Howlers at Hickatee... and scroll down for news on Spartacus
Known in Belize as the "baboon", the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) is the largest monkey in Belize, and one of the largest in the Americas, as well as being the loudest mammal in the New World. Although considered critically endangered (habitat destruction being one of the main causes), we are lucky enough to have a large and healthy population of howler monkeys in the Boom Creek Road area, including a resident Hickatee troop.
Our resident troop is fairly quiet - they seem to tolerate our tresspassing fairly well - but you will likely hear the roars from various other troops as they communicate their location to each other, or warn when they consider their territory is being invaded. The Hickatee troop is often seen in the gardens, usually every fortnight or so.
Until very recently, no research had been done on howler monkeys in southern Belize, so imagine our delight when we met up with Dr Sylvia Vitazkova from George Mason University in 2009 when she visited the area on a "recognizance mission" to ascertain where howler monkeys could be found. Sylvia is in the picture on the right, with research assistant and husband, Ray Castellanos.
Since that time we've been hooked... Lacking any data, we and guests monitored the presence of howler monkeys in the area (through calls and visual sightings) ahead of Sylvia's next research visit. We now have well over a thousand records of calls and sightings, helping us to monitor the location of the various troops. The early records helped us identify potential territories so that, when Sylvia and Ray arrived to conduct their research, they were able to quickly locate the various troops. (There is no doubt that citizen science can play a big role, especially when a permanent research programme is just not feasible, so a huge thank you to all our guests who have helped.)
Sylvia's areas of interest include parasites the howlers might carry, and any transmission between the monkeys, domestic animals and even humans. Her research is ongoing, but we're thrilled to report that the Hickatee troop is very healthy - click on this link to read her report!
Sylvia's DNA testing is also ongoing (resulting from the collection of a fairly substantial amount of monkey poop!), and will hopefully provide an insight into a possible "break away" troop, with a young adult male leaving the Hickatee troop to form his own harem. This may also provide the answer to a particularly distressing incident which took place at the beginning of September 2011. Read on...
Spartacus, and the Belize Primate Rehabilitation Centre (Wildtracks)
In the midst of an almighty thunderstorm, we were alerted by Mr shal (our night-watchman) that a baby monkey had fallen out of the tree. Slightly groggy (we are talking midnight here!) we hurried off to find a tiny little mite lying face down in the mud, very wet, very cold, and with his hand nearly severed. We got a box and a blanket and put him in it, and then phoned Paul and Zoe Walker, at the Wildtracks' Primate Rehabilitation Centre. With their advice and a makeshift hot water bottle he made it through the night. Tropic Air was good enough to accept him as a first-class passenger on the next morning's flight to Belize City, where he was met by Paul and rushed to the vet at Central Farm near Belmopan.
It turned out that the hand hadn't been injured by the fall, but through an attack. We don't know what attacked this tiny baby but, as with chimpanzees, there have been records of males committing infanticide. The calls of the mother over the next two days were hearbreaking as she, and the rest of the troop, searched for the baby in vain. The sound will haunt us for a long time...
Back at emergency surgery in Belmopan, the vet said that it was one of the most extreme cases she had seen, and that "if we can save that hand we need to celebrate". Now in the loving care of Paul and Zoe, and their team of volunteers, Spartacus has so far defied the odds just by surviving. There is now a better chance that the hand can be saved, he is eating fruit and taking milk by himself, and "although likely to become a real sweetheart he'll clearly have his very strong will as a lifelong trait" (Paul's words). It seems he's a tough little thing, and he has been named "Spartacus" because of his fighting spirit.
The Primate Rehabilitation Centre takes rescued and injured monkeys, with the ultimate goal of rehabilitating them for release (back) into the wild. Although the Centre has only been at the Wildtracks location since the beginning of 2011 they have already realeased their first troop into the Fireburn Reserve - the first time monkeys have been in the Reserve for over 50 years!
Wildtracks does a fantastic job, but monkey rehabilitation does not come cheap - just food and standard medication and vetinerary checks cost US$1 per monkey per day. Add in the sort of emergency treatment that Spartacus received, not to mention the construction of the cages, and you are looking at a very tidy sum.
We make no apologies for posting pictures of the adorable Spartacus to tug at your heart strings. If you would like to make a donation to the Primate Rehabiitation Centre, or adopt a monkey, then please let us know!
Wiltracks can accept donations through Paypal or, if it is easier for you to donate by credit card, then we are happy to process the payments for them. Hickatee will cover the merchant transaction fees so that 100% of your donation goes to helping the monkeys.
For some more wonderful photos of the programme, visit the Primate Rehabilitation Centre's photo album on Facebook!
Please use the form below to submit credit card details for your donation. Ooops... Slight technical hitch, to be rectified VERY shortly!