Monkeys Forest Tales: What to know about remote fieldwork?

In today’s post we are going to talk about the challenges and opportunities that remote fieldwork can give you. The reason why I want to explore this topic in my blog is because over the years I not only had experienced different types of fieldwork but also found that this kind of different types of remote fieldwork are understood differently in different settings. This is particularly important to understand when you are applying to PhDs, Post Docs and jobs.

When we talk about remote fieldwork in this blog we mean fieldwork in areas of difficult access with very basic conditions of accommodation. Usually with intermittent or null internet connection. Usually in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Although it can al apply to some remote areas in Australian outback where some of the same conditions apply.

When looking for positions that offers remote fieldwork it is ok to ask what the meaning is of remote as in different cultures that can mean different things. In Colombia, for example, remote means that you will be several days by bus or river in very isolated communities or forest with not potable water, letrines but not necessarily a proper toilet, usually without any internet connection or intermittent connections in certain areas.

In Australia, for example this usually means places far from towns by several hours by car, where there are few houses, probably staying in camping sites. Intermittent internet connection or sometimes none. Near to the central dessert in some cases. In Africa, this usually means areas where you need to travel by car and/ or river for several days, similar to remote areas in Colombia.

But why is important to understand this? Because if you are at different stages of your career that means you will probably accept different conditions in different ways. Usually, if you are younger, you will like some adventure and you won’t mind long travel hours to get there and out. Probably it will be ok for you to not have any internet connection for several weeks or months. This is also important when you have other responsibilities such as kids or family who depends on you.

It is also important to understand these conditions to prepare your bags and how to pack for those areas, always ask questions about what to pack, for what kind of weather, if you need to take additional medicines or food. It is always better to take medicines for stomach problems as it is a common problem when working in remote areas without potable water. Also try to not carry to much, especially if the travel you will do implies that you will have to walk carrying your own bags. Don’t pack too much, be aware of your own waste.

During your preparations ask questions about how easy it will be to get emergency attention and how fast you can be taken out of those remote areas. Prepare an emergency plan and leave instructions with family or friends about emergency plans. While working in remote areas be aware of your own skills and don’t put yourself at risk just because you want to show off. Do your work well done but having your security and others in mind…And enjoy as much as you can as it is possible that at other stages of your life that won’t be possible to do it…

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Monkeys Forest Tales: News from the field: new babies and babies growing

In today’s post I want to give a quick update of the monkey’s life in our study area. First, I want to apologize with all of you for my lack of posting two weeks ago. Unfortunately, in Colombia there are still some areas in which internet connection is not continuous and make some aspects of our current life difficult. So, basically, we had some internet issues in the part of Colombia where we are at the moment that didn’t allow us to share with you our regular post.

As you may recall from past post from February this year, we have new babies in several of the Colombian squirrel monkey’s groups. In our last visit we count them again and we found the same number of babies, although more independent than before and in some cases moving along their mothers for short distances.

Some of the red howler monkey’s babies are now older and playful juveniles. At this time of the year, we observed some of them with botflies in their necks and abdomen. Adults also have botflies at this time, may be due to the increase in rain.

We also detected a new baby in one of the dusky titi monkey groups that we didn’t see in our last visit. The forest has some fruit although this year although the rainy season started a bit later than in other years. In this fieldtrip we also found a Brumback night monkey group in a nest we thought they abandon completely, as we didn’t see them using it for more than a year.

This time we didn’t see any trace of coatis as in other visits, but it could be that they are using other forest fragments as it seems their home ranges includes more than one forest fragment in this highly transformed landscape.

Heavy rains are usual at this time and some parts of the forest as well as small fragments are flooded at the moment, making the forest more humid and noisy (more frog are singing)…

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Monkeys Forest Tales: Considering career changes? What to ask yourself?

Lately I had a lot of thoughts about career changes and how to decide when you want or need a change in your career. A topic that is not easy and it doesn’t have only one answer. So, in today’s post we will explore this topic and some considerations you should have in mind before deciding.

