Unprecedented Heatwave in Mexico Pushes Howler Monkeys to Brink of Extinction


Baked beneath an unrelenting sun, Mexico is enduring a heatwave of brutal proportions. A silent victim in this extreme weather is the howler monkey that is now falling dead from the trees. Across the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco, no fewer than 83 of these mid-sized primates have been discovered lifeless, their once loud, vociferous roars silenced by the sweltering temperatures.

Local residents have stepped in to rescue those clinging to life. Five critical monkeys were whisked away to a local veterinarian, Dr. Sergio Valenzuela, who has been racing against the clock to save their lives. “They arrived in critical condition, dehydration and fever had turned them as limp as rags. It was a clear case of heatstroke”, Valenzuela recounted.

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Over the past few months, Mexico’s punishing heatwave has claimed the lives of at least 26 people, but additional casualties include unfortunate dozens, possibly even hundreds, of howler monkeys. In the small town of Tecolutilla, the devastating sight of lifeless monkeys began cropping up last Friday. The local volunteer fire-and-rescue squad arrived with the bed of their truck burdened with the bodies of five of these creatures.

Usually a formidable sight, howler monkeys stand up to 3 feet in height and boast muscular bodies and long tails. They weigh more than 30 pounds, and with their mighty jaws and fearsome teeth, they can be quite intimidating. But what truly distinguish them are their lion-like roars, deceivingly louder than their size.

Desperate volunteers arrived at Valenzuela’s clinic seeking help for the monkeys. “They asked me to examine some of the animals from their truck as they had no money to pay,” Valenzuela stated on Monday. Despite their dire financial situation, Valenzuela proceeded to treat the monkeys, icing their limp hands and feet, and administering electrolyte-filled IV drips to combat their severe dehydration. His Herculean efforts have started to yield positive signs; they are now fit to be caged and are regaining their aggression—a positive health indicator for these typically elusive creatures.

Still, many of the stricken monkeys remain unlucky. Wildlife biologist Gilberto Pozo counted around 83 monkeys either dead or dying under the trees. The deadly blow came around May 5 when the stifling heat took a turn for the worse, peaking over the weekend. “The death scene was heartbreaking. They fell from the trees like raindrops, clicking to the ground within minutes of severe dehydration,” Pozo expressed.

He blames a synergistic combination of excessive heat, drought, forests fires, and logging that drained the monkeys of water, shade, and food. In Tabasco, a land swamped by dense jungle, howler monkeys are held dear. They are seen as an iconic species, with local folklore attributing the ability to tell time to their dawn and dusk howling.

Pozo expressed the locals’ futile attempts to help these creatures on their farmlands. However, he warned that such efforts might be counterproductive, “Babies are very delicate, they can’t be in a house with dogs or cats, as they carry pathogens potentially fatal for howler monkeys,” he cautioned. Rather, these animals should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the wild.

In response, Pozo’s group has established specific recovery stations for the monkeys currently housing five, though birds and reptiles are suffering similar predicaments. His goal is to assemble a team of specialist veterinarians devoted to giving these primates the care they need.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged this issue on Monday, “I learned about it via social media,” he said, commending Dr. Valenzuela on his efforts and committing to government support for the cause.

The heat remains a deep concern for ordinary citizens. As of May 9, nine cities in Mexico had broken temperature records, with Ciudad Victoria hovering at a searing 117 F. The heat has wreaked havoc, drying up lakes and dams, draining water supplies, and triggering power blackouts across the nation due to low levels at hydroelectric dams.

In the midst of this, the largest nationwide chain of convenience stores, OXXO, announced it would cap ice purchases to two or three bags per customer to ensure resources for the general population.

Still, for the howler monkeys, the scorching heat is more than discomfort—it’s about survival. Pozo paints a solemn picture, “Howler monkeys are a sentinel species. Like canaries in a coal mine, their plight warns us about the realities of climate change.”