Monkey Forest Tales: A small gift for those of you like me that need the forest to feel OK, but can get it right now

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Today’s post I want to share some of the strategies that I had used over more than 20 years working in the field or in cities in an isolated type of situation. I also want to share some of the images, recordings I used and still used when feeling isolated and need a boost of motivation for my life.

As I mentioned before, I had worked in many places, far from family and friends over the years, sometimes in magical places like an incredible forest. And some other times in small, isolated towns in my country and other countries. In all those places isolation came in different ways and although sometimes I had movement freedom in others I didn’t have it. And I actually being isolated with very few people or only myself to keep me company.

Although I’m used to be alone and I actually enjoy it. Feeling sad when you are alone is common and it is ok. It’s on those moments that I need the most forest and monkeys… I learned a very long time ago that being close to nature heals me physically and emotionally.

So, when I’m isolated and can’t go to the forest and see monkey I use the pictures  I’m attaching to this post to rebalance my life. That is my best strategy against isolation, sadness and lack of motivation. I hope it gives you a bit of motivation in these times. Please feel free to share it with anyone you think will enjoy them and will help them in this time of isolation, just keep the credits. We all need a few positive images and motivation to help us in these times…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why is important NOT to feed wild monkeys?

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Today’s post is about an important topic for wild primates and humans, not only because of the impact that feeding wild monkeys had on monkey’s lives but also because this can have a high impact on people’s lives too. It is about the importance of NOT feeding wild monkeys

Monkeys had always caused fascination for humans, maybe because of our physical similarities, their curiosity, and sometimes funny behavior. This fascination makes that some humans see monkeys as something cute to pet and feed, causing two major problems for wild monkeys: illegal pet traffic and feeding of wild populations. This especially happens in areas where humans and monkeys share their space such as cities and towns and with less frequency in farms.

But, why feeding wild monkeys is bad? Well, it presents a couple of problems for monkeys and humans.

The first one and probably most important is the transmission of diseases caused by microorganisms. Our physiology and monkey’s physiology is similar. This means that our bodies respond more or less in the same way to viruses, bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms. Therefore, our infections can pass to them and their infections can pass to us and by doing that make us both vulnerable.

When you feed a wild monkey, even if the monkey lives freely in a city, you enter in contact with microorganisms that they carry and the monkeys enter in contact with microorganisms that we carry, making both of us, monkeys and humans, prone to get a disease or infection carries by the other.

The second problem is that when they get used to being feed by humans and that feeding stops, they need to search for the food you are not giving to them. This causes problems because the monkeys start looking in a garbage bin, stealing food in markets or attacking people who are eating to get their food. Humans are usually not very tolerant of these behaviors and start killing those individuals or groups that make these behaviors.

So, if you care about monkeys and are worried that groups of monkeys living close by to your town/ city don’t get enough food for living. There are other ways in which you can help them, such as planting fruit trees near to the areas where you usually see them, especially fruit trees that are native, the kind of trees where you had seen them eating or ask a biologist what kind of fruit tree can be useful for them.

Another thing you can do is to prevent the destruction of their habitat and increase the connectivity of the forest fragments where you see the monkeys moving. All the species are continuously moving in search of food but when the habitat is disrupted and they cannot pass to other forest areas, they just search for food where they can, even if that means garbage bins.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Group formation mechanisms in monkeys

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In my last post, we talk about two new observations made during this birth season, the possible fission of a large group of Colombian squirrel monkeys and the possibly new formation of a group of dusky titi monkeys.

After a conversation with one of the landowners in the area where he asked if that was good or not for the monkeys in the area, I decided to explain a bit more about the mechanisms of group formation in monkeys and what it means for the monkeys in the study area.

Monkey’s groups form in two main different ways:

  1. Because one big group is so big that the competition between individuals inside the group is high and as a mechanism to reduce this competition, the groups splits, and two new groups are formed. Sometimes this group division is accompanied by a division of the original home range or territory too. This is what we seem to be happening in the study area with one of the Colombian squirrel monkey’s groups.

