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Monkey Mission In Orange Walk!

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As Belize’s population and agriculture industry continues to grow, more and more forested areas are cleared to develop and expand housing areas and farmlands. In a perfect world, pockets of forest or “corridors” would be left so wildlife in the area have an “escape route” if food and living space runs out. This isn’t always the case, and often wildlife is left stranded on little “islands” in a sea of cleared land.

This was what happened to a troupe of howler monkeys near Guinea Grass in northern Belize. Sitting on less than half an acre of forest, 6 howlers sat surrounded on all sides by burnt fields and sugar cane, with little food and nowhere to run. Something had to be done!

Members of the Belize Wildlife Conservation Network organized a daring rescue mission, lead by Wildtracks Primate Rehab Center in Sarteneja, with support from the Forest Department. Joining the rescue team were Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, Lamanai Jungle River Tours, Belize Humane Society, and, of course, The Belize Zoo.

Energy and anticipation were high as the rescue team moved in early on a cool and windy Saturday morning. Paul Walker of Wildtracks informed the team that, sadly, two monkeys had already been poached; leaving only four monkeys. Howler Monkeys are an endangered species, threatened with habitat loss and the illegal pet trade. All agreed that these four were in a very vulnerable area and needed relocating ASAP!

Romping through half an acre of forest to capture 4 smart howler monkeys takes more team work, cleverness, and Gatorade than one would think. The howlers moved swiftly out of range whenever they felt the team getting a little too close for comfort; these monkeys were too clever for their own good! The team was climbing trees, firing tranquilizers, and holding “safety sheets” wide under the pumped up primates, with no luck. 

Tired and sweating, the team regrouped and tried a new approach while the big alpha howler roared overhead. The trees were too high and the wind too strong for tranquilizers, so the last resort was to limit the monkeys’ moving space, and catch them by hand. The plan worked, slowly but surely. After a 7 hour mission all 4 monkeys were safely secured in cages ready to be taken to Wildtracks for some much needed TLC. They would receive treatment for parasites and poor nutrition, before being relocated to a better home in the wild in the Fireburn Reserve in northern Belize. 

TBZ is proud to have been a part of this superb rescue mission, and thanks everyone that made it a success! As Margaret Mead once said, “"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


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