April 16, 2019

Howler Monkey Release in PachaMama

by Gal Yudkin

PachaMama and the Nosara Refuge for Wildlife (in the nearby town of Nosara) were both founded in 1999. Living in harmony with the environment and restoring the native ecosystem is an integral part of the PachaMama Eco Village vision and along with regular encounters with wildlife – specifically with Howler Monkey – a relationship developed with the Nosara RfW. With the rapid development of Nosara came a growing electricity infrastructure, leading to many injuries of local monkeys. PachaMama educated itself and did its best to protect and support these vocal mammals that have become an inseparable part of the experience of living in Guanacaste.

Through PachaMama’s efforts of reforestation, forest management, extensive planting, and the decision not to develop the majority of the land owned by the community, the forest canopy grew to what is now, nearly 20 years later, a very healthy, thriving ecosystem capable of supporting a much more rich and complex variety of animals. The relationship with RfW grew stronger and led to coordinated wildlife release events of rehabilitated animals on PachaMama land down by the river. Then came the idea of placing a specially-designed enclosure at PachaMama, to pilot a release program for Howler Monkeys.

The building of the enclosure was performed by dedicated members of RfW with the help of Tuwa Oyam and friends, who later had the privilege of designing the interior of the enclosure with ropes, bamboos, and various tree trunks and vines for a healthy, complex environment that allowed the monkeys a wide range of movement and skill development to ready them for their return to the wild nature.

Finally, during the last week of December, we were excited and anxious to receive 3 Howlers: 1 male (Jordanny) and 2 females (Sophie and Lela). All three arrived a moment before sexual maturity, for a better chance of troop integration and survival in the wild. They had been nurtured for over 3 years by RfW to great success. We happily received 3 beautiful, healthy, and playful Howlers that had come a long way together and formed their own tight, caring family unit.

During the next 8 weeks, I had (with the help of quite a few hands) the job of feeding the monkeys twice a day, maintaining good enclosure hygiene, and reporting behavior and any other relevant information to RfW monkey experts. Working in close contact with Dr. Francisco Sanchez Murillo, RfW Veterinarian (among others), who came almost every morning with ready-made fruits and leaves for the monkeys was a real treat. I quickly learned how to behave inside the enclosure and perform my duties with the least amount of disturbance to the monkeys. I was taught it was paramount to create no eye contact whatsoever with them and always wore a mask and gloves so the monkeys knew I was a part of the feeding staff and so to make a clear distinction between staff and other humans. In that manner, later on when they would be released, they wouldn’t make the connection that humans lead to food.

Little did i know how interesting, emotional, challenging, and rewarding this experience would be. I quickly fell in love with all three monkeys, observing their unique personalities and human-like interactions which also made my job harder. I would feed them silently and efficiently, later observing them with binoculars from a distance. They would sometimes seek closeness, trying to grab and eat food from my hand but never initiating touch. Some days it was really hard not to talk to them, comfort them, or just stay with them basking in their playful vibrant energy. Other days when they accidentally(?) peed on me or what seemed like intentionally disturbed me, it could get somewhat frustrating. It took some will to maintain professional etiquette.

Everyone involved was very happy when the transition into the enclosure was smooth beyond expectations: the monkeys were eating well, growing, and showcasing very positive behavior within the enclosure and toward the PachaMama forest environment at large. Wild Howler troops would visit the enclosure checking out and communicating with the new “outsiders”. After several weeks, a release date was set and coordinated.

Seeing Jordanny, Lela, and Sophie innocently and cautiously exiting through the specifically-designed release hatch was an unforgettable moment. For the first time in their adult life they were free. Climbing up the trees to new heights, observing the world from new angles, we were left speechless and our hearts melting. A huge effort of love and dedication finally bore fruits. Within half an hour they disappeared into their new forest home. With mixed feelings for I knew I would miss them, I too returned home. I spent the next couple of days maintaining routine in case they chose to return to spend the night in the enclosure, and looking for them all over PachaMama land. They didn’t come back to the enclosure and I haven’t managed to spot them since. My heart tells me they are free and happy.

In the process I realized how many troops of monkeys are thriving in healthy numbers here in the forest of PachaMama, carrying many young ones, safe in their natural environment. A true communal effort, we are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next group of 6 Howlers to the enclosure this coming June and the continuation of a beautiful relationship with the inspiring Nosara Refuge for Wildlife.

The RfW also posted about this journey here.

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