Monday, February 4, 2013

The Howler Monkeys of Petén, Guatemala

Each year I co-teach a January-term class on tropical ecology in Guatemala and Belize.

Photo by David O'Hara
One of the wonders of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve
One of my favorite experiences when I return to Guatemala is hearing the howler monkeys at night.  Their voices travel for miles through the forest, it seems.  My students are often alarmed by the noise, because the monkeys will approach silently and then begin to howl in the treetops overhead with voices that seem to belong to something much bigger than a mono aullador, as they are called in Spanish.

During one of my last trips I made this video.  We were setting up camp in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, or Biosfera Maya, en route to Tikal, when several troops of howlers began to sing nearby.  We followed the voices to one of the nearest troops so we could get a closer look at these gentle beauties, our placid arboreal cousins.  Enjoy the sound.


If you're interested in bringing your students to this fairly well-preserved rainforest and arranging local guides, you might check out the Asociación Bio-Itzá, an indigenous Mayan group dedicated to preserving their forest, their ancestral knowledge, and their language.  They have a small rustic facility on their rainforest reserve and a Spanish-language school for foreigners (with very reasonable prices) on the north shore of Lake Petén Itzá, not far from the airport at Flores and from the beautiful ruins of Tikal. 


(A friend tells me he extracted the sound from this video of mine and uploaded it to the wikipedia page on howler monkeys.)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Some experts suggest that the ability to speak to one another is an important characteristic that distinguishes our species from other primates. I wonder about this, especially having had the pleasure of listening to howler monkeys in the forests with Dave. I'm not suggesting that I can understand the howlers, but a careful listening to Dave's recording reveals a fairly complex array of vocal sounds. Makes me want to go back and read Jared Diamond's book, The Third Chimpanzee. As I recall, he makes a pretty good case for grouping our species with the other two species of chimps under the genus Pan, rather than using the separate genus, Homo.

    [Posted by Dave O'Hara for Dr. Craig Spencer, my co-teacher, who emailed this comment to me.]