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.
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.
Thankfully, our jungle trekkers with special needs tapped into their travel therapy experiences. Our hike included muddy, uneven and unpredictable surfaces of the jungle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your Monkey Moment
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.
Have you see Howler’s in the Wild? Would you like too? Watch this short clip of the playful baby and mother Howler.