 

  1. Because of a new pair of a female and a male mate and form a new reproductive unit. This is usually the case in monogamous species such as the dusky titi monkey.

Formation of new groups of monkeys can potentially mean an increase of the monkey’s population in the area only if those new groups produce new individuals that also reproduce themselves.

So for now, in the case of the Colombian squirrel monkeys, it is possible that the population in the area is increasing not only because of the group that we had been monitoring over the past 15 years have maintained its size and grow itself but also because we had observed new groups in the vicinity. However, this needs to be monitored with caution as the changing dynamic of the area. Those new groups could also be displaced groups from other nearby forest fragments where habitat quality has been reduced and food scarcity had led to those groups to move farther.

In the case of the dusky titi monkeys, we will need to wait for the next birth season to see if this new group establish itself and have babies. The number of groups of dusky titi monkeys in the area had remained stable over the past years and only sporadically we had seen individuals dispersing outside of the focal forest fragments. More data could be necessary to say with confidence if the population is increasing in the area.

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Monkey Forest Tales: It is the babies’ season in the study area

I’m writing today’s post from one of the farmhouses while observing the sunset. The sun is hiding behind the forest near to the house while I’m reflecting on the past day’s surveys. Red and orange colors fill the sky and a soft breeze fills the air with sweet smells. This is the time of the year where some trees produce flowers in the study area.

The dry season is at its fullest, strong winds and that smell to dry leaves that fill your lungs as soon as you enter the forest. There are just a few small ponds of muddy water in the stream bed. Birds and other animals are easily found around those muddy pounds. The ground is dry and covered with litter.

The dry season marks the birth season for dusky titi monkeys and Colombian squirrel monkeys. Although most births occur during January, in the past two years we were only able to visit the area during February. Still a good timing to count babies and enjoy the changes that dry season brings to the forest fragments.

Over the past days, we made surveys in all the small fragments that we still have access to the study area in search of monkey’s groups. Black-capped capuchins and red howler monkeys also have babies but a few months older than the Colombian squirrel monkeys and dusky titi monkeys.

As always the area gives not only the opportunity to see monkeys but also other mammals and birds. Woodpeckers are around and seem to have youngsters as well as the yellow-headed caracara. Coatis, giant anteater, tamanduas, and squirrels are around too. The scarlet ibis, a symbol of the Colombian Llanos are easy to be seen during this season around the small ponds in the stream beds of the forest fragments.

As a big surprise, we were able to see early in the morning on the third day a group of around 60 squirrel monkeys, including 10 babies from this season. The group split a bit latter in two subgroups but it seems they spend the night together. It is rare because usually, this group is not bigger than 35 individuals. A bit bigger than typical groups in the area, which usually have between 15 – 20 individuals.

There were at least three older females without babies (including Chela, who we mentioned before in another post). We only have seen squirrel monkey’s groups as big as today’s group in continuous areas, where up to 100 individuals can spend the night together and sometimes even a couple of days together. Can it be possible that we are seeing a new group formation (or better, a group fission) of Colombian squirrel monkeys? Hopefully, we will be able to answer this question in the following months.

We were less lucky at observing dusky titi monkeys during this field visit, however, we could at least verify that some groups are still present, some new babies and at least one baby from last year survived up to now. It also seems there is a new group in the process to be formed and/ or establish in one of our smallest forest fragments. But a closer observation is required to confirm this.

This dry season not only brought new babies this year but also more questions to answer for this amazing and dynamic system…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about deers in the study area

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After the last post was published, we realize that we forget another important mammal in the region, deers. Although the more widespread species in the region is the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), there are at least another two species of deers present in the study region, especially in the big forest fragments. There two other species are the gray brocket deer (Mazama gouazoubira) and red brocket deer (Mazama americana).

All are herbivorous species who eat grasses, some fruits and flowers. Mainly nocturnal but the white-tailed deer is also diurnal. All are mainly solitary, except by the white-tailed deer that can be also found in small groups.

