Mexican howler monkeys drop dead as heat toll increases

By Luis Manuel Lopez and Raul Cortes

COMALCALCO, Mexico (Reuters) – Endangered howler monkeys have fallen dead from trees in Mexico’s southeastern tropical forests in recent weeks, amid a nationwide drought and heat waves that have sent temperatures soaring across much of the country .

In Tabasco state, where temperatures are expected to exceed 45 degrees Celsius this week, local media have reported up to 85 deaths, while local authorities confirmed the trend without providing a death toll.

In a statement last weekend, Tabasco’s civil protection agency attributed the deaths to dehydration.

An agency source told Reuters on Monday that monkeys have been confirmed dead in three municipalities in the state.

In a forest outside Camalcalco, Tabasco, volunteers collected the corpses of mantled howler monkeys (alouatta palliata) that died due to high temperatures, before laying out buckets of water and fruit to try to prevent more deaths.

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

“That’s because the heat is so strong. I have been visiting the United States for a long time and have never felt it as much as now,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a native of Tabasco, said Monday when asked about the monkey deaths.

“So yes, we have to take care of the animals and yes, we will do that,” he said at his regular press conference.

Later on Monday, Mexico’s Environment Ministry said in a statement that it was coordinating efforts to address the monkey deaths, which it attributed to several possible reasons including “heat stroke, dehydration, malnutrition or the spraying of crops with toxic agricultural chemicals . ”

Mexico is also home to the Yucatan howler monkey, which is classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List due to deforestation.

Mexico’s Health Ministry reported a preliminary count of 26 people who died from heat-related causes between the start of Mexico’s heat season on March 17 and May 11.

(Reporting by Luis Manuel Lopez in Comalcalco, Tabasco and Raul Cortes Fernandez in Mexico City; additional reporting by Brendan O’Boyle; writing by Brendan O’Boyle; editing by Sandra Maler)