As soon as I read Jon Hall’s account of finding silky anteaters in the Damas mangroves of Costa Rica it became a priority destination given our goal of chasing vertebrate families. However as the date approached I grew worried, first by two recent Mammal Watching reports of dipping on silkies at Damas, and then by Aram’s health, compromised by 5 weeks of fighting histoplasmosis contracted in a Nicaraguan bat cave. Fortunately she was 90% recovered a few days before our trip and on March 9 we and two friends embarked on a boat trip with Maurilio Cordero Sanchez (firstname.lastname@example.org) and his boatman Walter. Roughly 200 m into the trip another boat reported a silky anteater (they use a half-open, upturned fist as a hand signal) and a few minutes later we had spotted the animal about 8 m up a small tree. Predictably, it was a sleeping ball but by getting out of the boat, clambering over the mangrove roots, and climbing a nearby tree we got some pretty decent views…enough to distinguish torso, tail, and arm. Still, in the words of our friend who is a journalist, not a naturalist, “We came three thousand miles to see a small hairy coconut?!”
Keys to success were: 1) some luck (given that they have large ranges and move each night according to Maurilio); 2) conveying our priorities early and clearly (“for us the trip is 90% about silkies”); and 3) booking a private tour. I expect all the guides look for silkies but having it as the primary search image probably at least doubles the odds of spotting one given their fairly specific resting sites: Rhizophora racemosa, R. mangle, and Pelliciera rhizophorae with boles small enough to wrap their arms around. Furthermore, a private tour makes it possible to linger if one is spotted. Given the “furry coconut” aspect, the other tourists in a group boat would not have much patience for seeking better views.
We also had excellent views of proboscis bats and a group of white-throated capuchins foraging for crabs (generally not interacting with us except for a big “macho” who jumped onto our tin canopy briefly to bang his fists loudly.). The rest of our Costa Rica trip focused on unmentionable species like the mangrove hummingbird, endemic to CR’s Pacific mangrove swamps. On a logistic note, we probably should have stayed at Maurilio’s Kayak Lodge, rather than 20 minutes away among the weekend hordes at Manuel Antonio National Park. That said, those hordes have habituated the mammals making it remarkably easy to see three monkey species (squirrel, howler, capuchin), Hoffman’s two-toed sloth, Mexican tamandua, white-nosed coati, striped hog-nosed skunk, Central American agouti, and white-tailed deer in a short visit. Imagine a female agouti nursing two young <5 m from a sidewalk streaming with pedestrians and you get the idea.