The miniature howler monkey clung to its mother’s back as the older monkey undulated through the branches of the twisted tree. With one movement, the mother pushed off the bowing bough and transferred her weight to the powerlines running just beyond the reach of the tree. I watched enthralled as she hastened along the thick black wire, reaching the supporting pole in a matter of seconds. Moving into an upright position, baby clinging securely to her limber body, the mother began to scale the pillar, moving out of my range of sight from the back seat of the car. This was a blessing, as I only saw the blinding orange flash when her hand closed around the uninsulated transformer. My sheltered location in the backseat didn’t however shield my eyes as the two singed bodies fell, landing in the dusty road.
Early that morning my family and I had walked down the same road, yearning to enjoy the early Costa Rican sunlight. We’d arrived in Sámara two days before, eager to reach the quaint beach town. Located in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, the coastal community hosts a wide beach parallel to a sprinkling of colorful buildings and boats. We were heading towards this quiet beach, when movement from the vegetation stopped our sooty footsteps. As we stood in hesitant silence, the muscular body of a howler monkey emerged from the leafy shadows. Meandering through the branches, the monkey used its limbs and tail interchangeably to fluidly grasp the tree limbs, creating an almost choreographed lope. As I squinted in the brilliant light, more monkeys slowly materialized, taking credit for the movement that had caught our attention. My neck aching from craning to see the animals, I watched in bewilderment as the monkeys swung between the branches and electrical wires, not discriminating between the two. Using the powerlines, the troop made their way neatly over the road that so abruptly punched through the forest. Forehead slick with sweat, my nose burned with the sharp scent of gasoline, but I was too invested in the bounding progression to care. It was hypnotizing, witnessing these creatures scaling such heights with such ease. Every monkey, from the hulking males to the lean females hosting delicate infants, moved through the air with peaceful strength, enrapturing me within the moment.
As store owners realized the power had shut off, locals and foreigners made their way into the street to see what had caused the flash and subsequent power outage. A few men spotted the scorched remains of the mother and infant, prompting one to take a shovel and removing the carnage. With the corpses removed, people made their way inside, seemingly unbothered by the cavity left in the powdery soil.
A week later, as we were driving towards the Liberia airport, I noticed black apparatuses fastened to some of the power lines we passed. Certain groups have taken action to try and quell the danger uninsulated power lines and transformers pose to wildlife, including building bridges over roads so that monkeys can avoid the dangerous electricity.
As humans, we go to great lengths to enjoy the enchantment of the wilderness. And yet in doing so, we sometimes destroy the very thing we covet. In our own recklessness we compromise the environment around us, creating obstacles that the natural world doesn’t have the capacity to handle. It is our responsibility to ensure that as we enjoy the brilliant world afforded to us, we don’t endanger what we have traveled to admire. Our responsibility cannot be discarded as easily as the singed aftermath of our actions.
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