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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