The howler monkey with her baby lazily laid on the branches high above us. They weren’t moving. It looked like I wasn’t going to see one up close that day. I was standing beneath the shade of the tree tilting my head upward peering through the broad leaves at the black face of the sleepy mother as the baby played hide and seek behind the trunk of the tree for about 20 minutes.
However, the tour guide Geraldine Fremin, was an expert. She got a banana and coaxed the mother down the tree calling to her in a series of grunts and howls, the sounds the monkeys use to talk to each other. The mother slowly and cautiously made her way down the tree to a branch in front of me where she ate her banana and modeled perfect images right out of National Geographic.
Geraldine has been with the local women-run nonprofit sanctuary, the Community Baboon Sanctuary, what the local Creole people call the black howler monkeys, protecting the monkeys for 18-years. Started in 1981, the sanctuary has been a model for saving the nearly extinct monkeys, that were estimated to be around a population of 400 at the time, and for private/public partnerships working toward sustainable tourism. The population increased to an estimated 4,500 monkeys by 2003, she said. The sanctuary is currently in the process of surveying the monkey population to get an updated monkey census.