Severe Heatwave in Mexico Causes Monkeys to Fall Dead from Trees

At least 83 howler monkeys, known for their loud calls, were found dead in the state of Tabasco on the Gulf coast of Mexico, and others were rescued by residents, including five that were taken to a local veterinarian.

Veterinarian Sergio Valenzuela said, “The monkeys arrived in critical condition, suffering from dehydration and fever, they were limping like rags, it was heatstroke.”

While the severe heatwave in Mexico has been linked to the deaths of at least 26 people since March, veterinarians and rescuers say it has killed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of howler monkeys.

In the town of Tecolutilla in the state of Tabasco, dead monkeys began appearing on Friday, coinciding with the arrival of a local volunteer firefighting and rescue team with five monkeys in the back of their truck.

Typically, howler monkeys are quite intimidating, with strong muscles, reaching up to about 2 feet (60 cm) in length, with long tails, large jaws, and a formidable set of teeth and fangs. But mostly, it is their lion-like roar, which contrasts with their size, that makes them famous.

Valenzuela said on Monday, “The volunteers asked for help and asked me if I could examine some animals that were in their truck. They told me they had no money and asked if I could do it for free.”

The veterinarian put ice on the monkeys‘ small weak hands and feet, and hooked them up to IV drips containing electrolytes.

So far, the monkeys seem to be improving. After being exhausted and easily handled, they are now in cages at Valenzuela’s office. He said, “They are recovering. They are becoming aggressive. They are biting again,” noting that this is a healthy sign for these creatures.

Most are not so lucky. Wildlife biologist Gilberto Pozzo counted around 83 dead animals on the ground under the trees. He said, “They were falling from the trees like apples. They were severely dehydrated and died within minutes. Falling from dozens of meters often causes additional injuries that are often fatal.”

Pozzo attributes the deaths to a combination of factors, including high heat, drought, wildfires, and deforestation, which deprive the monkeys of water, shade, and the fruits they eat.

For the people living in the swampy, forested state of Tabasco, the howler monkey has symbolic significance, as the monkeys howl at dawn and dusk to tell the time.

Pozzo said that locals tried to help the monkeys they saw around their farms. But this can be a double-edged sword, as people are moved and rush to help the animals, offering them water and fruit. They want to take care of them, especially baby monkeys, and adopt them, but the reality is that baby monkeys are very sensitive and cannot be in a home where there are dogs or cats, as they can carry pathogens that can be deadly for howler monkeys,” stressing the need to rehabilitate the monkeys and then release them into the wild.

By May 9, at least nine cities in Mexico had recorded record temperatures, with Ciudad Victoria in the border state of Tamaulipas hitting a scorching 117 Fahrenheit (47 Celsius).

With below-average rainfall across almost the entire country so far this year, lakes and dams are drying up, water supplies are dwindling, and authorities have had to truck water for everything from hospitals to firefighting teams. Low levels in hydroelectric dams have contributed to power outages in parts of the country.

Consumers are also feeling the heat. On Monday, the OXXO store chain, the largest in the country, said it was limiting ice purchases to two or three bags per customer in some locations.

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

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