Howler monkeys drop dead from the trees as heatwave rages in Mexico

22 May 2024, 00:50 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 03:22

Mexico is so hot that howler monkeys have been dropping dead out of the trees.

At least 83 of the primates, who are known for their roaring calls, were found dead in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco where temperatures are forecast to surpass 45C this week.

Others were rescued by residents, including five that were rushed to a local vet who battled to save them.

"They arrived in critical condition, with dehydration and fever," said Dr Sergio Valenzuela.

"They were as limp as rags. It was heatstroke."

A nationwide drought and heat waves have sent temperatures soaring across much of the country.

In a statement over the weekend, Tabasco's Civil Protection agency attributed the deaths to dehydration.

A source from the agency said that monkeys have been confirmed dead in three municipalities of the state.

In a forest outside Camalcalco, Tabasco, volunteers collected the corpses of mantled howler monkeys that died from high temperatures, before placing buckets of water and fruit to try to stave off more deaths.

The mantled howler monkey is classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

"It is because the heat is so strong. I've been visiting the states for a long time and I have never felt it as much as now," Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is from Tabasco, said on Monday when asked about the primate deaths.

"So, yes, we have to care for the animals and yes we are going to do it," he said in his regular news conference.

Later on Monday, Mexico's environment ministry said in a statement that it was coordinating efforts to address the monkeys' deaths, which it attributed to several possible reasons, including "heat stroke, dehydration, malnutrition or the spraying of crops with toxic agrochemicals."

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Mexico's health ministry reported a preliminary count of 26 people who have died from heat-related causes between the start of Mexico's heat season on 17 March and 11 May.

By 9 May at least nine cities in Mexico had set temperature records, with Ciudad Victoria, in the border state of Tamaulipas, clocking a broiling 47C.

With sub-average rainfall across almost the entire country so far this year, lakes and reservoirs are drying up, water supplies are running out and authorities have had to truck in water for everything from hospitals to fire-fighting teams.

Low water levels at hydroelectric plants have contributed to power blackouts in some parts of the country.

Wildlife biologist Gilberto Pozo counted about 83 of the animals dead or dying on the ground under trees.

"This is a sentinel species," Mr Pozo said, referring to the canary-in-a-coal mine effect where one species can say a lot about an ecosystem.

"It is telling us something about what is happening with climate change."