SalveMonos article

It is a play on words in Spanish. When spoken as two words, it means “Save monkeys.” When spoken as one word, it means “Save ourselves.”

SalveMonos is also the name of a small nonprofit organization in Costa Rica that was born out of tragedy. Anyone who has witnessed the horror of howler monkeys being electrocuted to death on power lines and transformers knows about the life-changing psychological impact it can have. Once you get past the initial shock and depression, you are spurred into taking action. But there are no quick or simple solutions. Unfortunately, the situation continues taking a toll almost everywhere that electricity and animals coexist.

In 2004, Simona Daniele, the owner of Luna Llena Hotel, and I, owner of Azul Profundo Boutique, along with our husbands, Pino and Larry, came together at a local community meeting and decided to take action. We each donated $500 to cover the cost of printing souvenir T-shirts. The profits would be used to develop the first monkey bridges bypassing power lines. Now, after 13 years and thousands of T-shirts, hundreds and hundreds of bridges and tens of thousands of monkeys saved and/or relocated, we can say that the action we took and continue to take not only touches lives but saves them.

Howler bridges

Trial and error found us creating many models of bridges for the howler monkeys to avoid contact with the power lines. Initially, they were made from three strands of thick, braided twine, inter-connected with twine at intermittent intervals. They were designed to hang from tall trees on each side of the road and cross over the top of the power lines.

Proceeds from the first T-shirt sales covered the cost of 12 bridges at $200 each. We brought those bridges to a local animal rehabilitation organization so that they could be “scented” by the monkeys. Unfortunately, they turned out to be too heavy to properly hang and way too costly. Furthermore, the fiber construction of these bridges could not withstand local climate conditions and they were ruined in a short time. We even lost a pair of fallen monkeys whose weight had caused an aged bridge to collapse.

So we enlisted the help of the Nosara Wildlife Rescue, as well as Coopeguanacaste, our local electrical company, and ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad), Costa Rica’s major electricity provider for the nation, in developing a stronger and more durable type of bridge. The construction method is similar but the material is polyethylene ropes instead of twine. The polyethylene ropes last much longer. The plastic netting you see today was added to the bridge to provide stability for the howlers. These new bridges proved to be very successful. ICE, which traditionally has always hung the bridges free of charge, has begun making them as well and has absorbed the cost. We later found that our bridges didn’t need to be “scented” at all. We noticed that the howlers would naturally gravitate to crossing the bridge when it is placed high enough in the trees. Some bridges were used within minutes of being in place.

Currently, there are well over 500 monkey bridges in key areas throughout the northwest province of Guanacaste. We are pivotal in adding bridges all the time. Generally, we are called by a concerned person where a monkey has just been electrocuted and they alert us to the trouble spot. We then coordinate with MINAE (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia, the Environment and Energy Ministry) and the electric company to report the specific electrical pole number where a bridge is needed to avert future deaths.

Many local communities have joined in the effort by buying bridges and placing them throughout their entire area in addition to our efforts. Good ideas catch on quickly! The bridges also have significantly reduced the amount of howlers that are run over on the roads along with those that are attacked by dogs and other animals. The bridges keep the howlers in the trees where they belong and where they want to be.

Monkey bridges have helped but not eliminated the problem altogether. SalveMonos has also helped create a plan for placement of cones on all the electric pole guy wires to prevent a good majority of animals from accessing the cables and transformers. We also urge developers of new and old communities to adapt this same idea.

Other efforts by SalveMonos

Beyond our efforts to protect wildlife from electrical hazards, SalveMonos has worked tirelessly to address other kinds of risks to animal health and safety. Initiatives include the development of road signs to promote reduced driving speeds, and a reforestation project aimed at creating corridors for animal movement and feeding in targeted areas. Our simple yet effective model has been adopted by a few neighboring communities.

