In Costa Rica, electrical distribution is installed with little regard to the effect on the wildlife population. Uninsulated power transformers and cables are installed in rural, forested areas surrounding wildlife reserves. Sadly, the dangers of electricity are not obvious to arboreal wildlife who see electrical cables as a convenient way to travel across roads and deforested areas. More than 70% of the howler monkeys rescued at Refuge for Wildlife are injured due to unsafe power distribution. Electrocution often causes serious fatal wounds; half of the monkeys are pronounced dead at the scene or, following a comprehensive veterinary assessment, are euthanized due to the severity of their injuries. Of the electrocuted howlers brought to the Refuge wildlife clinic for intensive veterinary treatment, approximately two-thirds succumb to their terrible injuries. Although the chance of survival is very slim, especially for an infant howler who has been seriously injured by electrocution, there is still hope.
Owen was still an infant when he was badly electrocuted. His prognosis for survival was incredibly poor and he required extensive veterinary care and several amputations to save his life. Owen’s left leg was damaged beyond repair and with the risk of septicemia a big concern, it had to be removed. Several severely damaged fingers on both hands were also amputated. There was a large gaping wound on his right hip, several centimeters wide/deep, where the electrical current exited his body. He also had superficial electrical burns on his face, stomach, and tail that required medical attention. The risk of shock, severe dehydration or kidney failure from the extensive trauma was high and for weeks, Owen’s future was uncertain. He would begin to show signs of improvement and then suddenly require critical care and emergency surgery to save his life.
Thankfully, after months of treatment and several critical moments where we thought we might lose him, Owen had fully recovered! He slowly learned to climb again without the use of his left leg and, although he was a little wobbly at first, it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it. Once Owen was out of the clinic, he really started to shine. He ended up being the fastest and most active infant in our dedicated howler nursery and spent entire days chasing the other orphans and wrestling. To finally see Owen behaving like any other young monkey was very emotional for all our staff and volunteers.
It’s now been two years since the accident and Owen and the other monkeys in his age group are next in line to be released. Owen has met every milestone and moved quickly through our rehabilitation program, learning the essential life skills required to survive in the forest. Owen still has to pass the most difficult assessment yet; our veterinary team needs to ensure that he is fit and able to survive in the wild. Not all monkeys in our rehabilitation program are able to be released, but it is our greatest hope that Owen will be able to return to the forest and live a normal monkey life. Owen’s story reminds us that even the most hopeless of cases can have a happy ending.