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We were reluctant to share these images with the public, but we feel that everyone needs to fully understand the work that we do here at Refuge for Wildlife. Almost every day we rescue howler monkeys with injuries so severe that survival would require a miracle. Each day, our clinic volunteers, staff and veterinarian do everything to save the lives of these wonderful animals. It’s a very difficult job. Often, the injuries are so horrific that they cannot be saved. We know the following images are hard to look at. We know these injuries are disturbing and upsetting. Unfortunately we see images like this every single day. Although we prefer to focus on successful “after” images, we felt that it was time to share with the public the reality of what it means to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured monkeys here in Nosara.


Injuries caused by electrocution is what we see most often in the Refuge for Wildlife clinic. Every year Refuge for Wildlife rescues hundreds of monkeys and other wildlife that have been electrocuted due to uninsulated power lines and transformers.

Injuries caused by electrocution are gruesome and most are fatal. The severity of the injuries will depend on where the monkey touched the transformer and whether or not they were thrown off of it. If the monkey is stuck on the wires or transformer because their muscles have contracted and they cannot let go, the injuries will be more severe and almost always fatal. Injuries range from deep burns to the hands, feet and tail, to all-over burns to the entire face and body to fatal injuries to internal organs. In the case where the monkey also caught on fire, burns are even more severe.

At our onsite clinic, our veterinarian and skilled staff are experienced with treating electrical burns. Some amputations are performed to remove decaying limbs, fingers, toes and parts of tails, but usually the best treatment is proper cleaning of the wounds, pain relief, antibiotics and silver sulfadiazine burn cream. In cases where recovery is not possible, we also provide compassionate euthanasia when necessary.

Most of our surviving electrical burn victims are infant howlers between the ages of newborn to 6 months. The reason they survive the initial electrocution is because they are holding onto their mothers. The mother absorbs most of the electrical current and the babies usually only have burns on their hands, tail and any other body part in direct contact with their mother. Some are lucky enough to have only minor burns. We are always amazed at how well infant howlers are able to adapt with their disabilities.

Each infant must stay with us until they are old enough to be released which is around 2.5 years old. Howlers are not considered adults until they are 4 years old. Since most of the surviving electrocution victims are young infant howlers that are only a few months old, this means that they stay with us for more than two years costing an average of $250 per month for each monkey.

$250 per month provides an orphaned howler with fresh leaves, produce, infant formula, kennel for sleeping, snuggling teddy bears, hot water bottle, a shared large enclosure, 24/7 caregiver, onsite veterinary care, medication, and enrichment toys. This is the base expense for an uninjured howler. For the babies that injured due to electrocution there are additional expenses for veterinary care, medications, burn cream, bandages, amputations and rehabilitation.

Infant Howler’s Mother Caught on Fire

Alpha Male Attacks

Adult male after an alpha male attack.

In the past several years we have seen an increase in alpha male attacks in the Nosara area because of unsustainable development and deforestation. Habitat loss has been devastating to local wildlife which has resulted in food resources running out.  Howler monkeys are fighting more than usual because territories are smaller and food is scarce (especially in the dry season). Howler troops call to one another to announce their location. This is to prevent bumping into other families – they want to avoid fighting. They howl all day long to announce their location so other groups can keep a safe distance. But with so little habitat left, howler troops are getting too close to one another and alphas are fighting for food resources.  Alpha male howlers attack the face and eyes of their rivals and try to blind them – it is horrific.

Infant howler after an alpha male attack.
Infant howler after an alpha male attack.

Recently, troops have collided because natural tree bridges have been cutdown and escape routes are less and less. We encourage businesses and homeowners to leave existing natural tree bridges and plant new trees where deforestation has occurred. If this is not possible, rope bridges can be installed to help wildlife access essential habitat. We mostly see large males with alpha attack injuries, but we have also rescued adult pregnant females and infants. Like lions, when a new alpha male howler takes over a troop, he kills all the babies. This is so all the females of the group will produce his offspring.  In the case of babies, they try to crush their skull. It is a gruesome act, but one that keeps the family line strong and thriving with offspring from the strongest male of the group.

Kenneth’s Rehabilitation

Dog Attacks

A large majority of our rescues were injured from domestic pets attacking wildlife.

Howler Rehab and Release – 2 Dog Attacks and 1 Electrocution

Car Collisions

Another side effect of development is wildlife being struck by cars. Wider roads in the Nosara area has resulted in complete loss of natural tree crossings along the main road, route 160. In order to assist arboreal wildlife, Refuge for Wildlife, MOPT and ICE has installed several rope bridges to help wildlife cross the road safely. Sadly, wildlife is still resorting to crossing on the ground and risking being hit by cars.

Car strikes can be deadly and often there are broken bones, concussion and sometimes brain injury. Our veterinarian team has had good success with internal and external fixators to mend broken bones, but this process is extremely lengthy and can take up to 6 months of extensive care and rehabilitation before the animal can be released.

Infant Howler Orthopaedic Surgery Rehabilitation