Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Top 5 Fieldwork Moments

As you may or may not know, December 14th is Monkey Day! So in the spirit of promoting primate species awareness, conservation and research I thought I would share the top 5 favorite moments I have experienced studying primates over the past 2 years.

1. The first time I ever saw a spider monkey in the wild.
Ok this first moment was just before I started studying spider monkeys in Belize, but since it is highly memorable, I couldn't leave it out. I was in the Mayan Riviera at a wedding staying at an all inclusive resort. Now I am not really a resort person at all, so I convinced a few people in the group to take a day excursion to the Mayan ruins at Coba and to go repel into a Cenote and do some ziplining. I was standing at the top of the zipline which went over this large pond in the middle of the rainforest. Accross the way I noticed some rustling in the trees, and saw a subgroup of 3 spider monkeys travelling up the ridge. I was so excited I couldn't even focus on the guide who was giving us instructions on how to zipline!

A chimpanzee in Kibale National Park, Uganda
2. Listening to over a hundred chimpanzees pant hoot in Kibale National Park, Uganda.I woke up to a cool morning just outside of Kibale forest in Uganda. The smell of tea from the surrounding plantations saturated the air. It was raining, and I was worried we weren't going to be able to go see the chimpanzees in one of the largest primate research areas in the world. We took a short drive to the meet up point and luckily the rain had subsided just enough for us to enter the forest. After a 20 minute walk, I had no doubt we had found the tourist group of 107 chimpanzees because the forest was all of a sudden filled with the loud unmistakeable sound of every chimp in the group pant hooting to locate each other in the morning. I stood there in disbelief, because it was one of the most amazing sounds I had ever heard in my entire life.

The monkey bites.
3. Getting bitten by a spider monkey at the Belize Zoo.
Most people probably wouldn't describe this as being one of their favorite moments, but I truly think it is. One of the spider monkeys had escaped while I was trying to introduce it to a new enclosure.  She was hanging outside the enclosure in a cluster of trees but kept coming down to try and pick stuff out of the garbage. So, seeing as she knew me I decided to grab a bunch of bananas and go sit near the garbage in hopes of being able to lead her back into her holding pen. Slowly she began to become interested and came down to the ground and started inching closer to me. Finally she was within reaching distance and I fed her some banana while grooming her with my free hand.  I then was given some advice of one of the keepers to try and lead her by the hand to her holding pen, as this had worked in the past. Unfortunately she wasn't ready to go in yet and decided to give me three warning bites on my right hand. At least I have a cool scar!

4. Seeing a male spider monkey carry an infant for the first time.
In primates, males typically do not invest very much in their infants, especially when mating is promiscuous and paternity is uncertain.  As a result, it is extremely rare to see males carrying infants or even actively trying to interact with infants. I was watching a huge subgroup of spider monkeys by myself and there were individuals coming in and out all over the place.  I looked up and saw a monkey travelling with an infant on its back, but the face didn't fit any of the females I knew in the group.  That's when I saw that it was actually a sub-adult male carrying an infant on its back!!  The male carried the infant more than 40m away from its mother and then proceeded to play and cuddle with the infant.  It was amazing!

An adult female spider monkey with her infant.
5. Watching spider monkeys bed down at RCNR.
These moments are my favorite when watching the spider monkeys.  At night they tend to congregate in specific sleeping areas.  As the females feed, the small and large juveniles congregate in the crutch of one of the big fig trees and play for hours.  Long call vocalizations ring out to communicate with subgroups bedding down at the other sleeping sites in the area.  As the sun sets, the monkeys start to settle into their sleeping trees, the crickets start and the fireflies come out.  It is so relaxing to listen to the forest settle down.  I am thankful every single time I experience this peacefulness.  This is why I do what I do.

1 comment: