Monkey Forest Tales: Challenges of doing ecological and behavioral studies with monkeys in the field?

A couple of weeks ago we talk about what are the challenges of counting monkeys, in today’s post we are going to talk about a similar subject, what are the challenges of doing ecological and behavioral studies.

Doing ecological and behavioral studies with monkeys usually implies that you have to follow one or more groups of monkeys to answer your question and that is not always easy, especially in wild habitats. This kind of studies usually have an initial part of habituation of the monkey group you are going to follow and depending on the species the time to reach habituation can be different. Other factors influencing the habituation process are the context in which the monkeys live.

For example, areas were hunting is high can make monkeys more scared and difficult to habituate, an probably not always wise to habituate them if that will means the animals will lost their fear to a potential predator, us.

Also, if you are habituating a group of monkeys in fragmented areas, monkeys are usually more nervous because of domestic dogs, cars and humans and those factors can make the habituation process longer than expected.

Habituation also implies spending long days with the monkeys to earn their trust, this also means long walks looking for that group you want to study and it also implies all the discomfort that comes with working in a tropical forest.

After habituation, you actually need to follow the monkeys and depending on the question, you will need to follow the group for several days from sunrise to sunset for several days. Just remember to standardized the time you spend with the group every month so you will be able make comparisons between months. And enjoy the time monkeys share with you.

And the last part of the process is actually analyze the data you collect when following those monkeys and answering the question you propose at the beginning of your study. And Finally and something that most of us in science use to pursue publish the results of your study.

Something I will like to remember from all those challenges is to be persistent despite the hard work and difficult conditions and remember to enjoy the time with the monkeys. Since is fun despite the challenges and in some ways it is also a privilege that not many people have as we can spend time looking at some of the most amazing and intelligent animals on earth.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why monkeys hide?

Over the past days while talking with my mother, she asks me why monkeys hide? It not exactly that monkeys hide, is just that somedays when you are looking for monkeys in the forest you aren’t luck enough to see them not just that they hide on purpose so you cannot see them…or maybe yes (I always wonder…)
When you follow monkeys or even when you just go primate watching (monkeys sighting as you do with birds) there is always a possibility that you don’t see those monkeys you are looking for. Why? Well sometimes you just pass under them without seeing them, some other times, no matter how much you walk you just cannot find them.
They are not hiding on purpose, they just continue with their lives and although some species have more cryptic behavior than others, those cryptic behaviors have been used to avoid predators or to find quite places to rest during day or nighttime. The thing with observing wildlife in their habitats is that you sometimes can see them but other times not and that is also part of the fun of being in wild habitats.
When studying monkeys this can be frustrating as well as rewarding at the same time, it all depends on how persistent you are at looking for the monkeys you are studying. When I started, over 26 years ago, I spent hours looking for the red howler monkeys I used to study, sometimes I found them, but they just move a little bit and I lost them. To find them again a few hours later just a few meters from the place where I saw them in the first time. But that also happens 10 years later while I was studying Colombian squirrel monkeys in the study area of this project and I used to walk several kilometers a day to finally found my study group at down close to the house where I was staying…
When studying monkeys in fragmented areas, you may think that seeing the monkeys is easier because of the small forest areas, they don’t have many places to hide, but the true is that even on those small forest fragment they always find tall trees where they can climb to rest on the sun or small areas full of vines and lianas so thick they can hide from any curious human.
In areas where they are hunted they climb tall trees and run as fast as they can every time they see a human approaching or stay very still and quiet in tall trees covered by vines and lianas which protect them from any predator, including us.
So, if you ever visit a forest, not matter if it is a big or small forest and you are looking for monkeys, to study them or just to enjoy seeing them, don’t get discourage if you don’t see them the first time, is part of the fun of looking monkeys in their habitat. And if you are lucky enough you not only will see them but also will spent some amazing time discovering all the wonderful behaviors they have while living their daily lives. Studying monkeys is a privilege that live give you and I have being blessed enough to spent some of the most amazing days of my live looking at those wonderful creatures that shares the world with us and hope you have the opportunity to do it someday too…
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Monkey Forest Tales: Monkeys strategies to survive in the study area

