Eating Habits

Like Jamie, howler monkeys are mostly vegetarian. They eat leaves, plants, fruits, flowers and flower buds, and nuts, although some species occasionally eat eggs if they can get to them. The howlers get their water from the leaves they consume.

Do howler monkeys swing from trees? ›

Only male howler monkeys make the howling sound and use it to mark out their territory. A special bone in their throat makes their calls so loud! Their tails act like another hand and lets them hold up their whole body weight, as well as swing from tree to tree!

Do howler monkeys come to the ground? ›

Howler monkeys get almost all the water they need from the food they eat. One of the few times they can be spotted on the ground, however, is during very dry spells when they need to find extra water. Check out where howler monkeys live.

Do monkeys come from trees? ›

Like mandrills or baboons, it belongs to the cercopithecidae family, which is also known as the Old World monkey family. Their ancestors were the first primates to descend from the trees, before the hominids did.

Do monkeys jump from tree to tree? ›

- Monkey Leap - Colobus monkeys can leap an astounding 40 feet from tree to tree. They have an advantage over us because they use tree branches as catapults to help them clear these distances. Rather than using a catapult, test your jumping skills using a standing broad jump.

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