  • We have food source trees grown in local school-run nurseries which not only serve as science projects for the children but are then used for reforestation.
  • We are constantly looking for trees to be donated by both public and private entities.
  • With local budgets low for just about any endeavor, however worthy, we are always looking for caring people with deep pockets to help finance key transformer isolation projects. The cost of insulation for just one transformer is around $400. We have seen entire howler families killed by just one transformer.
  • SalveMonos is working with the electrical company to isolate or insulate at least one of the two “hot” wires throughout the province and insulate all the transformers. This could reduce mortality rates by 90 percent or more. However, it’s a long and slow process. Many people in the area don’t have electricity yet, and naturally, human needs generally come first.
  • We are in the midst of a very important new project for the area that will help all fauna, both terrestrial and aquatic. This involves a community effort to rid our area of plastic straws. We found that the vendors of pipas or coconuts are using roughly 180,000 of them each year in Tamarindo and Langosta alone! We are developing a model that allows those vendors to continue paying the same amount they currently do for plastic straws, but with the community helping to subsidize the purchase of paper/carton straws. Various businesses have already signed on to the project at a minimal cost of $240 per year per business. We only need a few more sponsors to meet our project completion target for the coming year. Straws are printed with the SalveMonos logo to spread the word to locals and tourists alike.
  • We sell our SalveMonos T-shirts, mugs and stickers in key places throughout Tamarindo. All proceeds beyond exact production costs go directly to the organization. You can find them every Saturday morning at the Tamarindo market (feria), Azul Profundo Boutique, Luna Llena Hotel, Veterinario Cavallini and Veterinaria Carvajal. We would be happy to sell them to other souvenir shops in the area as well.

The future of the howler monkeys is still uncertain and the howlers still need help from all of us. However, groups like ours are making a difference … a big difference. In 2008, SalveMonos enlisted the help of local biologist Juan Carlos Orodoñez and his team to study the howler monkey population in our small area between Villarreal and Tamarindo/Langosta. We sought to determine how many troops, individuals, danger areas and food sources there are.

The study gave us a better idea of where monkey bridges are needed and what trees are needed for reforestation efforts. For example, the research showed that the food supply was a -3 on a scale of 0 to 5. This means that there just isn’t enough diversity among the trees today in the forest to fulfill the howlers’ nutritional needs. Orodoñez’s work also gave us a better understanding of howler mortality rates. One measure of success for SalveMonos’ efforts over the years is that the monkey population in the aforementioned study area has not declined. Meanwhile, our province has seen an overall and unprecedented 40 percent decline in the overall population!

What can you do?

There are many things you can do to help the howler monkeys. Really, it is SO easy.

  • Donate a little or a lot. It costs thousands of dollars to rehabilitate orphaned baby howlers and return them to the wild.
  • When you identify an injured or dead animal, call in the location and describe how you suspect it died or became injured.
  • Drive slowly on the roads!
  • We are looking for key individuals in various areas to commit themselves to the howler taxi service for injured animals. We can’t be everywhere all the time and everyone in the organization is a volunteer.
  • We are looking — and have been for sometime — for someone or some organization to help us develop an app whereby we can receive geolocation of injured animals to begin a large database.
  • We have a list of trees that serve as primary food sources for the howlers among other animal species. Plant a tree today!
  • Our greatest hope for the future is to begin buying large tracts of land for reforestation to help regenerate a healthy environment for all animals. We welcome developers of large and small projects to donate their green spaces to SalveMonos in order to create permanent ecological corridors.
  • Bring injured to animals to Veterinario Cavallini.
  • Donate pet carriers. We can’t get enough of them.

Goodall an Inspiration

SalveMonos draws inspiration from the works and words of Jane Goodall, whose global prominence as an animal welfare activist took root nearly 60 years ago with her seminal research on chimpanzees. Below is a sample of Goodall’s widely cited quotes.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play.
Every individual makes a difference.”

“Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with people
who are doing something you don’t believe is right.”

“Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help.
Only if we help shall they be saved.”

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”