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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Rescued howler monkeys return to freedom in the Costa Rican rainforest

After undergoing intensive and lengthy rehabilitation at our partner's specialist wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica, three howler monkeys have finally returned to freedom in the rainforest.

Jordanny, Sophie and Lola had been in the care of Refuge for Wildlife in Nosara since being rescued as fragile babies four years ago. Having lost their mothers, they would not have survived in the wild as tiny infants: Jordanny, Sophie and Lola needed 24 hour care from the staff at Refuge for Wildlife. The trio quickly bonded and became a new family, supporting each other throughout the rehabilitation process. During the next several years, thanks to the exceptional care provided by the Refuge staff, the monkeys developed all the essential skills they would require to survive in the wild. Finally, in mid-December, they were transferred to the Refuge’s newly built release enclosure, located in a heavily forested and remote area of San Juanillo, on land belonging to the ecological and spiritual community of PachaMama.

Having already had very limited human contact during the pre-release stage of their rehabilitation process, once in the release enclosure the monkeys were provided with food twice a day, but had no other human interaction or noises. Refuge Veterinarian Francisco Sánchez Murillo visited each morning to monitor the monkeys and make sure they were fit and healthy, were showing appropriate foraging skills, were eating the foods they would find in the wild, were also displaying appropriate behaviour towards each other and had adapted well to every aspect of their new environment.

After several weeks adjusting to their new surroundings, the three were finally deemed ready for release. The top of the enclosure was opened and, within minutes they all climbed out confidently high up into the trees. 

Dr Francisco Sánchez Murillo said: "We are very excited to finally release these howler monkeys back to the forest after years of intensive care provided by all the staff of the refuge at the different stages. Together as a team our veterinary crew, animal keepers, admin personnel and volunteers have successfully completed the final stage of the rehabilitation of these individuals and we cannot be more excited for them. We have completed our goal after a tremendous effort from everyone. To be able to see these monkeys free is the best reward we can have."

Laura Wilkinson, Refuge Media Manager & Wildlife Protection Team, added: "Watching these amazing monkeys grow from tiny, fragile infants into confident, healthy adults has been an absolute pleasure. It takes an enormous amount of dedication from our staff to take an orphaned infant howler monkey through our rehabilitation programme to the final release stage. Because of the types of injuries endured by many of our rescues, not all orphaned howlers survive to adulthood so a release like this one is especially emotional for us. When they were very young, we celebrated every milestone with bittersweet emotions knowing that one day we would watch them leave us forever. It was with great joy that our team watched as all three monkeys confidently left the enclosure and explored their new home - free and wild where they belong! Our job is a tough one, but moments like this remind us of how important it is for us to continue helping and protecting the wildlife of Costa Rica." 

The monkeys’ journey back to freedom was achieved not only thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Refuge itself, but also with the support of numerous other groups and individuals. The rehabilitation and release operation would not have been possible without the support of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and specifically the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) office in Santa Cruz.

Planned by Gavin Bruce, IAR Director of Operations, and Dr Francisco Sánchez Murillo, Refuge for Wildlife Veterinarian, the enclosure was designed to be rapidly erected or removed and relocated in a modular fashion for future use in different locations. Built out of welded steel posts, with two types of metal fencing to protect against predators like boa constrictors, it is also fitted with a special doorway for entry and exit of caregivers as well as a hatch for the moment when the monkeys are ready for release. The build and installation of the release enclosure was carried out by Tua Oyam, construction lead from PachaMama, and Omar Varela Murillo, Diego Ortiz and Marcos Soliz. Matt Banes, an Advisory Board Member for the Refuge, oversaw completing the build according to the planned release programme schedule, budget and specification.

Brenda Bombard, founder of Refuge for Wildlife says: “This release was a wonderful ending after the tragedy of these monkeys losing their mothers. Watching them climb out into the pristine jungle near a beautiful river was an amazing thing to experience. PachaMama gave invaluable support to the release. Not only did they provide the location for the release site, they also provided volunteers, including Gal Yudkin who was in charge of providing food for the monkeys. Special thanks to Tyohar Kastiel, founder and spiritual leader of PachaMama, Tua Oyam, Ananda Nurick, and Suvan Eyal for their incredible support.”

Chandani Bakeeff from PachaMama added: “Helping Refuge for Wildlife with this important rescue and release work is the least PachaMama can do.  PachaMama will keep supporting as much as possible and hope that more people will recognise what dedication and crucial work they do so that we can better protect, understand and keep enjoying the natural world around us.”