White-tailed deers are found in the study area mainly near to the forest edges and sometimes you can find their youngsters hiding quietly in the regenerating areas of abandoned pastures or in the forest edges near to watermelon crops after the harvest feeding on the leftover fruits.

We had the opportunity to see at least a couple of youngsters over the years, but we don’t have detailed data on their population in the area, except by some sightings, feces, and footprints.

Although hunted by its meat in many areas of their distribution areas, these three species seem to not be particularly heavily hunted in the study area, at least not in the forest fragments where they can be found that we have access. White-collared peccaries seem to be preferred in the area as bushmeat.

Sometimes it’s possible to find young animals in farmhouses as pets, mainly from white-tailed deers, usually keep it by local people after killing the mother, but not very often. We had seen them mostly alone or the mother and her offspring in the early hours of the morning. They seem to use living fences to hide and to rest at its shadow.

In the biggest fragments where the red and gray brocket deers can be found, mostly we have data on footprint which tells us that they used the trails used by locals to move the cattle from one pasture to another through the forest. Their main threats are deforestation and illegal hunting, at least in this area.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about river otters, squirrels, agoutis and capybaras

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Capybara’s footprint.

This is the last post in a series of posts about other mammals living in the study area. Today’s post is about river otters, squirrels, agoutis, and capybaras.

River otters, a medium-sized mammal that depends on rivers and small streams to feed and move. They are well adapted to moving in the water as their feet had a membrane between their fingers that help them swim.

We had seen them in the streams close to farmhouses. They feed on fish and small crustaceans living in fast-flowing rivers and streams. Usually seen very close or in the water. They are scarce in the region. Although we saw a couple of individuals that seem to be permanent residents of one of the streams for several years and then disappear.

They are not hunted in the area and most farmers don’t pay much attention to them. Contamination of watercourses, deforestation as well as some agro-industrial practices such as deviation of natural watercourses are some of the threats for this amazing animal.

Squirrels in the area are not very common, although, in the last five years, they have been seen in forest fragments where they were not found in the previous decade. They are small-sized mammals, very agile and good climbers. They feed on seeds and fruits. Usually, we found them alone with only a few occasions in which we saw two individuals moving together. People in the area don’t pay much attention to them.

Agoutis are medium size rodents, highly appreciated by their meat by local people. It is illegal hunting them but there are reports of meat from agoutis sold in the town at around $15000 per meat pound in 2014. They are solitary and nocturnal rodents, mainly found in the biggest forest of the study area. They eat insects, seeds and fruits.

Capybaras are the biggest rodents in South America. There are still present in some farms in the study area, but they are less common than in Casanare and Arauca department in the Colombian Llanos. They live in big groups near to swamps, lakes and riverine forest. In the study area, we have seen footprints, tracks, and feces close to some rivers and lakes. Few individuals have been reported by local people.

Highly appreciated by their meat by local people, although illegal. There have been some efforts to reduce their illegal hunting by implementing captive colonies, but information about it is limited. Under the national laws is still illegal to sell and marketing capybara’s meat there requires special permits that need to be done by the environmental authorities, although is still common in some areas of the country.

For the mammals mentioned in this post, their main threats are deforestation and illegal hunting. Illegal hunting is especially strong for agouties and capybaras.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about armadillos and sloths

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An armadillo searching for food in a forest fragment at the study area.

We continue with the series of posts talking about other mammals present in the study area. We are talking about two groups of very different, but beautiful mammals, sloths, and armadillos.

The species of sloth we had identified in the study area is the southern two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus), they are solitary, and we had seen them eating in trumpet trees (Cecropia spp.).

They are nocturnal and difficult to see. As other sloths, they go down to the ground to defecate, but most of their time is spent in the treetops. They mainly eat leaves and can camouflage very well the leaves of the trees in which they rest or feed, making it even more difficult to see them.

They are not hunted in the study area but sometimes found it as pets. Their main threat is deforestation. There are reports of local people in the study area who had seen them crossing pastures during the day. There are a few reports from local people who found dead individuals on the electricity cables as they sometimes used them to move.

