Howler Monkeys and Howlerween

Written by Kaitlyn Spross & Willam Weeks 

If you’ve been to the Houston Zoo primate section, you may have visited our awesome black howler monkeys:  Vida, Garcia and Ramone. And chances are they’ve either been asleep, resting in the sun or munching on leaves with what could be described as a ‘frowny’ look on their faces. Zoo guests often comment on our howlers’ pouty appearance. “Why does that howler monkey look that way? It looks so sad! Is that howler monkey judging me!?” The truth is, our howler monkeys aren’t sad at all! They just have on their resting howler face.

Howler 1.1When it comes to their diet, howler monkeys are mainly folivores, which means they eat lots of leaves and plant material. Because leaves are difficult to digest and don’t provide much energy, a howler monkey’s favorite pastime is taking a nice long nap to digest all that greenery. Along with their usual leafy foods, they do enjoy a nice fruit here and there as well. And, they even chow down on an egg once a week.

A howler monkey is at their happiest right after they have eaten; all they do is rest and relax while they absorb all that food. The Houston Zoo howler monkeys certainly live the life of luxury! They get their food delivered every day, and all they have to worry about it is finding the perfect sunny spot to take a six hour siesta.

When the howlers aren’t napping, they can be seen climbing around using their super-cool prehensile tails. A prehensile tail means that their tails are muscular and can be used to grasp things, like branches, which makes them particularly good climbers. Having a prehensile tail is like having an extra limb!

Howler 1.2If you come to the zoo early in the morning, you might even get lucky enough to hear our howlers monkeys howl! Their vocalization sounds like a very low, loud, and rumbling call that can be heard up to 3 miles away! It is a territorial call and also one which encourages the group to bond together as they vocalize.

This October, plan a visit to Zoo Boo Presented by Bank of America and our Howlerween conservation event each weekend.  You can visit our wonderful howler monkeys and learn more about what the Houston Zoo is doing to save howler monkeys in their wild habitat in Belize!

House Calls for Monkeys and Apes – Doctors in the Zoo

sifaka weeksDid you know primates have to see doctors? Those doctors happen to be veterinarians, but it’s true! Primates are very similar to humans, and we can get a lot of the same sicknesses. Something that doesn’t seem so bad for humans, like the common cold, can be devastating to a primate if it turns into pneumonia. This is one of the many reasons why primates make bad pets; it is simply too dangerous for the primates’ health.

Our primate keepers here at the Houston Zoo have to be cleared of certain illnesses (like tuberculosis) before they can even work with our prosimians, monkeys and apes. To help protect against the spread of these diseases, keepers wear gloves and face masks when cleaning up after their animals. And if one of our keepers is sick they have to stay home, or, if just a minor problem, wear gloves and masks all day.

So let’s say that one of our primates gets sick. Here at the Zoo we have all kinds of ways to try and help them out. If a primate has a runny nose and a cough for more than a couple of days, the vets may prescribe cold medicine or antihistamines to help clear that up. Other injuries may require pain medicine. Prevention is important too, so all of our primates receive regular treatments on a monthly basis, similar to your pets at home.

Ever wonder why we ask guests not to throw snacks at our animals? Controlling calories is one reason. Another is that many species are very sensitive to unfamiliar food which could trigger severe gastric upset. We specially design the diets of all of our animals. And lastly, as was mentioned above, primates can become very sick from germs transferred from a guest via food thrown at them.

Chronic illnesses can occur in primates as it can in humans. Diabetes is one of these chronic illnesses that can impact a non-human primate’s quality of life. To help with this disease, our vets will evaluate the animal’s diet to reduce foods with too much sugar, which in turn will lower the animal’s blood sugar, and prevent or reverse weight gain. That, along with medications to help keep the illness in check, will help them live a long and healthy life. And, acute illnesses like a bladder or kidney infection are treated with appropriate antibiotics and intensive care, when necessary.

Here at the Houston Zoo we strive to make all of our animal’s lives long and happy ones. Sometimes it is harder than others with animals that don’t want to take their medication, or eat what is best for them. But that is just part of the amazing challenge that we face to give our primates all that they deserve. The vet team and animal care teams work together to ensure the best care for all of the animals in the zoo, and it is a daunting task, but one we all embrace wholeheartedly!

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