Monkey Forest Tales: Why is important to study monkeys?

Why do you study monkeys? Why is important to study them? These are some question that local people and family make me very often. Sometimes these questions have led to a very interesting discussion with local people. I usually start answering these questions with my personal reasons and then explaining why monkeys are important for the forest and therefore for them.

So, why I study monkeys? Because they save my life, they give me a reason to continue living and I fell in love with them. Also, they are charismatic animals so much like us and their babies are cute.

When I decided to study biology, it wasn’t because of the monkeys, it was because I want to dedicate my life to dolphins and whales… and for many years that was my main purpose. But when I enter to the university they start talking about a place, a forest to which you can go and spend a semester studying animals in the jungle…very exciting right!

Well, that was what I though and I decided I want to try, I want to go to that place and spend a semester studying a mammal (a fury animal that drinks milk like us). There were options to study monkeys (I can choose any of the seven species present in that area) or a big bird called curassow. So, I decided for monkeys, specifically for red howler monkeys, I studied the behavior of their babies during their first months of their life. And I fell in love with them.

But, why are monkeys important? Well, they are part of the forest and therefore they have a function in the forest that make that forest work properly. All the species in my study area consume fruits, some species consumed more than others, some of them consume big fruits with big seeds and others consumed small fruits with small seeds.

Every time they eat a fruit and their seeds pass through the monkeys’ digestive system, some of those seeds can pass for a chemical process that accelerate their germination. Therefore monkeys, as well as birds and bats are the farmers of the forest, they disperse the seeds of the fruits they consume.

Also, some monkeys have been called forest engineers, because during their movements in the forest searching for insects (crickets, months, cockroach, beetles), spiders and small lizards, birds and frogs they transform their environment and open new sites for other animals to arrive, and drops sticks and leaves to the ground where they will decomposed and became new nutrients for the trees in that forest.

And why is this important, because if we don’t have new plants in those forest, there will be a time that that forest disappear and without forest, we people, don’t have water.

In an area like the Colombian Llanos where dry season can last up to four months, sometimes without a single drop of water. The forest that remains around the streams are the only option for wild and domestic animals to find shadow and water during those dry months.

So, monkeys are an important part of this system and we need to protect them to protect the forest and water that help us to maintain life in this and other areas in the world.

Although I usually don’t mention this to the people in the area, they are also important because more than 75 % of the monkeys’ species around the world are disappearing for different causes such as deforestation, fragmentation, hunting, bushmeat, and illegal pet market. Another reason to study and protect them around the world!

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