Monkey Forest Tales: What is the impact of wild animal consumption on wildlife and humans?

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We had been hearing a lot about how the current pandemic was originated from the consumption of wild animals. In our last post we talk about the reasons for people to use and consume animal parts. So in today’s post we are going to talk about how that have different impacts on wildlife and humans.
The impact that hunting wild animals for consumption had on those animal populations depend on different factors influenced by the behavior and biology of those animals. For example, hunting monkeys for consumption or to use some of its parts had a high impact on their populations. The reason for this high impact is because most monkey’s species had a very low reproduction rate, this means they have babies not every year. This is specially true for medium and large monkeys, which have babies every three up to six years, depending on the species. In animals like rats or capybaras and other rodents which reproduce more often, it’s impact can be less strong.
This practice also affects people because when we eat other animals, wild and/ or domestic we had the probability to get some of the parasite, bacteria and viruses that they usually have. That is one of the reasons for all the regulations that domestic animals production had to comply with.
Those regulations are not in place for wild animal consumption and the conditions in which these animals are kept and traded increase the risk of contamination between animals of the same and other species as a recent study showed (Huong et all. 2020). Data from this study showed that the amount and prevalence of viruses, specifically coronavirus, such as the one causing the current pandemic, increases through the supply chain that market wild animals for human consumption in Vietnam and which present similar conditions to wildlife markets in South America, where multiple species are kept together in crowded and poor hygienic conditions.
Huong, N.Q. et al. 2020.Coronavirus testing indicates transmission risk increases along wildlife supply chains for human consumption in Viet Nam, 2013-2014. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.05.098590
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Monkey Forest Tales: Some reasons for wild animal consumption: tradition, status and cultural beliefs

Today’s post is about some of the reasons for people’s use and consumption of wild animals. Since we appear on earth our diet had depended on animals and plants. We change our animal consumption habits depending on where we live and how we live.
So for example, people in the Amazon depend on forest and river species to support their protein consumption, while in some parts of Africa, people depend on savanna’s animals to eat or Aboriginal people in Australia depended traditionally on kangaroos to survive. Since the beginning of agriculture and livestock animal domestication, our consumption habits had changed. Sometimes restricted by cultural beliefs and religious constraints.
However, in many parts of the world, there is still a high number of wild animals consumed for different reasons. Some are consumed because culturally people believe those animals give them some mystical powers or protect them from diseases and bad spirits or because it gives them some status. Sometimes there is a combination of some or all of them.
In the study area, there is a combination of tradition and cultural beliefs that motivates the consumption of wild animals by local people. Traditionally there are some animals typical from the region that have been consumed just because it’s tradition and a typical dish in the region, despite the long history of cattle ranching in the area since colonial times.

Some parts of animals are used as remedies against tropical diseases such as malaria. There is still a belief that if you used the hyoids bone from red howler monkeys you can be cured of malaria. Another local belief rooted in the macho culture of the area is that some preparation with the penis bone from a male coati can cure you of erectile dysfunction.

Some other animals are consumed because their meat is tasty, like armadillos, tapirs, caiman, deer,  capybaras, and peccaries. All of them were common in the study area, and now are less common and illegally hunted. And in some ways, there are considered a delicacy for some locals.
Although monkeys in the study area are not heavily hunted for consumption, the pet trade is a higher threat, there is still a lot of work to do in this topic.

