Howler monkeys fall dead from trees in Mexico due to extreme heat wave

MEXICO CITY (AP) — It’s so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from trees.

At least 83 of the medium-sized monkeys, known for their loud voices, were found dead in the state of Tabasco on the Gulf Coast. Others were rescued by residents, including five who were taken to a local vet who tried to save them.

“They arrived in critical condition, suffering from dehydration and fever,” said Dr. Sergio Valenzuela. “They were limp like rags. It was heatstroke.”

While Mexico’s extreme heat wave has been linked to the deaths of at least 26 people since March, veterinarians and rescue workers say it has killed dozens and perhaps hundreds of howler monkeys.

In the town of Tecolotilla, Tabasco state, dead monkeys began turning up on Friday, when a local volunteer fire and rescue squad showed up with five of the monkeys in the bed of a truck.

Howler monkeys are usually quite intimidating, they are muscular and can reach about 2 feet (60 cm) in length, again with long tails. It is equipped with a large jaw and a terrifying set of teeth and fangs. But mostly, their lion-like roar, which belies their size, is what they are best known for.

“They (volunteers) asked for help, asking me if I could check on some of the animals they had in their truck,” Valenzuela said Monday. “They said they didn’t have any money, and asked me if I could do it for free.”

The vet applied ice to their weak little hands and feet, and hooked them up to an intravenous drip containing electrolytes.

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So far, the monkeys seem to be improving. Once listless and easily handled, they were now in cages in Valenzuela’s office. “They’re recovering. They’re aggressive…they’re biting again,” he said, noting that’s a healthy sign for these usually hidden creatures.

Most of them are not so lucky. Wildlife biologist Gilberto Pozo counted about 83 animals dead or dying on the ground under the trees. The decline began around May 5 and peaked over the weekend.

“They were falling from the trees like apples,” Pozo said. “They were so dehydrated, they died within minutes.” Already weak, Pozo says that falling from dozens of yards (meters) upward causes additional damage that often kills the monkeys.

Pozzo attributes the deaths to a “confluence” of factors, including high heat, drought, forest fires and logging, depriving the monkeys of water, shade and the fruit they eat.

For people who live in the steamy, swampy, jungle-covered state of Tabasco, the howler monkey is a treasured, symbolic species. Locals say the monkeys tell them the time of day by howling at dawn and dusk.

Pozo said locals — whom he knows through his work with the Usumacinta biodiversity conservation group — have tried to help the monkeys they see around their farms. But he points out that this may be a double-edged sword.

“They were falling from the trees, and people were moved and went to help the animals, giving them water and fruit,” Pozzo said. “They want to take care of them, especially the baby monkeys, and adopt them.”

“But no, the truth is that children are very sensitive, and they cannot be in a house with dogs or cats, because they have pathogens that can be fatal to howler monkeys,” he added, stressing the need to rehabilitate them. He was released into the wild.

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Bozo’s group has set up special recovery stations for the monkeys – they currently include five monkeys, but birds and reptiles have also been affected – and is trying to organize a team of specialist veterinarians to give the primates the care they need.

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

Lopez Obrador acknowledged the heat problem, saying: “I’ve never felt so bad” — but he has a lot of humanitarian problems to deal with, too.

By May 9, at least nine cities in Mexico had set record temperatures, with Ciudad Victoria, in the border state of Tamaulipas, recording a scorching 117 F (47 C).

With below-average rainfall across almost all parts of the country so far this year, Lakes And The dams are drying up, Water supplies are running out Authorities had to truck water for everything from hospitals to firefighting teams. Low levels at hydroelectric dams contributed to power outages in some parts of the country.

And consumers are feeling the heat, too. On Monday, nationwide convenience store chain OXXO — the largest in the country — said it was limiting ice purchases to just two or three bags per customer in some locations.

“In the period of high temperatures, OXXO is taking measures to ensure product supplies to our customers,” parent company FEMSA said in a statement. “Restrictions on the sale of packaged ice seek to ensure that a greater number of customers are able to purchase this product.”

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But for the apes, it is not a matter of comfort, but of life and death.

“This is a sentinel species,” Pozzo said, referring to the canary-in-coal effect where a single species can say a lot about an ecosystem. “It tells us something about what’s happening with climate change.”


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