By Vicki Barnes
Leaves crunched loudly under our feet as we walked, staring into the canopy overhead. A small branch cracked, snapped and spun uncontrolled through leaves and other branches before landing at our feet.
A throaty rumble began in one tree, tumbled through the air and picked up a few feet away. Dark shapes slid across the branches, leaves raining over us as they moved.
The low moaning howl, like a rolling wave pushing through a tube, announced the presence of Howler Monkeys in the back yard. These are the largest monkeys native to Central and South America. Their howls can be heard up to three miles away through the dense forest. Right above your head, the sound is downright eerie.
The house we have rented is at the edge of their forest. People around here call them “tree rats”. They say the monkeys are a nuisance because they sit up in the trees and eat fruit and nuts, dropping bits here and there. Their table manners leave much to be desired. It’s preferable to the more popular white-faced capuhins that climb down from the trees and sneak off with whatever they can glean from your trash or your picnic lunch.
Sit very still and the monkeys will come closer. They stare quietly, then chatter excitedly. Then the howl. Low and long.
The monkeys travel in packs of six to 20. Usually one or two dominant males lead the group. The group in our back yard had seven members. Two older males patrolled the perimeter. A younger, perhaps adolescent, male stared out to the south, where another troop patrolled the trees a way down.
A click of a branch a mile or so away and the youngster would let out a long growling howl, echoing through the trees. The others snapped briefly to a halt then went back to their foraging and eating.
After a while, the monkeys had eaten their fill in the canopy above the yard and moved deeper into the jungle. Their howls could still be heard as they moved away. Even long after they were out of sight, the howls continued, long and low, until they were deep in the jungle and we returned to our lunch.