Although it is difficult to change people’s habits and beliefs, education and in some cases some of the traditional taboos and seasonal bans could be used to reduce the illegal consumption of wild animals in the area. Although monkeys in the study area are not heavily hunted for consumption, the pet trade is a higher threat, there is still a lot of work to do in this topic
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Monkeys Forest Tales: A bit of history from the area

Today’s post is about a bit of the history of the study area and San Martin town. San Martin town is one of the oldest towns in the region. It was established in 1585 and it was a center for cattle ranching activities since then. Located in the Camoa’s river banks, this small town has a privileged position which make it an area of high diversity.
It’s main economic activities, cattle ranching, palm oil plantations (since 1970’s approximately) and more recently petrol exploration are the main threats to it’s biodiversity.
Santa Rosa farm, the center area of this project, was a compulsory stop for cattle ranchers transporting cattle from the serranias (natural savanna’s in the Eastern part of the town) towards the commercial centers since the colony period. Although this farm had a long history of cattle ranching and human exploration of forest resources, since the beginning of this project there has been a change in the management of their forest towards a better preservation of it’s natural resources.
The story of cattle ranching in the area had left a mark in the landscape and continue to impact it’s forest fragments today. A common practice in the area is to allow the entrance of cattle and horses to the gallery forest to roam and drink water. The main forest fragments that remains in the area are gallery forest. This practice had lead to forest fragments with poor understory, only few of the seedlings grow to be adult trees as cattle use them as food or to rubber their backs.
This impact is also seen in forest fragments of lowland rain forest near to the main small rivers in the area, such as the Camoa, Cumaral and Chunaipo, which are the tributaries of the Meta river in it’s source. The areas that has been deforested now are covered with introduced pastures such as Brachiaria spp. And more recently had been replaced by palm oil.
The other area in which this project was developed (2008 – 2019), is a natural reserve in which larger relicts of lowland rain forest and gallery forest persisted due to the visionary management of their owners who had protected big forest fragments that still conserve the original fauna of the region. These big areas of forest seems to be functioning as source population of many mammal species that otherwise will be locally extinct. Some examples of this is the persistence of tapirs, jaguars, cougars and the two peccaries, white-lipped and collared peccaries. Both species are abundant in this area. Although the white-lipped peccary used to roam around the town square, they have not reached the town since more than a decade ago, according to local people.
Despite the long history of human activities in this area the biodiversity present still maintain populations that seems to be stable, at least for some primates. However, the changes brought by palm oil plantations and petrol exploration, which increase the arrival of people from other regions with other cultural values and habits. This new arrivals can increase the pressures for the local fauna. An awareness and education program, as well as a continuous monitoring of the deforestation process in the area are important steps in the area to increase the probabilities to persist for the fauna in the area.
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Monkey Forest Tales: How monkeys avoid competition with other species?

When looking at all the animals who live in the forest, we sometimes ask ourselves how they get their food without competing with other species. If you remember your biology classes, when we talk about what animals eat, there is a list of food categories like fruits, leaves, flowers, other animals…
But in tropical forest where there is a high diversity of animals, it have to be some kind of overlapping between what different animals can eat. So, they do to not compete between them and still get enough food to live.
There are several strategies. For example some species that eats mostly the same food categories living in the same forest avoid competition by being nocturnal instead of diurnal, like the Brumback night monkeys in the study area who’s diet overlaps mostly with dusky titi monkeys and with whom they sometimes even share nesting sites.
Other strategy is to use different substrates or different feeding heights. For example, Colombian squirrel monkeys and black-capped capuchins which both consumed insects and spiders. This two species also forms mixed troops, big groups of both species moving and eating together. One way in which they reduce competition is by searching insects and spiders in different substrates.

So black-capped capuchins looks more in dead branches while squirrel monkeys look under live and dead leaves. Also when they move in mixed troops they used to go at different heights, with black-capped capuchins using the canopy more than the medium and lower parts of the forest. However, they sometimes mixed and even go to the ground and search on fallen leaves all together.

Another example of using different heights to avoid competition between them happen when they all meet at big fig trees, where you can see up to three species eating from the same tree but at different heights, with red howler monkeys at the top, black-capped capuchins in the middle and squirrel monkeys at the lower branches or all around the tree.
Also, there are species that simply avoid each other. For example, it is common that dusky titi monkeys move from a fruit tree where they were feeding when black-capped capuchins arrive.

A different strategy used for other monkey species is to eat unripe fruits instead of waiting for the fruits to mature an become more tasty for other species.

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