Heat wave in Mexico: howler monkeys fall dead from trees

A soldier removes the body of a howler monkey that died amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico, on May 21. Dozens of howler monkeys were found dead in the Gulf Coast state, while others were rescued by residents who rushed them to a local veterinarian. Photo / AP

It’s so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys fall dead from the trees.

At least 83 of these medium-sized primates, known for their vocal roars, were found dead in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco. Others were rescued by residents, including five who were rushed to a local veterinarian who fought to save them.

“They arrived in critical condition, with dehydration and fever,” said Dr. Sergio Valenzuela. “They were as limp as rags. “It was heat stroke.”

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.

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

In the town of Tecolutilla, Tabasco, dead monkeys began showing up on Friday, when a local volunteer fire and rescue team showed up with five of the creatures in the bed of the truck.

Normally quite intimidating, howler monkeys are muscular and can measure around 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall, with equally long tails. They are equipped with large jaws and fearsome teeth and fangs. But above all, their lion-like roars, which belie their size, are what characterizes them.

“They (the volunteers) asked for help, they asked me 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.”

A veterinarian feeds a rescued young howler monkey amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico.  Photo / AP
A veterinarian feeds a rescued young howler monkey amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico. Photo / AP

The vet put ice on her limp little hands and feet and started IVs with electrolytes.

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

So far, the monkeys seem to be doing better. Once apathetic and easy to handle, they are now in cages in Valenzuela’s office.

“They are recovering. They’re aggressive…they’re biting again,” she said, noting it’s a healthy sign for the usually sneaky creatures.

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

“They fell from the trees like apples,” Pozo said. “They were in a state of severe dehydration and died within minutes.”

Already weakened, Pozo says that falls from dozens of meters high cause additional damage that often kills the monkeys.

Pozo attributes the deaths to a “synergy” of factors, including high temperatures, drought, forest fires and tree felling that deprives the monkeys of water, shade and the fruits they eat.

For the people of the steamy, swampy, jungle state of Tabasco, the howler monkey is a prized and emblematic species; Local people say that the monkeys tell them the time of day by howling at dawn and dusk.

Howler monkeys sit in a cage at a veterinary clinic after being rescued amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico.  Photo / AP
Howler monkeys sit in a cage at a veterinary clinic after being rescued amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico. Photo / AP

Pozo said local people, whom he knows through his work with the Usumacinta Biodiversity Conservation group, have tried to help the monkeys they see on their farms. But he points out that could be a double-edged sword.

“They were falling from the trees, and the people were moved, and they went to help the animals, they got water and fruit for them,” Pozo said. “They want to take care of them, mainly the little monkeys, to adopt them.

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

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

Pozo’s group has set up special monkey recovery stations – it currently houses 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.

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

López Obrador acknowledged the problem of the heat – “I’ve never felt it so bad” – but he also has many human problems to deal with.

A howler monkey sits inside a cage with others at a veterinary clinic after being rescued amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico.  Photo / AP
A howler monkey sits inside a cage with others at a veterinary clinic after being rescued amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico. Photo / AP

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

With below-average rainfall across most of the country so far this year, lakes and dams are drying up, water supplies are running out, and authorities have had to truck water in for everything from hospitals to firefighting equipment. of fires. Low levels at hydroelectric dams have contributed to power blackouts in some parts of the country.

Consumers are feeling the pressure, too. On Monday, national convenience store chain OXXO, the nation’s largest, said it was limiting ice purchases to just two or three bags per customer in some locations.

AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.

“In a period of high temperatures, OXXO is taking measures to ensure the supply of products to our customers,” parent company FEMSA said in a statement. “The limits on the sale of bagged ice seek to ensure that a greater number of customers can purchase this product.”

But for monkeys it is not a question of comfort, but of life or death.

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