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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Mystery of the Orange Howler Monkeys in Costa Rica

Biologist at the University of Costa Rica Oscar M. Chaves Badilla is a primate specialist studying a phenomenon that seems to appear almost exclusively in Costa Rica. That is the discoloration of certain Howler Monkeys throughout the country that gives them an orange pigmentation.

The study got its start almost ten years ago when the first Howler Monkeys developed this anomaly which has risen over the year to include by some counts over two hundred animals.

There are several theories as to why this may be happening but two of them seem to be getting the most attention.

The first one points to the potential exposure of the primates to pesticides and insecticides in the areas nearby where the animals live or directly on food the monkeys may eat from abutting commercial agricultural areas.

The other suggestion points to loss of habitat and forest corridors that allow the animals to travel and therefore breed with members of other troops of Howlers. The result being a lack of genetic diversity, resulting in more animals with the discoloration caused by inbreeding.

There is also a potential third theory held by some not associated with the study, that suggest that the original case, or cases, were a rare genetic exception and actually may have some dominant traits. It purports that the actual interaction of the monkeys with each other over the past decade has resulted in one cluster of discolored animals being spread throughout Costa Rica.

The research appears to by on Professor Badilla’s side but further investigation would determine if action is needed to address the issue of pesticides, habitat destruction or both.

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