Mexico’s Howler Monkeys Are Dying, ‘Falling Out of the Trees,’ Amid Scorching Heat Wave

Veterinarians and volunteers are trying to save the threatened primates by hoisting buckets of water and food into trees, as well as providing medical care

A howler monkey perched on a branch against a backdrop of leaves
At least 138 howler monkeys have been found dead in the Mexican state of Tabasco since May 16. Yuri Cortez / AFP via Getty Images

Howler monkeys are dying from dehydration and heatstroke amid scorching temperatures and drought in southeastern Mexico.

Residents and veterinarians in the state of Tabasco have been doing what they can to save the iconic primates, which are known for their loud, guttural vocalizations, especially at dusk and dawn. But at least 138 howler monkeys have been found dead in Tabasco since May 16, reports Mark Stevenson for the Associated Press (AP).

“They were falling out of the trees like apples,” Gilberto Pozo, a wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation of the Usumacinta, tells the AP. “They were in a state of severe dehydration, and they died within a matter of minutes.”

Some have fallen from heights of up to 65 feet, reports Yussel Gonzalez for the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Mexico has been enduring severe heat waves since mid-March. Temperatures have soared as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit in some places, and at least 26 people have died from heat-related causes in the last two months. Earlier in May, ten cities recorded record-high temperatures, including Mexico City, the nation’s capital.

Water is also scarce because of below-average rainfall throughout the country. Lakes and reservoirs are depleted, which is affecting water supplies for household use, agriculture, fisheries and more. Mexico City residents are facing rations and the impending threat of water shortages.

High temperatures have also prompted power outages, and drought has reduced output from hydroelectric dams.

Howler monkeys are just the latest victims of the sweltering weather, which authorities believe is compounding other existing threats to the creatures, including habitat loss from forest fires and logging. Reptiles and birds are also suffering.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico, acknowledged the animals’ deaths during his regular press conference on Monday.

“It is because the heat is so strong,” he said, as reported by Reuters’ Luis Manuel Lopez and Raul Cortes. “I’ve been visiting the states for a long time, and I have never felt it as much as now. So, yes, we have to care for the animals, and yes, we are going to do it.”

Conservationists have been hoisting buckets of water and fruit into the trees to help the howler monkeys survive, as well as removing the bodies of those that have already died.

Several veterinarians also rendered aid to the sick creatures, after residents brought them into their clinics for care. Upon arrival, some of the animals’ body temperatures have been as high as 109 degrees Fahrenheit.

“When they arrived here in agony, they extended their hand to us as if to say ‘help me,’” says Victor Morato, a veterinarian in Comalcalco, Tabasco, to the AFP. “I had a lump in my throat.”

Sergio Valenzuela, a veterinarian in Tecolutilla, Tabasco, tells the AP the monkeys he treated were as “limp as rags.” Valenzuela hooked them up to intravenous drips with electrolytes and put ice on their hands and feet. Some of the monkeys he’s treated appear to be recovering.

Mexico is home to several kinds of howler monkeys, including mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata), Yucatán black howlers (Alouatta pigra) and Mexican howlers (Alouatta palliata mexicana). All three are at risk: The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Yucatán black howlers and Mexican howlers as endangered, and mantled howlers as vulnerable.

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