THE PLACE THAT BREATHES BIODIVERSITY
- One -
A Lifelong Desire Turns Real for Three Traveling Kids and Two Grownups
"Little did I know that in Costa Rica, an invading legion of howler monkeys clamoring for fresh fruits right next to your hotel window is in fact a commonplace occurrence."
There was quite a commotion early in the morning. Late last night, we had cozied up in our second-floor hotel room in Guanacaste for some badly needed rest, and I certainly wasn’t planning on starting the day this early.
I stumble outside to catch my wife Shameema excitedly discussing something with a man I later learned was the hotel cook. Then, I hear one of them utter the word “monkeys.” Not long after, I find myself standing beneath a tree pointing my camera and trying to bring in focus a troop of rowdy howler monkeys.
HOWLER MONKEY ENCOUNTER
Little did I know that in Costa Rica, an invading legion of howlers clamoring for fresh fruits right next to your hotel window is a commonplace occurrence. The kids got genuinely thrilled, and for good reason. Years before we would plan to make our Costa Rica family vacation a reality, they’ve indulged in the natural world enough to write a children’s encyclopedia about it. They even had lists of animals they’d like to see in different countries, and howler monkeys were high on that list.
If you’ve never met a howler monkey before, make sure you get those ear-plugs ready. They are the loudest animals in the Americas, emanating howls that can be heard three miles across dense rainforest. They also happen to be among the largest of the New World monkeys. And now, we were standing just a few feet below these magnificent animals.
"Like the noise of a passing jet plane, their raucous sounds continued to linger long after they had disappeared."
The GeoBeetles Experience
Such is a normal day in Costa Rica. It’s also ideal for families, and one place which kids are bound to absolutely love, even those who aren’t particularly keen on monkeys of any kind. In our case, the howlers stayed for some time, but after a while they vanished as fast as they arrived. Like the noise of a passing jet plane, their raucous sounds continued to linger long after they had disappeared.
Since then, our family travel has taken us to many places, and we’ve seen howler monkeys in many different countries, where we’ve been able to capture much more interesting footage of these arboreal primates. But that singular event has been etched in our collective memories. Maybe the experience seems more memorable because this was our first true family adventure internationally? Maybe our family held a predisposed view of wild animals? I’m not sure. But what’s certain is that that morning encounter left an indelible mark in my children’s minds. Almost a decade later, my youngest daughter Nurjaminee still vividly remembers every action we did that day. At the time, she was just seventeen months old.
- Two -
Grimace or Grin: Lessons of Survival from the World’s Slowest Mammal
"With their habitats being destroyed at an alarming pace by human activities, their facial geometry might in fact be interpreted in the sloth society as nothing more than a disdainful frown."
Just days later, in the backyard of another hotel we were staying in Manuel Antonio, hugging on to a tree branch we found a three-toed sloth. Again, sights such as these typically greet a family traveling to Costa Rica. This guy chose to remain immobile doing what sloths do best. Sleeping. And it probably slept all night. And perhaps all day yesterday.
Most sloth species are common across much of Central and South America, but that doesn’t make them any less cute or shaggy. And if you’re practicing becoming a wildlife photographer, as the slowest mammal in the world, they can lend you some excitement at your skill.
This is an animal that, like the howlers, your children will fall in love with. They have an odd-shaped mouth that to us humans look as though they’re perpetually smiling. I wonder if the truth is just the opposite. With their habitats being destroyed at an alarming pace by human activities, their facial geometry might in fact be interpreted in the sloth society as nothing more than a disdainful frown.
Whether it’s because of their statutory grin or because of other oddities, like their fur being covered in green mold, the sloth is an animal that, like the howler, your children will fall in love with.
Mine go a step further, teaching me all the strange details about the species, but learning from your kids is the fun part. My youngest daughter would often teach me facts about the natural world that I had absolutely no clue about, and there’s an interesting one she mentioned about the sloths that fascinated me.
You might know that some species of sloths live out their entire lives hanging on to one tree, the same one where they were born. You might also know that sloths only come down from their arboreal homes about once a week when nature calls.
The question is, why?
Do you know the evolutionary reasoning behind why it descends from the tree instead of just finishing off its job while hanging on to a branch?
One theory says that sloths excrete on the ground near the base of the tree to provide it with nourishment, in exchange for the shelter that the tree provides.
Of course, I’m not here to convince you that even a single sloth cares about Darwinian evolution.
Nevertheless, over time those who didn’t perform this act close to the trunk might have been slightly more disadvantaged, perhaps by not being able to get more nutritious leaves and fruits from a slightly resilient tree.
This in turn would make them less successful in feeding their young ones, and fewer offspring would survive as a result, weeding out the sloth population who chose to always stay in the tree.
So, whether it was one or a combination of factors, this strategy makes sense, and likely has flourished in sloths because of clear survival advantage.
I don’t know about you, but I'm calling it the “poop for coop” strategy!