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Translo­ca­tion of howler mon­keys helped them sur­vive and thrive in Belize

pub­lished 20 May 2017 | mod­i­fied 20 May 2017

Black howler monkey Belize ZooRecent Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) Queens Zoo sur­veys of Yucatán or Guatemalan black howler mon­keys (Alouatta pigra) that have been translo­cated to Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary 25 years ago, reveal that the effort has been a great suc­cess, with mon­keys now thriv­ing through­out the reserve after going locally extinct 40 years ago.

The sur­veys con­ducted by WCS’s Queens Zoo in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Belize Audubon Soci­ety last month counted 66 indi­vid­ual howler mon­keys from at least 15 dif­fer­ent social units with evi­dence of many other groups inhab­it­ing areas up to 20 kilo­me­tres away from the orig­i­nal release sites. All told, the sur­vey team believes that as many as sev­eral hun­dred howlers are likely to live in the sanctuary.

From 19921994, WCS, the Belize Audubon Soci­ety, and Com­mu­nity Con­ser­va­tion Con­sul­tants Inc. translo­cated 62 mon­keys in 14 social groups from the Com­mu­nity Baboon Sanc­tu­ary in north­ern Belize, to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, a 154 square mile (400 km2) pro­tected area 62 miles (100 kilo­me­tres) to the south.

Howler mon­keys had dis­ap­peared from Cockscomb in the late 1970’s as a result of a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, includ­ing Hur­ri­cane Hat­tie in 1961 that lev­elled as much as 90 per­cent of the canopy in the Cockscomb Basin, a yel­low fever epi­demic, and uncon­trolled hunt­ing before the area was pro­tected. The species is cur­rently listed as Endan­gered by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species due to habi­tat loss and hunting.

Dur­ing the recent month-​long sur­vey effort, the research team found howler mon­keys liv­ing in nearly all the suit­able areas they sur­veyed through­out the Cockscomb.

Said Scott Sil­ver, Direc­tor of WCS’s Queens Zoo, who assisted in the orig­i­nal translo­ca­tion and co-​led the recent sur­veys with trop­i­cal biol­o­gist Linde Ostro: “Once again, the deep throated-​roar of howler mon­keys is a reg­u­lar sound that echoes through the forests of the Cockscomb Basin, and howl­ing bat­tles can be heard bounc­ing back and forth over the for­est canopy as male howler mon­keys announce their pres­ence to neigh­bour­ing troops.”

The pres­ence of howler mon­keys in the Cockscomb Basin ben­e­fits other wildlife and plant com­mu­ni­ties found there. As impor­tant seed dis­persers, howler mon­keys are known to help species whose fruits and seeds they con­sume to sur­vive and thrive.

For the last 25 years, the tree com­mu­nity in Cockscomb has likely slowly begun to return to the com­po­si­tion of tree species that was there for thou­sands of years when howler mon­keys were present in the Cockscomb Basin. This in turn prob­a­bly ben­e­fits many other species that evolved strate­gies for sur­vival in a for­est that grows up with howler mon­keys as part of the ecosystem.

Scott Sil­ver, Direc­tor of WCS’s Queens Zoo

The return of howlers pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties for tourists to observe the charis­matic pri­mates. While Cockscomb is famous as the world’s first jaguar reserve, and has an abun­dance of jaguar, they are rarely seen by the casual vis­i­tor. Howler mon­keys, on the other hand, are slow mov­ing, active dur­ing the day, and reg­u­larly seen, and even more often heard, by visitors.

Said Sil­ver: “The sound of howler mon­key roars echo­ing off the hills and trees is a mov­ing and impact­ful part of any rain­for­est visit, and see­ing cars pulled over along­side the Cockscomb road as tourists get out to watch mon­keys in the trees above is a tes­ta­ment to how much they enhance a visitor’s expe­ri­ence to the park.”

(Source: WCS news release, 17.05.2017)

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