Armadillos are in general, small-sized mammals, except by the giant armadillo. In the study area, we had seen nine-banded long nosed armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus). We also now from other colleagues work that in the region, especially in the biggest forest fragments in the study area it is possible to find the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), although it is rarely seen.

All species of armadillos are hunted in the area although is illegal. It has been traditionally hunted by indigenous and peasants in the region over centuries. When hunted, people usually use dogs to find them and if they hide in their burrows, people dig big holes surrounding the hole in which the dogs follow the armadillo.

They are scarce and difficult to see. They are mainly nocturnal, although the nine-banded long nosed armadillo can be seen during the day too.  We had seen them using living fences areas to feed and move between forest fragments. They mainly eat insects. Burrowing holes are common in most of the forest fragments in the area.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about tamanduas and giant anteaters

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We continue with some additional notes on some of the most amazing mammals in the region of the study area. Although tamanduas and giant anteaters can be found also in the deep Amazon forest, they are also common in fragmented landscapes, especially the giant anteaters.

Tamanduas are small-sized mammals with a long snout and a sticky tongue used to capture termites, ants, and bees. They are good climbers and you can see them walking on the ground or climbing trees in search of food. We had found both. They have a prehensile tail like the one from howler monkeys that help them while climbing trees.

They are diurnal and nocturnal, and we found them sleeping on the upper part of medium-sized trees. Solitary animals. We mostly found them inside forest fragments, although on a few occasions we saw them using living fences to move between forest fragments. In general, in the area, they are not hunted, and farmers pay little attention to them.

Giant anteaters are a larger mammal, terrestrial. They are diurnal, although sometimes you can also see them moving at night. They mainly feed on ants and termites. They use their long and sticky tongue to extract ants and termites from the tunnels in their nest that they destroy with the strong arms and claws.

We usually saw them in the pastures walking looking for food. On some occasions we also found them inside the forest resting on the ground, covering their bodies with their long hairy tail on top of them.

They are solitary, although on a few occasions we had seen up to three of them walking together, probably a female with a juvenile and a male trying to mate with the female. Babies are carried in the back of their moms and their fur pattern is like the back of their mom’s back hair.

They have a developed smell sense that they use to find their food. However, their sight is not so good and some of my closest encounters with them are in pastures where they just walk towards me because they didn’t notice me until they are too close.

Probably one of their main threat in the area additional to deforestation is roadkill, Although the can gallop and move fast when they need it, they usually walk slowly and cars crossing roads at high speed in the area (and region) didn’t stop or slow down for them and there is a lot of casualties because of this reason. They are not hunted in the study area.

Although both tamanduas and giant anteaters are still present in the area, they both still need forest areas to live and rest. Wildlife crossing, such as culverts, tunnels, overpasses, and viaduct could be important tools to reduce roadkill impact especially on giant anteaters and other terrestrial mammals that still persist in the region.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about tayras, short-ear dog, and bush dog

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These series of posts continue with some of the medium-sized predators that persist in some parts of the study area. Probably the most common are tayras and short-ear dogs. They can be found crossing pastures, tertiary roads, savannas, and palm oil plantations as well as inside forest fragments.

They eat small birds, mammals, and reptiles. Tayras are more omnivorous as they also eat fruits and insects. We had observed tayras attacking primate groups in the study area, especially of squirrel monkeys and black-capped capuchins, targeting the younger individuals. Groups of up to three tayras had been observed in the area. They are good climbers and sometimes when scared by humans or domestic dogs they climb to escape.

Short-ear dogs have been seen using palm oil plantations as hunting grounds, it seems opportunistically, while dispersing in the study area. They are carnivorous and they have crepuscular habits. Usually observed alone or in pairs in the study area.

Local people also reported both tayras and short-ear dogs attacking chickens and other domestic birds. Therefore, on some farms in the area, they are killed when near to the houses.

The less known are the bush dogs, very similar to domestic dogs in appearance. We had seen them only in the biggest fragments in the area (Carretero-Pinzon 2013), but there are reports in the Llanos of their use of savannas as hunting grounds too. Bush dogs are cryptic animals that live in pairs or small groups. We observed them near to the edge of a big forest fragment using a trail used by humans, early in the morning.