Usually when you think about a career change, it is because there is something in your work you are not enjoying, or you are not feeling happy with your job and/or career. Deciding to change your career is not an easy decision because it also means life changes.

Some years ago, a friend told me that sometimes after your 40’s you evaluate your life and even think about changing your career. Because I make my decision of studying biology and never though about changing it, in my case it has not been about changing my career, but about changing my job or at some points changing my study object.

But what do you need to ponder if you are thinking about changing your career or even your job? First ask yourself the current reason why you are thinking about making that change. Second, for how long you want a change, it is a long-term change, or you are just tired of a specific routine and want to change specific situations. Both considerations are important to decide if you just talk with your boss and make some arrangements in your goals and routines. Or if what you need to do is to start a job search towards something that make you happier.

In today’s job market there are many options and with the increase of remote jobs, there is a more flexible environment to make those career changes as well as changing your job conditions, even when your job is a traditional job.

Therefore, when you are deciding about career changes, don’t forget to ask yourself about the true reasons why you want a change and what exactly is making you unhappy with your current job/ career.

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Monkey Forest Tales: What to do before choosing a PhD, Post Doc and even a new job?

In today’s post we are going to talk about some of things I learned of what is best to do before choosing a PhD, Post Doc and even a new job. Of course, I’m talking from my own experience mainly, and from the experiences of people around me.

Choosing a PhD is an important part of an academic career and usually you don’t know where to start and how to look for it. You see opportunities promoted by others and some others have an ideal of what kind of project or university they want. For me was a search that started by looking with who I want to work with. In my undergrad and master, I have two very good researchers with different teaching styles. For my doctorate I also want it a good supervisor and especially I wanted to work in a topic I liked, preferably in my own country… and with monkeys of course!!!

My other requirement was that I want to have a fellowship to do my doctorate. I did my master at the same time I was working, and it took me double of time because of that. So, this time I didn’t want to be worried about money. I was lucky enough to get both an excellent supervisor that was not only worried about my work but also about me as a person. And I got my doctorate funded.

So, my first piece of advice is to look for a supervisor who not only is interested in your work and give you the opportunities to growth as a professional but also someone who ask about your work-life balance and who is a good person and give you time to solve questions. Also, if you are doing a doctorate, especially if it is outside of your own country, it is important that your supervisor understand that and know about the difficulties that living in a foreign country implies. Additionally, I recommend doing a doctorate completely funded, it will reduce your stress and you will enjoy more the whole process.

When choosing a Post Doc and even a new job, my recommendations follow a similar patter in terms of choosing a good supervisor for your Post Doc and a good boss. Sometimes that is not so easy to know before hand, but it is important for your own professional development and for your mental health. Both are professional positions and in both you should be able to develop your professional skills and increase your experiences in a healthy environment. I wasn’t that lucky with my post doc position but get better after that with some of my job positions…

Although it is not always easy to decide to end a post doc or a job, especially if you have responsibilities and the economic part is restricted. No job or post doc position will give you back your mental health once you lose it because of a toxic job environment. This is especially true when you are living in a foreign country and work in your second or third language.

So, my second piece of advice is to choose carefully and if you are in a toxic job environment prioritize your mental health first. Plan carefully and keep as much as possible a good saving fund that give you the freedom to change jobs if you choose a wrong job or post doc position…

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Forest Monkey Tales: How I make the decision to dedicate my life to monkeys?

In today’s post I want to talk about my decision to dedicate my life to monkeys. This question was asked in a twitter feed a couple of weeks ago. For some people the decision to dedicate their lives to a specific group of organisms was one they make early in life. For others has been a search after working with different groups.

In my case, I decide about my career in my childhood. However, my decision to dedicate my life to study monkeys came later, when I was at university. When I decide to study biology, I was thinking to dedicate my life to marine mammals, especially dolphins and whales. However, studying these animals in Colombia means a few opportunities and high costs.

