Monkey Forest Tales: What I should study to be a primatologist?

Spending time in the field with kids usually lead you to some interesting questions along the way. One of those came from a small girl who was interested to know what you study to dedicate your life to study monkeys? Well the answer is it depends.
Monkey studies came from different areas of knowledge from psychology to anthropology to biology to ecology to behavior and veterinary. So, people studying monkeys sometimes came from different disciplines and depending on the discipline the tools they use to study monkeys are different.
Most of the initial schools who started the primatology in the 40’s came from psychology and anthropology school, and some also were from medical school. The beginning on monkeys studies came from peoples questions about how human society started and how early humans use to live.
More recently, most people working with primates in general (monkeys, lemurs and apes) study biology, veterinary or anthropology, some also study psychology or medicine. Then they choose the field and type of questions they want to answer.
In my case I study biology, make a master with emphasis in ecology and then, and mostly because of the zocay project context, made a doctorate in landscape ecology. When zocay project was started, most of my experience was the study of monkeys behavior in very large forest. But as zocay project is in a fragmented area surrounded by productive activities, my interest shifted to understand the bigger picture, which means how the monkeys adapt and manage the effects of fragmentation and human activities near their habitats.
Monkeys studies can be done in the forest, in laboratories and in zoos. You can study their behavior (how they interact between them and with other species), their ecology (how they relate with their environment), their genetics (how different they are and who is the father of each baby) and their health (how to improve their health and how to manage their diseases).
So, if you want study monkeys you can choose one of different careers. But the more important part is that you have the passion, perseverance and patience to study them. Studying monkeys is a challenging but rewarding career that can take you to explore amazing places and discovering exciting moments surrounded by some of the most amazing creatures that live in this planet.
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Monkey Forest Tales: How monkeys sleep?

A common question asked by kids in the study area is how monkeys sleep? So, in today’s post we are going to talk about sleeping in monkeys. Most species of monkeys don’t build nest as chimpanzees, gorillas or orangutans do. But some of them like all species of nocturnal monkeys (including the Brumback’s night monkeys from the study area) used hollow trees and palms, as well as dense liana and vine areas on tall trees to sleep overnight.
All the other monkeys sleep on big wide branches of tall trees, Guadua forest (Guadua angustifolia patches), dense liana and vine areas on tall tree, palms. More terrestrial monkeys such as macaques can also use cliffs and rocky areas to sleep overnight.
In the study area black- capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys love to sleep on palms where several individuals sit together on the leaves base to sleep. Red howler monkeys use wide branches from big trees to sleep with females, juveniles and infants sleep together and the males sleep alone in nearby branches. Dusky titi monkeys sleep in dense liana and vine areas on tall trees with their tails intertwined.
Babies usually sleep on their mothers chest when there are small and when they are bigger the sit next to them for sleeping. Males usually sleep a bit separated from the other members of the group in nearby branches. Depending on the group size, monkeys can sleep all in the same tree or in very large groups they can use several big trees or palms to sleep.
Most diurnal species don’t make any noise or movement overnight. However, black-capped capuchins and squirrel monkeys can move inside the sleeping trees or palms and even sometimes move to nearby trees, especially in full moon nights. Sometimes you can hear vocalizations of these two species during the night.
Most species of monkeys sleep around 12 hours, from dusk to dawn, but in cold days some species can sleep a bit longer in the morning. For example, on cool mornings can stay on their sleeping sites until 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning before moving to eat. Also, some monkeys go to sleep earlier than others. For example, dusky titi monkeys and red howler monkeys usually enter their sleeping trees around 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, while black capped monkeys and squirrel monkeys won’t go to sleep until 6 o’clock or a bit later depending on the sunset time.
Additionally, during the day all monkeys in the study area have nap times around noon when the sun is high and is hotter. For those nap times monkeys usually choose big trees with wide branches where they can lay down in groups or alone.
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Monkey Forest Tales: How monkeys take care of their parasites?

