Howler Monkeys: How to Find Wild Monkeys in Belize--Community Baboon Sanctuary

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Howler Monkey

In the thick of the Belizean rainforest, our children came face-to-face with Howler monkeys.

Jeremiah’s two year-old birthday wish was to see a “mumeek” (monkey). At first, we considered going back to the Belize Zoo. However, Brent was intrigued by the Moon Guide Moon Guide excerpt of visiting the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS). No animals at CBS live in captivity; the howlers roam freely in the wild. Spotting the monkeys was a risk, but we dared it. Our dare proved to be one of the best memories we have from our life in Belize. Definitely consider a visit to CBS if you have access to a private vehicle.

Nowhere: Short bouts of torrential rain beat upon our van as we swerved pot holes along the semi-depressed town of  Burrell Boom and Double Head Cabbage. One blink and we could have missed the museum and entrance to the park. Dark gray rain clouds hung in the sky. Undeterred, we decided, the hazy day would make for a more pleasant walk through the jungle.

Community Baboon Sanctuary.

The unobtrusive sign at the Community Baboon Sanctuary.

Now Here: Before we were the Inion Eleven, we were the Ten Little Inions.  Our troop of jungle hikers piled out of the van like a herd of tourists.  If our guide was surprised by our group of littles, he hid it well.

Disabled: CBS provides guided tours through the jungle, so this is one opportunity that is not wheel-chair friendly.  However, there is a small museum inside if you will be visiting with a wheel chair.

Howler Monkey

Community Baboon Sanctuary museum

Thankfully, our jungle trekkers with special needs tapped into their travel therapy experiences. Our hike included muddy, uneven and unpredictable surfaces of the jungle.

Belize Howler Moneky hike.

Our little troop of jungle hikers walking down the country road.

Our Tour Guide:  Mr. Robert (as he called himself), is a senior specialist in the study of the Howlers. He takes part in the ongoing collection of blood and hair samples from resident monkeys. CBS was created to prevent Howler Monkey extinction following the devastating 1961 hurricane and a yellow fever outbreak that followed. Like many Belizeans, he takes pride in  protecting the beloved Belizean baboon.

Howler Monkey Search

Belize Howler Hunt

On the Hunt: Mr. Robert walked us past the combination post office and police station of Bermudian Landing. He stopped at a neighbor’s for the necessary bait for our catch–a few bananas, small mangoes and some perfectly formed chaya leaves. Our intended “prey”, the Howler monkeys, have learned to be very selective about the leaves they eat. Two of our hunting team had the strongest “weapons”; Josiah and I were armed with our trusty DSLR Canons.

Howler Moneky

Jungle hike in which we hunt for howler monkeys

Our Monkey Moment
Four year-old Hadassah stopped and grabbed her sandaled feet crying, ” I am being attacked by fire ants.” While Brent stopped at a jungle stream to wash the offending creatures off her feet, a shout went up thirty yards away.
I ran toward the older children and the guide. Robert had lured a troop of Howlers from their upper perches. They eagerly descended on the bait just inches from our two eldest children (12 and 10) who gazed in open-mouthed shock. Our 12 year-old photographer started firing off shots from the Canon as if he were at a White House press conference. Many of the pictures posted here are his.

Howler monkeys!

Howler monkeys!

Parents First: The photographer in me wanted to rush forward for photos. My heart was pounding. The mother in me stood firm in chest-high grass, pleading for Brent to run toward my voice. I did not want him to get lost in the jungle. He was carrying the two year-old and holding the four year old’s hand. 🙂

Two of our special needs children were standing unphased by the shouts and monkeys and instead looked at their feet. Somewhere on the “trail”, both Hosanna and Julia had stepped silently out of a sandal; neither child let us know. 🙂 Thankfully, the most intense part of the hike was over.

Howler monkey eating a mango.

Mother and baby howler enjoying a mango.

One Howler mother, eager to feed her 4 month-old, was the most courageous. She perched and ate at eye-level. Her baby clung to her back, intertwining his tail with his mother’s.

Boy meets monkey

Little Boy Meets Monkey.

Howler monkey photo

Howler Monkey Shoot

The Freaky Howler Roar: True to their name, the Howlers define their territory with an infamous yell audible for miles around. Two playful monkeys were hanging from a tree. Hannah saw and scooped up her little sister, Hadassah. She unknowingly put Hadassah too close for her sister’s comfort. Without warning, Hadassah let out her ear-piercing high pitched yell of terror. The unsuspecting monkeys leaped from the tree and ran in all directions, assuming that the pale-faced creature was boldly marking her territory.

Wild Experience

Wild Experience

No matter how loudly the young pale-face cried, the ever-courageous Howler mother hung tenaciously to the tree, determined to eat her mango and feed her baby. The picture below captures the scream/scatter moment. Hysterically, everyone is looking at the running monkeys oblivious to the obvious monkey dangling before our faces.

