Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating Earth Day!

This week we celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd, around the world people use this special date to remember the importance of our planet and reflect on how we are treating the only planet we have. Earth day should be every day, not only because is our home, but because we are part of that home.

With this special celebration, we will like to share some of our thoughts about what this special day means not only for us and this project, for my own work, but also share some of the things we all can do to celebrate and taking care of our planet every single day.

We share this planet with a wide and highly diverse arrangement of living things, all of them with a function inside of the planet. Some of these functions can look to us as unnecessary as the presence of so many species of mosquitos, bugs, mites, and other living things that make us feel uncomfortable but that are important for the control of many populations of animals from which they feed.

Although some people can be seen as not related to the planet, this project work focuses on the understanding of the relationships and population dynamics of monkeys in a human transformed landscape. As well as my work, by training students and every time I share the results and findings of this project with local people, landowners, and the scientific community, are both parts of the work of many people (mostly scientist), who grow up with an increasing curiosity to understand how this planet and its inhabitants live and relate between them.

Over the last decade’s many studies had found that human activities had produced a series of effects on the habitats and organisms that live on those habitats, sometimes good effects for some and other times, unfortunately, most of the time, bad effects on those habitats. However, there is still possible to change the course of most of those bad effects on our planet.

It is through small actions that every one of us can do in our daily lives that we can change the course of the bad effects we are causing to our planet. So what we can do:

  1. Plant a tree or if you have a land let a part of that land to regenerate naturally. This not only increases the capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but also in human-dominated areas vegetation increase the well-being of people living nearby, increase the presence of other plant and animal species, increasing the services that nature gives to humans (ecosystem services).
  2. Buy responsible, use your right to buy a product to shape the market responses for more environmentally friendly products, not only for food products by other goods and services that we use in our lives.
  3. Recycle, reuse, and reduce the amount of garbage that you as individual produce and consume (here there are some ideas).
  4. Implement a simple compost system to reuse the vegetable waste you produce in your home (here is there is one way to do it).
  5. Support any local, regional, or international campaign to protect and reinforce the protection of natural areas. As citizens, we have the right and responsibility to protect and make that our governments protect our natural environments.
  6. Use more the bicycle, walking, public transport, or sharing your car instead of using the car for only one person.
  7. Teach your kids and younger people around you about al these small actions you can do every day to take care of our planet

As you see, there are many small actions we can do in our daily lives that reduce the impact our activities have on the planet we all share. As Jane Goodall usually said “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”

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Monkey Forest Tales: Monkeys as seed dispersers

Sapajus apella (Colombian Llanos)Female

In past posts, we talk about the importance of monkeys in the forests as seed dispersers, environmental engineers and predators, in the following posts we are going to explore a bit more about the importance of monkeys meeting these functions in the forest in which they live. In this post, we are going to start with the importance of monkeys as seed dispersers in general and for the study area.

When monkeys eat fruits, sometimes the spit the seed under the tree they are eating, but other times they move to eat in a neighbor tree and spit the seed a little bit farther from the tree from which they take them. And other times they consumed the seeds from the fruits they were eating and expel those seeds in their feces. In all these cases if the seed is not consumed by the monkeys (i.e. they don’t destroy the seed during its consumption), they are dispersing those seeds.

Seed dispersion is one of the most important benefits an animal can give to a plant from which that animal consumes its fruits. It is important for the plants, and therefore for the forest, in two main aspects: 1) distance from the tree from which the fruit was taken, and 2) time to germinate and produce a new plant.

The farthest the seed is dispersed by the monkeys, the better disperser it is because this reduces the competition of that plant from other plants of the same species. Also, if the monkey consumes the seed and as a product of this the seed germinate faster this can also be beneficial for the plant.

There are some plant species that actually need that their seeds pass through the monkeys, or other animals, gut in order to germinate. During this process, the acids in the animal gut react with the seed coat and this process can accelerate the germination time.

In our study area, all primate species disperse in some way the seeds they consumed from fruit trees, but some monkeys are better dispersers than others. For example, black-capped capuchins are good dispersers of medium-sized seeds and disperse more plant species compared with red howler monkeys which are better dispersers of large seeds and disperse more amount of seeds of fewer species (Ramos, 2007). Also, red howler monkeys are good dispersers of fig trees as seeds found in their feces germinate faster than seeds collected from the mature fruits (Gaitan, 2009). More studies of the seed dispersion skill from the Colombian squirrel monkeys, Brumback night monkeys, and dusky titi monkeys in the area are still lacking.

