I sit here at the computer with a baby howler monkey on my head. I’m at Howler Monkey/Spider Monkey R&R, monkey-sitting, while their full-time Monkey Mama Michele and Papa Paul are visiting family in the U.S. It’s just me, baby howler Machito (the one on my head), “little girl” howlers Marisol and Millette, “older girl” howler, Venecia and the “teen” spider monkeys, Lolita and Chiquito. Two sweet dogs complete the group: Magdalena, a Tico street dog and Tequila, a growing Golden Retriever pup. Paul will join us later today and at times throughout the 10 days, but will return home at night to take care of our cats and house.
It’s day three of 10 as I write this. And while every day has its own surprises, I’ve gotten into somewhat of a routine, though I am, by nature, not a morning person: 6:00am – let the dogs out to pee while I get their morning meal ready. 6:15am – pick up Machito who is, by now, exercising his powerful lungs and voice-box, demanding my attention…NOW! I hand-feed him some warmed up goat’s milk in a syringe and put him down for a nap so I can get the food ready for the rest of the monkeys – lettuce, fruits, sweet potatoes for the howlers; and for the spiders, fruits, garbanzo beans and, Chiquito’s favorite, sweet potato. I exchange the full dishes of food for their empties from last night, change their bedding for clean and dry ones, and pop the soiled ones into the laundry.
By now, Machito is waking from his too short, but peaceful, sleep and he will be with me, on me, or attached to me for the rest of the day until he goes to sleep when it gets dark…hopefully. The older monkeys get fed again between 4:00 and 5:00 pm, but Machito eats every few hours, whenever his tiny tummy gets empty. Sometimes, if I lose track of time, I realize he’s hungry because he’s sucking on my neck or the inside of my elbow, leaving behind little “monkey-hickeys.” He sucks my neck at other times, too — I think, because it comforts him. In the wild, he would be hanging on to his mother’s back or chest at all times, sucking milk from her nipples, which are located near her under-arms, whenever he is hungry. Like human babies, he also needs touch and warmth. Nothing comforts him like being held. Unlike a human baby, he is now chewing on my right ear…a common side-effect of having a monkey on your head. One day, hopefully, Machito and the other orphaned young howlers will join a nearby troop and return to the wild, but in the meantime, we care for them.
Earlier today, I took a chair into the cage with Marisol and Millette, and sat with them. Machito was in my lap, clinging to a bright green Rainforest Café stuffed monkey which is his surrogate monkey mama when he’s not clinging to my hair or my arm. Marisol, who is developing more slowly than the others, is getting better and better at climbing the “trees” in their cage, and swinging from ropes or their bamboo swing. Millette, the younger of the two, has already passed her in weight and just loves to climb, swing, and hang upside down by her tail. The two of them play exuberantly together and, like human sisters, bicker with each other too. Machito watches every move they make, maybe trying to decide if he’s ready to let go of “mama” and try some of their stunts. They seem to love Machito, especially Marisol. She readily comes into my lap where Machito sits, puts her arm around his neck, and they both monkey-purr at each other.
Machito is also learning how to howl, something that male howler monkeys do with great gusto. Howler monkeys are the loudest animals in the world. In fact, their howls can be heard from three miles away. We often hear troops of them from our house nearby. When howler monkeys howl, their whole rib-cage expands and you can feel the vibration in their throats. When I do my best to imitate this sound from deep in my throat, Machito likes to nuzzle in my neck and howl back. I keep it up until I just have to stop and laugh. Here’s a video, with Monkey Mama Michele, so you can see it for yourself:
Stay tuned for more Adventures of a Monkey Mama in Costa Rica!