Active monkeys

Lots of action

Howler Monkey Roar

Roaring Howler monkey.

Over the years, Robert had perfected the technique of imitating the Howlers’ yell. Listen to the loud monkey roar as he audibly mark his territory.  Listen to the freaky Howler Holler.

On the way back we smacked mosquitoes and retrieved the sandals and sunglasses we had lost along the way. Our memory cards and minds’ eyes were full. For Brent and I, seeing the wonder in our children’s eyes was worth the effort getting to this remote location.

So Jeremiah, you wanted to see a mumeek for your birthday? Happy birthday, little man.

Birthday boy

Birthday Boy

Your Monkey Moment

Howler Moneys in the Jungle.

Fierce looking but shy beast of the jungle.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS, tel. 501/245-2009 or 501/245-2007, 8am-5pm daily, US$7 for adults–children are free) is a nonprofit organization that has agreed to manage their land in ways that will preserve their honored “baboon” (the local term for the black howler monkey). CBS was created to prevent Howler Monkey extinction following the devastating 1961 yellow fever outbreak that followed a devastating hurricane.

Bring insect repellent! You will likely need it.

You can call ahead and reserve a guide or just show up and take your chances. We strongly suggest you hire a guide as these howlers can be elusive. Robert was knowlegdable, funny and great with kids. Call ahead and ask for him.  Don’t forget to tip as this is the only pay the guides receive.

It’s a wet and muddy trail that is full of bumps and mud holes along the way. Wear old clothes, appropriate shoes and expect to leave muddy.

Chaya Leaves

Howler enjoying Chaya Leaves

Have you see Howler’s in the Wild?  Would you like too?  Watch this short clip of the playful baby and mother Howler.

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Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion, parents of nine (including four children adopted with special needs), 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year and the National Geographic Travelers People's Choice Travelers of the Year. They love to laugh, to read and to explore as a family. The secret to their marital bliss is an early morning cup of freshly brewed coffee before the children awake.

21 Comments

  1. […] cool water of the sea, seen in the beauty of wild birds, and heard in the guttural screams of the howler monkeys. Varying their tastes of foods and other cultural experiences would provide a depth of therapy that […]

  2. Vanessa says:

    The thing that really caught my attention here was the FIRE ANTS!! Ants are my childhood enemy! But even crossing their path couldn’t have kept me away from these gorgeous primates.

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Yes, those ants were a real problem. Here in Mexico, it’s the leaf cutter ants de-foliating our beautiful bushes. It’s fun for the little ones to watch the parade.

  3. I think I remember hearing the howler monkeys in Costa Rica, but I don’t believe we saw any up close and personal like you did. As the child of missionary parents to Latin America in the 1970s, I love the way you are showing your children the world. As young travelers, they will grow up with a loving, balanced worldview that will last them a lifetime.

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      We sure do love showing our children the world and hope we can lovingly keep giving them a balanced worldview.

  4. Andrea says:

    I have never seen Howlers period! After reading this post, and the fact that I’m a nature lover, I would love too! Sent the video below to some friends, its something that has definitely made my day!

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      That makes my day Andrea. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post because it was a moment that we will all cherish forever. You definitely need to experience Howlers.

  5. Aileen says:

    These guys in the sanctuary are really doing a good job at keeping these monkeys from going extinct! And it looks like such a fun activity not only for the kids, but for the adults too!

    I personally have a fear of getting too close with monkeys; but then again, I’ve never really had the chance to really be that close. So I hope I get to be non-fearing by that time!

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      When I look back on the photos I can’t believe we were that close. It was all very natural at the time.

  6. Revati says:

    I’d never heard of howler monkeys before, and how cute is Jeremiah’s name for them! Monkeys can be pretty naughty from what I’ve seen, so yeah, I’d be pretty terrified of getting that close!

  7. I remember seeing and hearing Howlers in Guatemala, although they never got as close as they did to you! I’m a little jealous! lol Looks like you and your family had a great time! 🙂

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      The sound of Howlers is unforgettable. We first heard he when we spent our first night in Belize. A pretty terrifying sound.

  8. Brianna says:

    Once you hear a howler monkey you will never forget that sound, they even use a howler roar for the T-rex in Jurassic Park!

  9. Ana O says:

    That was up close and personal with mumeeks! What fun!

  10. Very beautiful! In 2008 I had the chance to go to Borneo and see the Orang-Utans out there in the forest. Such a memorable experience.

  11. Howler Monkeys I really love them, did you know that Spielberg used their sounds for the T-Rexes of Jurassic Park?

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Someone else just told us that. Makes perfect sense as their growl is terrifying if you don’t know what your hearing.

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