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howler monkey

The loudest animal

It’s five in the morning as my alarm goes off. The whole hostel is asleep, except for Mark, Marieke and me. Mark discovered a troop of howler monkeys yesterday evening and this morning we are going to take a better look. I’ve been in Central America for a while and the howlers are famous: it is the loudest animal in this part of the world.

Their howl sounds something between a motorbike, a Formula 1 car starting up and a human being skinned alive. It’s scary, penetrating, frightening and impressive at the same time. Think of it: the sound of this monkey can travel for 5 kilometers (three miles) through dense forest.

It isn’t the prettiest monkey around. When they sit on a branch they look like a big, black or dark brown ball. Nothing gracious or athletic. Just mass. They are somewhere between 60 and 90 centimeters tall and weigh between seven and ten kilos. They have big necks and lower jaws, where their super-sized vocal cords are housed.

Male howlers use this big vocal cords to defend their turf. Howls by one troop are answered by other males within earshot. Every-one starts and ends the day by checking out where their nearest competitors are. In this way they protect the food in their territory.

Probably they themselves think they sound like motorbikes as well, because we can hardly find them this morning. Except for the moments a motorbike passes. Then all howlers start to scream ‘at the bike’ and it’s easy for us to spot them high in the trees, where they are munching on the leaves that make up most of their diet.

We walk around for about an hour, watching the sun rising above Laguna the Apoyo. Then we return. We’ve seen so many monkeys having breakfast, now it’s our turn.

Source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park, National Geographic

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