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Monkey Forest Tales: What is the relation between habitat loss and our pandemic current situation?


Having in mind what we are living around the world, a pandemic caused by a new virus, I thought I will talk a bit about this topic from a biologist/ conservationist perspective. I’m not going to talk about the virus itself, I don’t work with viruses, I leave that to the experts. But I do work in areas where habitat loss occurs and where wild animals enter in more close contact with humans and their domestic animal populations. These are the areas where some of those new viruses emerge and create this kind of chaos. So, today’s post is bout what is the relationship between habitat loss and our pandemic current situation.

Habitat loss or deforestation is the process in which a habitat such a swamp, forest, mangroves, grassland, or any natural habitat is reduced in terms of the amount of area. When habitat loss occurs, there is a chain of biological processes that started in a sequence. The initial loss of habitat produces a reduced availability of resources for wild animals that live in those habitats. As well as populations been more crowded because of the reduction in area. This means there are more animals than resources available in a reduced space. So, they have to go out of their natural habitats to the human-modified habitat to find resources for their lives.

All wild animals, as well as our domestic animals and ourselves, have microbes inside them. Those microbes are adapted to them and usually didn’t represent a big problem for them, other animals or us. But when wild animals from areas where habitat loss occurs get crowded and enter in contact with our domestic animals and us, those microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms) start moving between us.

That microbe’s movement between wild animals, domestic animals and us, is what makes those microbes potentially more dangerous to produce a pandemic episode like the one we all are facing today.

So, even if it looks a bit disconnected from all our activities, the truth is that every time we open wild and remote areas to new roads, crop fields, and human settlements, these areas become a potential focus of new emerging diseases that can potentially affect our daily lives, as this pandemic is doing now.

Although at the moment the only solution we had is to keep our distance from each other’s and quarantine ourselves to protect everyone else from this virus. Next time you have the opportunity to support any policy or movement that protects the natural habitat from being destroyed, please think a bit of what we are living now and try to stop it.

We are all connected on this only planet we all share, as this pandemic is showing us, and we all have the responsibility to try to stop this pandemic to occurs in our future if we all understand that we are all together on this.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why monkeys are NOT good pets?

Unamas Agosto 2011 152 (2)

In the last post, we talk about one of the problems caused by human’s fascination with monkeys, feeding wild monkeys. Today post we are going to talk about the other problem that fascination had caused to monkeys, the illegal pet trade.

When we talk about illegal pet trade we are talking about selling monkeys as pets. You will probably don’t see a problem with that as we also have other animals as pets. But behind the problem of one monkey keep as a pet is all the others that had been killed to catch the one you have.

Monkeys are social animals that live in groups. Usually, the animals ending as pets are the smaller ones, the babies. This means that for you to get that baby you see so cute, the people who sell it to you or the people who give it to them had to kill at least the mother, and usually other members of their group who try to defend the mother and her baby.

Additionally, because monkeys are as dependent on their mothers as we are, if the monkey is too small, it’s possible that the baby didn’t survive the transport and time since her/his mom was killed and the time when you get him/her. So, for each animal that you buy, there are several individuals that were killed so you get a cute monkey pet.

The other problem with having monkeys as pets is that they grow up, and when they do it, they became less cute, sometimes more aggressive and more complicated to handle. Some of them even have some behavioral or psychological problems caused by their isolation.

Similar to what happened, when a child grows up isolated without any other kids to play with and with limited contact with other humans. Monkeys growing up didn’t develop all the social skills they learn from their mothers and other members of their groups. This affects them and exacerbates some behaviors that in the social context they use to relate with other individuals in their groups.

So, if you think a baby monkey is cute and you have the impulse to buy one, please don’t. Don’t promote this kind of commerce. It’s better if you adopt a cat or a dog from a shelter or you can search for adoption programs in zoos where for a donation you can help maintain zoo animals and they will share their histories with you. Or if you prefer you can support people working with your favorite primate.

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