The northern muriqui monkeys of Brazil - popularly known as "hippie" primates - are vegetarians, begin their day with a group hug, and are one of the planet's most peaceful and egalitarian animals. They normally share their forest habitat with noisy howler monkeys that eat their food and appear to get on their nerves, but the hippies are now in flux. A yellow fever epidemic just wiped out thousands of howlers, leaving the hippies as the only thriving primates in the forest.
Karen Strier, a University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist, just visited the forest, which lies within the federally protected RPPN Feliciano Miguel Abdala reserve near the Brazilian city of Caratinga.
"It was just silence, the emptiness," she remarked to Seeker. "It was like the energy was sucked out of the universe."
Strier, who is also an associate conservation scientist with the Global Wildlife Conservation, explained that howlers, like humans, are vulnerable to yellow fever. The viral illness results in acute flu-like symptoms, and is spread by mosquito bites. The present epidemic began in December last year. A few days ago, a man in the state of Rio de Janeiro died after contracting the virus, bringing the human death toll of this latest outbreak to 137. At least 424 other people have come down with the disease, which continues to spread throughout the region. Nearly a thousand additional cases remain under investigation.