It’s so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from the trees

May 21, 2024, 7:00 PM

A veterinarian feeds a young howler monkey rescued amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla,...

A veterinarian feeds a young howler monkey rescued amid extremely high temperatures in Tecolutilla, Tabasco state, Mexico, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. 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. (AP Photo/Luis Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Luis Sanchez)

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

At least 83 of the midsize primates, who are known for their roaring vocal calls, were found dead in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco. 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 heatwave 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.

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

Normally quite intimidating, howler monkeys are muscular and can be around 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall, with tails as long again. They are equipped with big jaws and a fearsome set of teeth and fangs. But mostly, their lion-like roars, which bely their size, are what they’re known for.

“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 hook them up to IV drips with electrolytes.

Some of the howler monkeys are on the mend

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 83 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.

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.

Government on board with efforts to save howler monkeys

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 117 F (47 C).

With below-average rainfall throughout almost all the country so far this year, lakes and dams are drying up, water supplies are running out and 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.”

General News

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks. (Photo by George Frey/Getty...

Associated Press

Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on rapid-fire rifle bump stocks, reopening political fight

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, the rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

10 hours ago

Hugo López of Al Otro Lado advocacy group hands a pamphlet to Antonio Cortes, a Mexican man who wa...

Associated Press

Some Mexican shelters see crowding south of the border as Biden’s asylum ban takes hold

Some shelters south of the U.S. border are caring for many more migrants now that the Biden administration stopped considering most asylum requests.

11 hours ago

Split panel image of boxes of mifepristone on the left and the facade of the Supreme Court building...

Associated Press

US Supreme Court unanimously preserves access to abortion medication mifepristone

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year.

2 days ago

Forgiving father's killer hard for 3 children of Jordan Rasmussen...

KSL Podcasts/Amy Donaldson

A family decides to forgive a killer, but will the next generation follow?

Michael Moore killed Jordan Rasmussen and Buddy Booth in 1982. Forgiving their father's killer was hard for Rasmussen's three children.

2 days ago

Hilton Crawford's Campaign Poster when he ran for Sheriff of Jefferson County in the 1976 Democrati...

Ben Kuebrich, KSL Podcasts

Former officer who kidnapped 12-year-old after tricking parents had red flags in police record

Episode six of Ransom: Position of Trust, dives into Hilton Crawford's past to see who he was and what led him to kidnap Mckay Everett.

3 days ago

President Joe Biden speaks to Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund's "Gun Sense University," at the...

Associated Press

President Joe Biden’s campaign says gun control could be a motivating issue for many voters

Gun control advocates and many Democrats see fresh openings created by hard-line positions of the gun lobby.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

It’s so hot in Mexico that howler monkeys are falling dead from the trees