In today’s post we are going to discuss some of monkeys strategies to survive in the fragmented study area. Each monkey species responds in different ways to the transformation of their habitat as well as how to use the new habitats surrounding them.
For example, in the study area dusty titi monkeys responds differently depending on how big are the forest fragments in which they live, how much people live around and how big are the pastures or crops present in the area. Also, their use of living fences during their daily activities varies according to the variables explained before. So in areas with small (10 – 50 ha) and medium (50 – 100 ha) forest fragments they use living fences occasionally and mainly to move from one fragment to another, while in areas closer to towns and tiny fragments (less than 10 ha) they use living fences and isolated trees more often and even during the day they rest and groom while in those living fences.
Red howler monkeys, Colombian squirrel monkeys and black-capped capuchins are more flexible and use crops, isolates trees, living fences, small fragments and in some cases even house roofs as part of their territories and in some cases this is why they become a problem in some areas.
Those differences are related with each monkeys species behavior and ecology. So, what can we do to improve their probabilities to survive in those fragmented – productive areas. First and probably the most important action any landowner can do is to protect forest areas, especially those around water courses that not only allows monkeys, but other wildlife to survive but also provides services to their crops and domestic animals, such as water and pollinators.
As we have mentioned before, presence of living fences and isolated trees are important to improve connectivity of forest fragments in agricultural areas. In urban areas is important to not only allow animals, including monkeys, to access natural vegetation present in those areas, usually around water courses, but also provide canopy bridges and other wildlife passes. In the study area, canopy bridges are important species on tertiary and secondary roads. However, most of the canopy bridges observes in some areas of the study area of these project doesn´t seems to consider basic features of the animal such as size and weight.
A preliminary analysis done for the study area of this project and some of the towns nearby have shown that up to know abundance of all diurnal species depend mainly on how big the forest fragments are and how far those fragments are from towns and cities combined (Carretero-Pinzón, 2016). This is an important point when planning conservation areas for all the monkeys species present in the study area and give some basic guidance on how land use (crops, roads, infrastructure can be planned) in a way that doesn’t interrupt and degrade more the already degraded areas present in the study area.
Carretero-Pinzón, 2016. Conservation planning for primate communities in rapidly transforming landscapes. Doctorate Thesis. The University of Queensland.
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Monkeys Forest Tales: Challenges of counting monkeys?

Today’s post we are going to discuss some challenges of counting monkeys in different types of forest. Counting monkeys is an important part of understanding the demographics and conservation status of monkeys populations, especially when you do it several times at several places. This information can give you information about what is happening with a monkey population in one moment and through several years. It is also valid for other animals, but as this is a monkey blog we will focus on monkeys.
When counting monkeys some challenges are present that have to do with the terrain in which you are counting them, other issues comes from some specific behavioral features from the species you are looking at and some other issues comes from the observer experience…
Let’s start with the challenges that are associated with the terrain. Usually when counting monkeys, we relied basically on our vision and sometimes hearing to find the monkeys. Therefore, visibility is an important factor that influence how easily we can see the monkeys and count them. Also, counting monkeys in flooded areas is different than in terra firme, or mountain areas. Depending on how rough the terrain is, accessibility to some part of forest are different and that influence the number of monkeys we encounter and how easily we can count them.
For example, in the study area, fragments towards the Serrania (Southeast of San Martin town) are located in small hills, with some streams surrounded by deep falls due to erosion. So, you have to be careful not to fall and break an ankle. Other fragments are located in swamp areas where walking is difficult and during rainy season sometimes impossible to walk. In the Amazon, on the other hand, during rainy season some areas are only accessible by canoe. Each one represents a different challenge in terms of how you move and design you study to count monkeys.
Other challenges are associated with specific behavioral features from the species you are trying to count. For example, there are some species like dusky titi monkeys who have a cryptic behavior. They hide when they see people, especially in areas where there is high human activity. Therefore, counting them sometimes require visiting the same forest fragment several times to corroborate the number of individuals. In the Amazon other species of titi monkeys and tamarins take advantage of thick understory as well as very tall trees (more than 25 m of height) which reduce your visibility to hide and make counting of these species more challenging. However, patience is always our best friend when working counting monkeys.
Finally, another common challenge of counting monkeys is related with observer experience. At the beginning, it is always good to count monkeys with another observer: hunters, indigenous and local people are always great to learn how monkeys sound and to learn clues that help you identify monkey’s species. Hunters, indigenous and people who live close to forest or in the forest have their eyes and ears adapted to forest sounds and that is always helpful when counting monkeys, especially at night and in big forest. Observers with many years of experience usually develop more sensible eyes and ears to detect monkeys, but it will require time, persistence and patience.
So, as you see counting monkeys can be challenging but always fun, you just need to be patience and persistence and you will see them and be able to count them…
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