During my career I was fortunate enough to spent time on different groups and to take advantages of different experiences, one of which take me to Tinigua National Park to study monkey’s behavior. It was there in the middle of the forest, observing a group of red howler monkeys, that I make my decision of dedicate my life to study monkeys. It wasn’t always easy, especially in a country like Colombia in which dedicate your life to research outside a university is full of challenges.

So, in my case it was a process, that take several years and some experiences with different groups, as well as taking advantage of the opportunities that life give me. Probably the best way to answer this question is a combination of luck, experiences, take advantage of opportunities and persistence to follow your dreams…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why is so important to reduce and control plastics use in natural areas?

On today’s post we want to reinforce the importance to control and reduce plastics use in natural areas. We all have heard about world campaigns to reduce and control plastic use, especially in national parks, forested areas, rivers and oceans.

But why is so important to reduce this type of waste? Because plastics, like plastic bottles, plastic plates and plastics glasses are garbage that last too long to decompose and remains in the forest, rivers, lakes, and oceans for several thousand years.

Additionally, this kind of waste usually damage the fauna that live in these areas. For example, plastic bags in the water looks like jellyfish swimming and sea turtles eat them by mistake, causing them to die drowned. Several species of birds have been found dead because they eat plastic pieces instead of food and died of hunger.

In the study area of Zocay Project, during different months of the year we found plastic waste in different areas of the forest. Most of this plastic waste came from other farms and from people passing through roads and farms and not taking their garbage with them.

During rainy season, streams and rivers increase their levels and the water drags all these plastics inside the forest, and it accumulates on stream curves. During dry season, streams reduce its levels and some of the plastics that went down to the bottom, become visible.

So, if you visit natural areas such as farms, national parks, rivers, and ocean, before going back to your homes, take with you all those plastics and recycle them in your city to reduce the effect of this kind of waste in our environment.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating Our Forest and Water

This week on March 22nd we celebrate the International Day of Water and on March 21st we celebrate the International Forest Day, two important days to raise awareness about two of the main resources that make possible life in our planet. So let’s talk about this two topics in today’s post: Water and Forest…

Forest is an important part of our lives, even if we don’t live close to it. Why? Because is thanks to forest that we have clear air and water. Trees and other plants are like filter that purify the water around them and produce the oxygen we breath every second. Without that we can’t live. Also, we are mostly water, our bodies are around 70 % of water therefore without water we can’t exist.

But why is important to celebrate those days, mostly because is a strategy to make forest and water more visible for all of us, even if we are not aware of how much we depend on forest and water to live, as many people in cities are used to believe.

Forest is also important to conserve water and specially to conserve water courses such as streams, rivers, lakes and in the case of mangroves that is a type of forest to regulate sea level and reduce storm risk and its impacts.

In the study area forest is reduced and the climate dynamics (dry and rainy season) have been changing even more in the last 5 years, with dry season stronger and in some years longer than before and therefore a water scarcity in the are that was not common when this project started. This impact the pattern of fruit and flower production in those forest and that changes in fruit production also impact our monkey species. Monkeys change the use of space according to fruit production patterns and it becomes more challenging when the forest fragments in which they live are smaller and more isolated because of pastures, palm oil plantations and other human activities. So, if you protect forest, you are also protecting the water inside those forest and all the animals, including monkeys, that live within.

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Monkey Forest Tales: News from the field: babies season again

In today’s post we are going to talk about the last news we have from the field. In our last visit to the study forest in February, we have the opportunity to see babies again.

As usual at this time of the year, Colombian squirrel monkeys have babies and a big surprise this year, our Chela had a baby this year, since 2017 we hadn’t been able to see Chela’s babies. But this year we saw her carrying a baby of at least one month. An interesting observation at this time was also that she was followed closely by a subadult, probably a female that in some moment was observed carrying the baby, but as soon as Chela saw us, she takes her baby and carried it. This sharing of parental care is common in other monkeys’ species in the study area, including squirrel monkeys in which juveniles also carry babies although usually older than three months of age.