A few days ago while I was in the field, I was looking at some red howler monkeys who have some botflies on their necks. While observing them I notice a male “sucking” a females botfly on her neck. He was licking her open swollen skin. Not sure if the botfly was still in the female’s neck but it seems it already fly out.
Although I have seen botflies red howlers in many places, it seems recently they are having more than before. Local people said that it is related to an increase of palm oil plantations in the area, but probably we’ll need more data to say that. It can be that combined with a lower quality habitat product of the habitat deforestation and fragmentation too.
This observation lead me to another question that I thought would be interesting to talk about: how monkeys take care of their external parasites. Well, I’m sure you have seen many pictures and videos of monkeys grooming themselves or other individuals. Grooming is not only a way for monkeys, and in general for social animals, to reinforce our social relationships. It is also used to extract external parasites and death cell from the skin. While grooming monkeys remove mites, ticks and other external parasites that can live in their skin, including botflies.
Also, some field observations in wild capuchin monkeys have showed that they also rub some plant on their skin as a repellent apparently to reduce mosquito bites, similar to what we do when we apply a chemical repellent on our skin for the same reason.
Internal parasites are another story. There are some theories of the use of soil as a way to eliminate internal parasites from howler monkeys, spider monkeys and woolly monkeys we usually visit salt lick sites, however there are other possible explanations such as the use of soil to reduce toxins found in monkeys food such as leaves. In chimps there has been reports of the use of some plants as possible laxatives that help them to reduce their internal parasites.
Although not definitive answer has been found yet to these questions the increased closeness between monkeys (or apes) to humans due to deforestation and fragmentation is increasing the range of parasites that can be found on both. Careful monitoring on this issue is important for monkeys and human health.
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Monkey Forest Tales: What we use to study monkeys?

Sometimes people ask me what things are necessary to study monkeys? What equipment do you use when you are studying monkeys? Well in today’s post we are going to talk about these questions.
Let’s start by saying that the answer to these questions depends on what kind of question about the monkeys you are trying to answer. So, if your question is about ecology, for example, about where they move or what part of the forest they use more, you will need a GPS unit, binoculars, a notebook and a pencil. Or if you want and have the resources you can also use a telemetry equipment to detect the monkeys movements.
If your question is about what they eat? You still need binoculars, notebook and a pencil. But also, you will need a good botanical guide for the area where you are following the monkeys. Or you can ask for help to an expert botanist from the area. And depending on the details you want to add to your question. You can also need a timer.
If your question is related to vocalizations you will also need a good recorder, a computer and a software to analyze the recordings. If your question is about genetics then you will need something to preserve the samples you collect in the field and preserved until you get to the laboratory to analyze them. At the lab you also need some additional equipment to process the samples and sequence the AND. Depending on your genetic question you also will need a specific software to help you analyze your sequences.
If you question is about the social lives of the monkeys you can study them in the field or in a zoo. In both cases you still need binoculars, notebook and pencil. If your question is about how many monkeys are in a certain area, then you again need binoculars, notebook and pencil, as well as a measurement tape and a software to analyze the data you collect. Or you can also use camera traps to identify which species are present in an area. Some questions also will require that you collect additional data about the vegetation and climate or the landscape in which you are studying those monkeys.
So as you see depending on the question you have, you will need a different equipment or software. But the basics ones will be your binoculars, notebook and pencil. You also will need a lot of patience, perseverance and passion to overcome the challenges of studying monkeys in the field, zoo or laboratory.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Balance of 2020 for Zocay Project

Finally this challenging 2020 is ending and with it a year that challenge our lifestyle as well as many of our believes. This year changed the way we travel, work and relate with others. In this post we are going to revisit some of the goals we have proposed for this year and reflect on how we’ll or not so we’ll we achieved them.
We proposed to continue the long-term wildlife monitoring in the study area as one of the main goals for the zocay project in 2020. Despite the national lockdown and travel restrictions we were able to verify the birth of infants for all primate species, except the Brumback night monkeys. But we were able to locate a new group of night monkeys in a new forest. We also observed infants of giant anteaters and coatis during the last months of the year.
Monitoring of fauna in Villavicencio city was also made during and after the national lockdown, especially of two groups of Colombian squirrel monkeys, one of which is provisioned by local people. This group has been observed by a student from a local university doing her undergraduate thesis.
One of the project we had planned for 2020 that was not possible to implement due to the national lockdown and travel restrictions is the effects of road killing on primates and other fauna in the urban and rural areas of the region. A revision the methods we were planning to use to achieve this goal is needed.
Another objective of our project for 2020 that was partially achieved was the establishment of the current conservation state of dusky titi monkey in their distribution area. Although we gather some important information from areas in the distribution of dusky titi monkey, there are some limits that need more data. We will try to obtain these data during 2021 combining citizen science and traditional scientific methods.
Some of the information we was hoping to gather during 2021 that was not possible to get due to COVID-19 were:

  1. Information about the economic cost of crop-raiding by black-capped capuchins on perennial crops in the region
  2. Expand our data collection to other native fauna in the region
  3. Implement some citizen science data collection in the region to monitor threats for native fauna in the region
    2021 is looking as a challenging year ahead for us, not only because of the pandemic is still active but also because, despite the new vaccines, vaccination in a country like Colombia won’t be as fast and equal as the government and media makes it look. So for the new year let’s just hope we will be able to continue monitoring the monkeys and forest we have been monitoring before and hopefully we will be able to implement new methodologies that help us answer all the questions we have.
    Happy New Year to all! We wish you all a 2021 full of health, love, collaborations and monkeys!!!
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