All observation of these medium-sized predators had been opportunistic with some few occasions in which we also had found feces or footprints that seem to be from them.

In recent years we had observed an increase of feral dogs in the area as well as the use of dogs in hunting inside of the biggest forest fragments. Although we still don’t know what the effect of these feral dogs on the populations of medium-sized predators can be. There are reports of disease transmission, especially skin problems, transmitted from feral dogs or dogs used in hunting to bush dogs, from other parts of their distribution area. This can be especially important for the population of this species that we suspect is low and rare in the area. More monitoring on this will be needed in the future.

Carretero-Pinzón, X. 2013. Bush dog sighting in a large forest fragment in the Colombian Llanos. Canid Biology & Conservation 16(5): 16 – 17.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about coatis, crab-eater raccoons, other mammals in the area

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Solitary coati from one of the forest fragments in the study area.

Today’s post we are going to talk about other mammals present in the study area, that are perhaps a bit less attractive to people but all the same important for the forest. Mammals are the group of animals that are covered by hair or hair modifications, such as thorns in porcupines. They can be omnivorous (which means that they eat other animals, fruits and other plant parts) or they can be carnivorous, which means that they eat other animals. In this post, we are going to talk about all the other mammals present in the study area that we didn’t mention in the previous posts, like all the wild cats, peccaries and tapirs.

Today we are going to talk about coatis, medium-sized mammals with long snouts that usually are found in the forest in big groups up to 30 individuals (usually females and their infants) or solitary individuals, generally males. The first time I saw a big group of coatis was in a big forest, I was walking looking for monkeys of course, when a feel some noise near to the ground and on the trees. Coatis are great climbers and sometimes they climb to escape from predators. When they notice me, they just stop every movement, it was like if they were playing freezing. A kind of a game we used to play when I was a kid in which someone screams “freeze” and everyone needs to stop their movements in the position they were when they hear the scream, and you can move until someone scream again after a few minutes. It looks the same to me. It was funny some animals were just moving their eyes following my movement, some had a hand in the air as if giving a step forward or trying to catch something in midair. They are omnivorous and goes around the forest looking for fruits and insects. In the study area they are present in some forest but not in all. In the forest fragments where this project started 15 years ago, there were not common to see coatis in the past, however in the past 5 years or so it has been more common not only to find solitary males dispersing but also to some groups of females and their offspring.

An even less common mammal present in the study area is the crab-eating raccoon, I only had seen them once in the study area. They are solitary and nocturnal animals. They eat small crabs, fish, mollusks and some frogs and insects. I only notice his presence because he had to move a bit from his hidden place in a high tree cover with lianas and vines after the group of squirrel monkeys I was following wake him up. A couple of times after this I had found some tracks that seem to belong to them.

Porcupines are more common in the study area, not so easy to see as they are nocturnal, but we sometimes found some thorns in the ground or even some dead animals. It seems domestic dogs attack them very often. When waking in the forest at night sometimes it is easy to hear them scratching bark from dead trees and it is one way to spot them as the noise, they do is loud.

Even more common and less loved are the common opossum as well as other smaller opossums that can be seen in the area. They are marsupials, like koalas and kangaroos, which means that their babies grow up outside of the body in a small pouch located in their belly. They are omnivorous and one of the reasons most people in the study area don’t like them is that sometimes they eat small chickens. They are solitary and nocturnal; they climb trees and their tail is like another limb they can use to hang to reach fruits.

Although all these mammals had been observed in the area, all of them had been observed inside forest fragments and we still don’t’ know how much they use pastures and palm oil plantations. For the crab-eaten raccoon, it’s possible that their persistence in the area is due to their use of forest around streams that are the most common in the study area. Porcupines and opossums, in general, seem to move between forest fragments using living fences as well as pastures. Local people had reported coatis crossing pastures and savannas on a few occasions, and they probably use living fences as well to move through the area.

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A common opossum in the study area.

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