Another surprise from this visit is the observation of at least two young females of squirrel monkeys with babies in neighboring groups, probably their first babies. So, this is an indication that at least some of the juveniles are reaching the adult age and are reproducing, a good sign for the monkeys in these fragmented areas.

We also, saw babies of red howler monkeys and black capped capuchins between 2 – 6 months, probably from the females we saw pregnant at the end of last year, which is a good sign for now of the population in our study area.

Same as in previous years, we saw a strong dry season. Streams and even some natural and human-made lakes are almost completely dry. Rain just started in March, but not enough for streams and lakes to start filling their reservoirs. Hopefully wild and domestic animal are still using cattle water reservoirs, although we still don-t know with what frequency and if all wild animals in the area used or not. A question we hope we can answer by this time next year if we get funds…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Women and Girls in Science Day Celebration

On February 11th, we celebrate the roles and importance of women and girls in science day. A day to promote the interest of girls in science and to celebrate the achievements and participation of women in different fields of science. Although this celebration should be all year and we should promote girls’ interest on science every day, this celebration is also a good opportunity to recognize all women that were and are a role model to me.

Some of these women are famous and others are not. All of them have contributed to science advance in different fields of science and at the same time seems to have balanced their personal lives too. Something that I still need to work more on. To all of them thank you for sharing you experiences with me in different ways.

Most of these women work with monkeys and communities living around monkey’s habitats and had dedicated their lives to conservation of monkeys and to preserve habitat where monkeys live and of which people living around depends on. Others work on forest conservation, in which monkeys live, but are more focused on the forest dynamics and threats around those forest.

To all women and girls coming behind me, known and unknown, my best advice is to follow your dreams. Sometimes those dreams change a little bit over time but there are still your dreams. Believe in yourselves and persist in what you want to achieve for your live. Plan your goals but also be aware that to achieve those dreams sometimes you need to deviate from your path for a while to go back and achieve those goals. Be realistic about your goals and sometimes divide them in small goals so you can achieve the big ones. Be persistent if those dreams really make you happy. And don’t stop from dreaming…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why we are worried about fires?

First, we want to apologize for our inconsistency this year with our blog. Our workload as well as Covid had impacted us even more this year, so we will be posting every fortnight for now. In today’s post we are going to talk about fire and why we are so worried about its implications.

Past week and this one, we had heard some news in Colombia about the increase on fires in Orinoquia and Amazonian regions, including National Parks. In the Orinoquia region, this is the dry season and usually a time when most cattle ranchers use fire to open new pastures, a dangerous and traditional practice that seems to be increased in the past decade. This is aggravated by a land grabbing mafia that had increased in the deforestation arc of Orinoquia and Amazonian regions.

How is this affecting our monkey species? Zocay Project work with five species that are distributed on the deforestation arc of Orionoquia and Amazonian regions. With exception of red howler monkeys and black-capped capuchins which have a wider distribution, the other three species (dusky titi monkeys, Brumback night monkeys and Colombian squirrel monkeys) had restricted distributions mostly located in the Orinoquian deforestation arc.

Especially for dusky titi monkeys who lives mainly in Meta department, fires had become an increased threat, mainly because is affecting the only two National Parks in which you can found them, Tinigua and Macarena National Parks. Fires reported last and this week are located in those two parks which are having an extreme conversion from forest to pastures and have complicated social and security issues due to illegal crops and social unrest in those areas, combined with land grabbing mafias.

So, we see this fire problem as a major threat to all species in which we focus our work. Unfortunately, this means that at least for dusky titi monkeys their conservation status (how threatened they are to disappear) need to be reevaluated this year. As well as an urgency to work on the ground to continue its conservation in private lands such as the ones in which Zocay project is working currently.

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