Monkey Forest Tales: A female red howler story, Pamela

Unamas Agosto 2011 152 (2)

Today’s post we are going to talk about females in red howler monkeys and their relationships. As I mentioned in several past posts, I started following monkeys in a continuous forest at the Tinigua National Park. This story is based on a female from the group that I was studying there. Her name was Pamela, she was an old female and the mother of all the subadult and adult females and males in her group. By the time I met Pamela, she had an infant, a subadult and an adult daughter’s, and a juvenile son. Her adult daughter, Any, had a subadult male and an infant son. Pamela and Any were close but they have different personalities and display different behaviors when taking care of their babies.

Pamela let her infant daughter, from three months old free to move around all the time, while Any was always looking and worried about his son, Al, who has only two months. Even when the infants were older these differences were evident, and Any seems to be a more protective mother than Pamela. I always thought it was because Pamela was older and had more experience than her daughter, who only had one more son and had some infant death. Pamela, on the contrary, had two living daughters and a son, although she also had lost some infants in the past.

Pamela not only was the older female; she was also the one who knows best the groups’ territory. She knew where the fruit trees were, and she was leading her group movements most of the time, especially towards big fig trees. Sometimes she seems to know which was where the ones who were having fruits before others in her group When you follow a group of monkeys, you know that the group had accepted you when the females let you see their babies and don’t make any efforts to get rid of you when moving. Pamela was the first one in her group to accept me. I was able to saw her small daughter, Pati all the time and sometimes it seems that she slow down a bit just to make sure I was following them. Probably it was just my imagination, but I still like to think that it was just her waiting for me.

Pamela was also the dominant female. In red howler monkeys’ males and females have a linear dominance that is reinforced by family relationships in the case of females. When her group started to be followed, in 1986 by a Japanese scientist, she wasn’t the only female in the group, she had a sister, but still, she was the dominant female or at least the one who leads some of the movement and sit closer to the alpha male. Pamela disappears and it was assumed dead in 1996, leaving her small daughter of over a year old, Pati. Pati was taken care of by her sister, Pili, a subadult female according to observations of students and researchers.

In the study area, groups of red howler monkey had been followed only for short periods of time (around 6 months and not several continuous years) and clear relationships of dominance had been only partially established. However, during census survey most adult females had been observed feeding in close proximity to each other, which can suggest that they can be related. Usually, only 1 – 3 adult females had been observed in every group. Additionally, and only on rare occasions, solitary females had been observed in the study area (5 times over the past 15 years). This is usual in red howler monkey where we know there is a dispersion of both sexes but more common in males than females.

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