By Gloria Dempsey
What’s not to love? The scenery is postcard gorgeous, the climate as close to perfect as possible. Ticos are warm and friendly with infectious smiles.
And Costa Rica has a plethora of wildlife diversity unique to the rest of the world. The country is uniquely located as a type of “land bridge” linking not only North American species with South American but having indigenous species all her own. This results in a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles – a treasure trove to enjoy and study. But Costa Rica is fragile. And people are coming in droves, inebriated on the charm of the country and lifestyle. Some, like myself and many others, have a reverence for enjoying and protecting the delicate ecosystem. We work feverishly to reforest tracts of land previously destroyed by the grazing. We thrill at the return of wildlife previously pushed away by livestock. There are others who come here for financial opportunities, who purchase large tracts of land to develop and reap the rewards of the current fervor to own a slice of paradise. Emblazoned on glossy brochures adorned with toucans and howler monkeys are enticements to join the growing swell of vacation dwellings developed across huge tracts of land around the country. Fragile rain forest is being replaced by vacation housing. Ironically, those who develop and purchase these home sites realize that the very species decorating the pricey brochures are being displaced and disappearing so fast that ultimately all that will be left will be the ghostly images on those advertisements.
Habitat is disappearing and being fragmented at a devastating rate. The destruction and suffering of the animals come in several forms that are not listed in these brochures. All of the animals are being impacted, but some are more visible than others. Deaths of howler monkeys hit by cars on highways traversing their feeding trails are escalating. Unspeakable suffering is caused by electrocutions on power lines as the monkeys attempt to swing on power lines that also invade their feeding territory. The details are what nightmares are made of. Rescue workers, such as Vickie and Steve Coan and Brenda Bombard, relate tales of baby monkeys riding on their moms’ backs seeing their fingers blown off and their moms killed by the high voltage. Other howler monkeys surviving the shock end up chewing their fried hands or feet off and then dying a slow, hideous death. The monkeys suffer the same bout with electricity in areas where people allow branches to grow into the power lines turning a succulent mango tree into a death trap for these peaceful primates.
Shrinking habitat is also forcing monkeys to flee across open tracts of land when pursued by dogs. I listened intently as Steve, Vickie and Brenda, pain and sadness etched in their faces, related case after case. We spent hours discussing the plight of these brave little monkeys.
What has gone so terribly wrong in paradise? We know for a fact that no developer actually intended for a monkey to burn or become road kill.
It comes down to lack of knowledge and planning. This suffering can’t continue. There are actually steps that can be taken to reverse this nightmare.
Anyone owning property prior to building, can plan their home site carefully to disrupt as few trees as possible and plan for future reforestation to join existing feeding routes. Just a little study and planting can make a huge difference.
If your home is already built, study the feeding routes of the howler monkeys and carefully plant monkey friendly trees to connect their feeding routes.
You should also insist on underground power lines or insulated power lines. Those do cost more, but please never tell me these animals aren’t worth it. It is worth protecting these precious species. If need be, adjust the size of your home a few square feet to budget in the cost of safe electrical wires. Your conscience will be glad you did.
Keep branches trimmed back from any power lines within reach of your property, and don’t be bashful about mentioning this to your neighbor. If they are Ticos, offer to help get their foliage cut back to save these monkeys.
Never miss an opportunity to share and educate others about the plight of our wildlife and try to make a difference. Are there any electrical engineers who are knowledgeable about high voltage power lines? Can you give advice and help out? We desperately need you!
Visit the Web site of Brenda, Vickie and Steve Coan’s rescue efforts and ask them how you can support them to try to correct these tragedies. You will find them at www.sibujungalows.com/sibusanctuary.htm.
Ask them what more can be done to ease this horrible suffering. We can’t live in paradise with our primate relatives suffering from our abuses. Gloria Dempsey is a zoologist, author and eight-year Arenal resident working with domestic animals and wildlife.
Perspective Save Costa Rica’s Monkeys
THE TICO TIMES – November 7, 2008 | OPINION | 17
If Obama is successful in just a few of these key issues, this region will benefit greatly. Deaths of howler monkeys hit by cars on highways traversing their feeding trails are escalating. Unspeakable suffering is caused by electrocutions on power lines.