It is 4 pm. The sun is finally not melting the roads and the temperature has finally gone down to an agreeable and “fresh” 30 degrees.
So, it is rush hour in monkey highway.
Our house seems to be located in what looks like a wildlife corridor. While in our previous house we had had the pleasure to meet only howler monkeys, here we have seen three of the four types of monkeys that are in Costa Rica: the tiny squirrel monkey (Titi), the capuchin monkey and, of course, the howler monkeys.
It is not only the variety. It is the numbers too. The largest group that we saw at our previous house had five members. A clear dominant male, two females (one with a baby) and what looked like a young male. Here the groups are huge, easily 30 to 50 individuals.
Watching them passing by has become my favorite winding-down or “dewiring” activity after the work/volunteer day. So much that I cannot help but jump immediately to the garden the moment that I start hearing the first “shush” on the trees. Who needs a TV if Nat Geo is happening right outside your door?
Today the first to arrive were the squirrel monkeys. They are the smallest of the monkeys in Costa Rica and, because of their cuteness, they are often captured for the illegal pet trade. Naturally, they tend to disappear in the canopy the moment that they see a human face. So, I needed to come out of the house in slow motion. Sit down as if I was doing yoga and enjoy the show. The squirrel monkeys are the acrobats of the trees. They literally jump-fly from one tree to the other and they move in all directions, up, down, right and left. So much that at times it is difficult to figure out where they are going. Maybe they do not know themselves and just play by the ear since sometimes they leave just to come back soon after. They are also very vocal and they chirp to each other, like little flocks of birds, while they go around.
We discovered the other day that they might be highly territorial or at least defensive of what they consider to be their tree. Last day a group of scarlet macaws made the mistake of loudly landing on a tree that was being carefully explored by the squirrel monkeys and they were rapidly being kicked out. The macaw left protesting loudly, which started the howling show of the next monkeys approaching. The howlers.
I can still hear the chirping of the squirrel monkeys fading in the distance when the howlers arrive. They do so in a much calmer manner. Taking their time. Sitting here to eat a leave. There to see the sunset. And in this very comfortable branch to wait for the entire group to arrive.
It is usually a male howler that appears first. But not always. In a few occasions, it has been a small group of female howlers with their babies, who patiently waited, as if they were chatting with each other recounting the day, until the rest of the group arrived. We have seen two groups now. A really large one, of 30-40 individuals and a smaller one of 5-6 individuals. Their careful movements are in sharp contrast with the squirrel monkeys. Howlers do not usually jump in the air without having their tail securely wrapped around the tree that they are leaving. And they do not unwrap the tail until they have hold of the next branch. The other day I observed a howler sitting down, placing the tail in front of him, wrapping it around the branch and then walking over the tail and jumping. And who blames them for being careful? They are larger than the squirrel and have comparatively much shorter legs. So they use their tail more.
Howlers seem to be very sensitive to noise to which they react with a loud howl started by the male that is soon joined by the rest of the group. A group of macaws pass by cracking…Howl. Someone starts the motorbike…Howl. Dogs start barking…Howl. And even, as it happened last weekend, someone starts singing really out of tune…Howl. Tremor. Howl. And of course, there are the bugger noisy ducks….. Howl. Howl. Howl.
Two days ago, we also had, at the same time, the visit of Capuchin monkeys. They usually pass by using lower trees, which makes it easier to observe them. They are also quite wary of humans and tend to warn the group with loud shouts when we come out to the porch while moving rapidly to a second row of trees (the monkeys, not us).
Of the three monkeys, they seem to me that they are the ones that look more mean. Or scared. It might be the dark eyes in the otherwise white face or something else altogether, may be the fact that they do look you in the eye…
Often enough, one group leaves before the next one arrives, which had led us to think that the different types of monkeys did not like to be together in the same patch of forest at the same time. But our theory went down the drain the other day when we saw howlers and squirrels monkeys in one tree and howlers and some capuchins that were trying to catch up with their group in another. And all went fine. Not one single howl.
I wish some times that we, humans, could be so tolerant of each other.