Monkey Forest Tales: News from the field: howlers everywhere

Today’s post is written while in the field. Every time we spend time in the field, the experience is different. Sometimes we saw just a few groups in each fragment or no groups at all. This usually happens in the smallest fragment in which monkeys seems to be prone to hide more often or just use it more temporally. Other times, we see almost all groups in the area in just one field trip.

In this field trip this seems to be the case for red howler monkeys, except from the group in the smallest fragment, we saw all groups. It was a nice surprise and even more as there are three pregnant females in different forest fragments. Although we had seen pregnant females before it is always great to see new ones.

Howler usually have babies every 3 – 4 years, so a new baby is always a great news. Hopefully in our next month visit we will find newborns in these groups. Because howlers had this long interval between births, it is so important every time a new baby is born in a group. Babies depends on their moms for everything during the first two months but remains closer to them until their 10 months of life. The process to reach adulthood in howlers is a long one, with females getting their first baby around their 4th year of live.

So, in this fieldtrip, we saw red howlers in every walk, basically everywhere. For me, red howler monkeys are special, not only because my first monkey study was with this species, but also because to see them and waking up to the sound of their high vocalizations is the best way to wake up for me. So, the best of this fieldtrip was to see that despite of living in fragments, red howler monkeys are reproducing, and soon new babies will come to this planet. Let’s hope this species continue surviving despite all the threats to their habitat.

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Monkey Forest Tales: How Zocay Project have lasted so many years?

On past days, while talking with local people in the area of Zocay Project, someone ask me how Zocay Project have lasted so many years, almost two decades!!! First, some background information. We were talking to present the results from Zocay Project to the general public in the area not only the landowners with which we have been working.

Part of the reason why this project is lasted so long is because landowners trust the work we do. At the beginning this was possible not only because I was present most of the time but also because of the work of hard working and responsible students that collected good basic information about the monkeys in the area.

Another part is our persistence to work even if there is almost not funding to go to the field. Long time ago, I hear Jane Goodall story of working as a secretary before being able to go and study monkey. Work in other things while looking for the opportunities to continue working in what we want, even if that means to make other things. Fortunately over the years some of the landowners have rewarded this persistence by giving us in-kind support which make our fieldwork cheaper and easier in terms of funding. Thank you for that!!!

So, if you are reading this short post and want to start your own field project, my better advice is to be persistent and not be afraid to invest your own money in your project, especially if you believe in the work you are doing. With time that persistence will give you more support…

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Monkey Forest Tales:  Importance of Trees in our lives and the lives of the monkeys we study

In today’s post we are going to talk about some reflections about trees. On October 12th we celebrate the World Day of Trees and we usually don’t think too much about those being that give us shadow, help to maintain the oxygen in our atmosphere and give us sap, fruits and wood. Trees are also important in monkeys lives because they depend on them for food, places to rest during the day and sleep during night. Keep them safe from predators in the ground and hidden them from predators in the sky. Sometimes it seems they are just there, but we didn’t realize how important they are for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of other animals, including our livestock.

I probably didn’t pay much attention to them until I started working with monkeys and notice how much food they provide them. Because the first monkeys I ever studied, red howler monkeys, are also ones that spend most of their live on trees and try to avoid going to the ground as much as possible, I also started to notice how trees became moving routes for monkeys and other animals that depends on them, as well as places to hide, from me and predators…

Over the years I also develop some kind of continuous interest of knowing their identities and a bit of their own ecology. On my visits to forest from other countries I notice their differences and similarities with the ones we have in Colombia, especially the ones in the Amazon and Orinoquian region. And I pick some of my favorites…ceibas, jacarandas, avichures, cedros…

Tree gives can give us some sort of security feeling while working on the forest and for me some species became tokens that make me feel safe because I know which species they are and the type of forest in which they use to be found.

A recent report showed than around 45 % percent of plant species in Colombia, including several tree species are in danger to disappear and it seems to me that this report doesn’t get the attention it should have. For a country with a high diversity of plants such as Colombia, this should be more a concern to all of us, especially when the government is promoting tree planting as a strategy to take care of the environment and fight against climate change. However, the list of the species recommended by our environmental ministry for tree planting is of around 40 species and some of those are common species. Although is not my field of expertise, it seems important to me to mention and dedicate a post on how limited the focus is we give to trees in our lives and how sad is to see the lack of attention we pay to the beings that allow us to continue living in this planet.

