Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Black Howlers

The town of Bermudian Landing is a self made sanctuary for the black howler monkey, found only in Belize. As Randy and I pulled into town we were flagged down by a guy named Shane. He said that he was a guide and had coexisted with and gained the trust of the family of howler monkeys on his property. We weren't sure if we should pay our money and give our time to Shane or rather to the "official" building that bore the Bermudian Landing Monkey Sanctuary name. After a few minutes of letting Shane sell us though, we decided to go with him. It was the RIGHT choice.

Shane was very versed and knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna. When we entered one area of his property, Shane's pace quickened. He put his finger to his lips giving the "shhhh" motion and listened. He pointed up in the trees above us. There, amongst the branches we could make out several black shapes. We were REALLY awed when Shane called two small monkeys by name and they immediately started scampering down the tree to him.

"Tiny" and "Happy" were the smallest of a family of black howlers living on Shane's land. The whole family was up in the trees but these two youngsters were seemingly the most docile and friendly. We had been told by other Belizians NOT to feed the monkeys as they'd been known to bite, so I was a tad nervous when Shane put a piece of banana in both mine and Randy's hand. Shane led by example and fed them without issue. He then beckoned Randy to try (Happy gave Randy's finger a small but harmless nibble). Then it was my turn. I fed Tiny, fascinated as I felt his miniscule fingers hold onto mine as his little mouth cautiously went for the banana piece.

After the feeding, Shane made a threatening call to the larger adult male in the tree so we could hear his howl. Again we were amazed not only at the sound of the howler's cry but also at the volume. Turns out, black howlers are the second loudest land mammal in the world and can be heard from a mile away (second only to the lion who's growl can be heard from five miles.) It was an alien sound unlike anything we'd ever even imagined.

Shane rounded out our time together by showing us his latest catch. A real, live baby crocodile who we got to hold. What a photo op! If you're ever in Bermudian Landing, Belize ask for Shane (everyone in town knows him) and you're sure to get an amazing up close and personal black howler monkey tour.

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