Heatwave in Mexico causes howler monkeys to drop dead from trees

Howler monkey (genus Alouatta) in captivity at Xcaret nature park in Playa del Carmen. Quintana Roo. Mexico.

Mexico is currently enduring one of the harshest droughts in recent history, coupled with extreme heat. On Monday, temperatures soared to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) in around a third of the country, the Associated Press reported. 

This intense heat wave is causing lakes and dams to dry up rapidly, leading to critical water shortages.

The unprecedented heat and lack of rainfall have led to severe water scarcity. Authorities have resorted to trucking in water to sustain essential services, including hospitals and firefighting efforts. The situation is dire as communities struggle to access clean water for daily needs.

Impact on wildlife: howler monkeys in peril

These extreme weather conditions are not just affecting humans, but also the local wildlife.

In a heart-wrenching sight, howler monkeys have been observed falling lifeless from trees due to the unbearable heat. These innocent creatures, unable to withstand the extreme temperatures, are becoming the most poignant symbols of the ongoing crisis.

At least 83 of the midsize primates, who are known for their roaring vocal calls, were found dead in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco. Others were rescued by residents, including five who were rushed to a local veterinarian who battled to save them.

"They arrived in critical condition, with dehydration and fever," Dr. Sergio Valenzuela told the Associated Press. "They were as limp as rags. It was heatstroke."

While Mexico's brutal heatwave has been linked to the deaths of at least 26 people since March, veterinarians and rescuers say it has killed dozens and perhaps hundreds of howler monkeys.

In the town of Tecolutilla, Tabasco, the dead monkeys started appearing on Friday, when a local volunteer fire-and-rescue squad showed up with five of the creatures in the bed of the truck.

Normally quite intimidating, howler monkeys are muscular and can be around 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall, with tails as long again. They are equipped with big jaws and a fearsome set of teeth and fangs. But mostly, their lion-like roars, which bely their size, are what they're known for.

Record high temperatures across Mexico

Meanwhile, local governments are implementing emergency measures to address the water shortages. This includes setting up water distribution points and providing resources to affected areas. However, the scale of the problem is vast, and more comprehensive strategies are needed to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region.

Belatedly, the federal government acknowledged the problem Monday, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saying he had heard about it on social media. He congratulated Valenzuela on his efforts and said the government would seek to support the work.

López Obrador acknowledged the heat problem — "I have never felt it as bad as this" — but he has a lot of human problems to deal with as well.

By May 9 at least nine cities in Mexico had set temperature records, with Ciudad Victoria, in the border state of Tamaulipas, clocking a broiling 117 F (47 C).

With below-average rainfall throughout almost all the country so far this year, lakes and dams 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 levels at hydroelectric dams have contributed to power blackouts in some parts of the country.

Consumers are feeling the heat as well. On Monday, the nationwide chain of OXXO convenience stores — the nation's largest — said it was limiting purchases of ice to just two or three bags per customer in some places.

"In a period of high temperatures, OXXO is taking measures to ensure supplies of products for our customers," parent company FEMSA said in a statement. "Limits on the sale of bagged ice seek to ensure that a larger number of customers can buy this product."

But for the monkeys, it's not a question of comfort, but of life or death.

"This is a sentinel species," 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.