So, if you have trees near to your house, in your local park or farm, let take a moment to learn about them and be grateful they are planted in those places for all us to enjoy and benefit from them.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of landscape perspective when studying primates in fragments

In today’s post we are going talk about why is so important to look and study the landscape when studying and working with monkeys in fragmented landscapes. Although there are a few excellent papers from pioneer researchers who promote the use of the landscape perspective when studying monkeys in fragments. There is still some resistance to incorporate those concepts in practice.

Over the past two decades, studies of monkeys in fragments had changed their focus from looking the monkeys living in fragment as populations living in isolated island to understand that monkeys use the landscapes around those fragments and that those elements in the landscape affect the survivorship and the use that monkeys give to each fragment in the area. However, methodologies and concepts used from other disciplines such as landscape ecology, remote sensing, and GIS has been only partially implemented in the study of primates in fragments. A pattern that is clearly different from other groups of animals such as birds, reptiles, and even other mammals.

The reason why is so important to look at the landscape surrounding those fragments in which our monkeys live is because those surroundings affect the way they see their environment. Aspect such as composition of the landscape, or what kind of uses (crops, plantations, houses, roads, pastures, etc.) are around fragments, as well as the spatial organization of those uses and the history of how those process occur are some of the factors that influence how monkeys respond in those fragmented landscapes.

Those same studies also recommend conserving the habitat that is available as forest fragments, including small ones (< 1 ha), living fences and isolated trees as part of the landscapes because those are structure used by monkey to move between fragments. Another mitigation actions that are widely recommended is to increase habitat, connect it and improve their quality as for some species what is inside of the forest fragments is as important as what you find around it. Lastly, another factor influencing presence and abundance of the species (how many animals of each species are present in a forest fragment) is the history of transformation and activities that occurs on the landscapes that are surrounding those forest fragments.

So, if you have a farm in which you have monkeys living in forest fragments, implement activities to reduce wood extraction, and cattle entrance as those affects forest quality. Also, as much as possible don’t reduce the amount of forest from the fragment you have and try to use living fences, isolated trees and systems such as silvopastoral and agroforestry practices that increase connectivity between forest fragments. Protect riparian forest and increase connectivity of those important areas as they also provide water for your property and animals as well as for wildlife.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Language barriers in science

Today’s post we are going to talk about language barriers in science. I know it looks a bit odd as I’m not a native English speaker but I’m writing in English. A recent paper in Nature talking about the barriers that Latin- American researchers have when doing science make me think about my own experiences. Although I agreed with all the points made by the authors on that paper. I also think there are some points we need to address as Latin Americans, especially in terms of the ways English is teach in our countries, especially in Colombia. English is seen in many schools, public and private, as something to be afraid of, which put even more barriers in how we learn it and how we feel when we are faced to use it in all its forms: written, spoken, and listened.

I grow up with certain advantages, I had taken English classes since I was a kid, although I neve studied in a bilingual school, so in some ways my ears had been exposed to English since a young age. One factor that I think is important to the process of learning any language. However, as most of not native- English speakers, I have a strong accent and I still make grammar mistakes while writing and speaking English. However, when I must live in an English-speaking country, I have to face all my fears and shame of speaking bad English in order to live. One thing that help me was to understand that English was my second language and as such it was ok to make mistakes. It was a learning process, so as a friend told me, some years back, I shouldn’t be ashamed of that, and I always can improve.

However, I think part of the problem, why it is so difficult to publish in English for not- native speakers, apart from prejudices and preconceptions from native English speakers that are real, and we all face them. It is our own fears to misinterpretation and shame of reading and writing in English. As well as some laziness from younger students, especially to read and write in English. Yes, I know it is difficult to learn it but one of the problems I notice in my students is some laziness to read in English and even in Spanish, something that for me is a requirement for being able to write, in English or Spanish.

So, in my experience some of the things that are helpful to write in English is just to do it, practice daily, practice to write anything, have a journal of your thoughts in English, read English every day, listen to music and watch movies in English every day. I will say that can be applied to any language, although in my experience, it doesn’t work well when I was trying to learn Japanese…may be because of the different written symbols…But works with languages such as Portuguese, French, and Italian.

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