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In Mexico, monkeys are dying from the heat and lions are eating ice cream


Amid Mexico's searing heat and drought, suffering birds are being provided with air-conditioning facilities and monkeys suffering from heatstroke are being rescued by non-governmental groups.

Meanwhile, the government is more than busy keeping animals cool in state-run zoos, giving frozen meat popsicles to lions. That's not the only cool treat: A rescue group is feeding frozen rat carcasses from Mexico City to endangered owls.

The heat dome, a strong high pressure area centered over the southern Gulf of Mexico and northern Central America, has prevented cloud formation, and has led to widespread sunshine and warm temperatures across Mexico as well as the United States.

The greatest impacts on wildlife are being felt in central and southern Mexico, as temperatures are also high in the north, but it is mostly desert and animals there have few mechanisms to cope with extreme heat and drought.

An animal park on the steamy Gulf Coast has built air-conditioned rooms for eagles, owls and other birds of prey.

In the south, howler monkeys are dying from the heat by falling from trees. The death toll so far is probably more than 250.

In the southern state of Tabasco, the few monkeys that could be saved from dehydration and heat stroke are being rescued mostly by NGOs like the Biodiversity Conservation of the Usumacinta group. This group, known as COBIUS, has rescued and stabilized 18 monkeys.

The group's leader, wildlife biologist Gilberto Pozo, has gone into the forest with a team of biologists and veterinarians to look for sick monkeys.

Sometimes, they reach there very late.

“Yesterday we lost three animals,” Pozo said, as he bounced around in a truck on a rural road in the southern Gulf Coast state of Tabasco, one of the hardest-hit areas. “We went to rescue them. We couldn't stabilize them.”

The monkeys – medium-sized primates known for their roaring calls – have gone extinct due to severe fluid loss as Mexico grapples with heat as well as drought.

As of May 31, the environment department acknowledged a total of 204 howler monkeys had died, 157 of them in Tabasco. Pozo said that number has since risen to 198 in Tabasco alone, suggesting the death toll across the country is now close to 250.

“Our organization is the only one running a rescue plan or program,” Pozo said. Because of budget cuts at many environmental agencies, the government now has to rely on NGOs.

“Federal environmental authorities have looked into reports of these incidents in a coordinated approach with citizen groups and academics,” the environment department said in a statement. It said the government has provided food, shelter and water for NGO teams and sick animals.

The department says tests show the monkeys are dying from heatstroke, but added that drought has “led to a shortage of water in rivers and streams in areas where the monkeys live” and that appears to be playing a role.

Some NGOs are struggling to pay for this care and are calling for donations, such as Selva Teaneque, a non-profit wildlife park in the wooded region of La Huasteca far to the north.

Temperatures in the area soared to nearly 120 degrees (50 Celsius) on May 9, and rescue teams and staff pulled out 15 birds of various species that were found lying on the ground.

“This has never happened before,” said park veterinarian Laura Rodriguez. “One hundred percent of the animals … needed rehydration. Some were so dehydrated that we couldn't give them water orally.”

Ana Mildred Buenfil, leader of the animal rescue group Selva Tenec, said the birds — such as howler monkeys — are dying.

“The birds started having problems and some of them literally died while flying,” Buenfil said. “The most affected were the newborns … people sent us photos of dozens of dead parrots lying on the ground.”

The birds were suffering from heat stress, dehydration and malnutrition at the same time. Rescuers had to get them out of the heat, give them water and feed them.

That included a shipment of frozen dead mice from Mexico City. “The adults (owls) need mice. Luckily, we have mice,” Buenfil said, but he added that workers have to thaw them a bit, skin them and remove their insides before they can be given to the birds.

Since then, dozens of birds — and some bats, lynx and coyotes — have been found alive but suffering, and have also been brought to Teneck Park.

The park's three air-conditioning rooms became so crowded that staff had to install sheets or curtains to separate birds of prey from other birds of prey.

Many birds died, but some species – such as the kinkajou that roam the park – only need air-conditioning during the day, and are left outside at night. Others, such as ant-eaters, can survive with the air from a fan.

image:
Lions at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City were fed a diet of water mixed with blood and animal bones. Eduardo Verdugo/AP

Lions at the Chapultepec zoo in Mexico City were given water mixed with blood and animal bones. Alberto Olascoaga, the head of the capital's zoo, said the animals loved it – and it helped them stay hydrated.

“They play with the ice cream. They lick it, break it, bite it, and they refresh themselves and drink this cool water as it melts,” Olascoga said.

Environmental scientist Claudia Sheinbaum, who won the presidential election on June 2 and replaced Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has expressed hope that strained relations over how to tackle the plight of wildlife could change after she takes office on October 1.

“I've spent my whole life studying the environment, it's part of my purpose,” he wrote on his Instagram account on Wednesday.

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