Monkey Forest Tales: What Zocay Project had teach me personally?

Today’s post is again a personal one. When you are coordinating a research project there are many personal lesson learned not only from the animals/ ecosystems/ landscapes you study, but also from the students/ volunteers/ interns/ colleagues and local people with who you work with…
You not only learn about how to solve logistical and funding problems, you also learn what are your limits, became more flexible and tolerant with yourself and others. As Zocay Project is located on private farms, you also need to learn how to communicate with local people, farm workers and landowners, who not always have all the same education and shared interest.
Students, volunteers and interns teach you about your own limits, how to teach one to one, something that now I found more rewarding from a personal perspective, and how to deal with different personalities. It also teach you what past experiences you had are more important for your personal and professional growth and which of those you will like your students experience and which ones you can advise them to avoid, when they hear your advice.
Probably one the more challenging learnings of having a field research, and one that you learn when you design, implement and executes a research project in the field and/ or in a laboratory, is to manage the logistics and funding of your project.
A field research implies coordinating food, accommodations, transport (international, national, regional and/ or local), health insurance (at least for yourself), and in some cases permits and visa for you and your team. All that logistics is time consuming and sometimes undervalued when you are designing and implementing your research. So you also learn skills like time, money, staff and organization management, even if you are not aware that you are learning how to do this. This are some skills that you can transfer later if you don’t follow the academia path and you prefer to go for an industry, NGO or government job.
Although designing and implementing your own long-term research project is not for all and it is not easy to do, it is rewarding and an amazing learning process. So if you will like to do it, just remember to be patient, especially with yourself, and keep going despite the challenges and sometimes problems…
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Monkey Forest Tales: For how long is Zocay Project going to last?

In today’s post I’m going to be more personal to talk about a question I get from so many people over the years, including family, friends and landowners…For how long is Zocay Project going to last?
As many answers in life, the answer will depend on many factors. For sure I will be looking for monkeys and visiting places to see monkeys until my body and health allow me to do it. Zocay Project on the other hand, will depends in some ways on the wiliness of the landowners and their families to allow me to visit their farms and see the monkeys found in their forests.
While preparing a talk last week for the Woman and Girls in Science Day, I looked at my past experiences finding resources to study and to get Zocay Project running and although I never get a big funding for the project, I did have some funding for small parts of this project, as well as funding for my studies.
Keeping a long term project means a lot of money, effort and sometimes long hours of brainstorming not only for project ideas that can keep the funding running but also time to spend with landowners explaining those ideas and finding common grounds and topics that can be useful for them as well as the project, and more important finding solutions to conflicts that can occur because of the close proximity in which monkeys are living with human activities.
So, one of the things I realize while preparing that talk was that not only I had spent a lot of resources and energy putting this project as a priority in my life, but I also had spent a lot of time. For a couple of years I had been thinking about some kind of retirement for me and although I know for sure I will never going to stop looking for places to see monkeys, sometimes I wonder if it is time to close this part of my life that Zocay Project started almost 16 years ago… But then, a question rises of what else can I do? I cannot imagine my live without monkeys in it and all the question that they always generate on my mind…So, for now Zocay project will continue at least for this year and hopefully I will find the energy to continue for more years to come
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Monkeys Forest Tales: Celebrating Woman and Girls Day in Science!

Yesterday we celebrate Woman and Girls Day in Science worldwide and to celebrate this day we want to remember, celebrate and recognize the effort and great work of all the wonderful women who had been part of this project over the years. Although not all of them continue doing science today without their effort to finish their internships, undergraduate projects and friendship this project wouldn’t last more than a few years, so THAK YOU!
Being a woman in science is a challenge, one that usually includes many sacrifices: long hours in the field and in front of our computers, discomfort by mosquitoes, mites and ticks biting our bodies, several months and sometimes years far from our families, and sometimes bullying and sexual harassment. However, it is rewarding, every time we saw one of our women students graduate as well as every time that we have the opportunity to share and witness some of the rare behaviors monkeys do in their habitats, we felt rewarded by all those long hours and discomfort.
Over the years, we had the opportunity to work with many great women and learn from them. We also had the opportunity to share with many girls from the study area, most of them only can study up to high school, but their passion and interest for nature and life inspire us every day. To all of them thank you for your inspiration, friendship, support and great work towards monkey conservation.
In my personal professional path, I mostly had man supervisors, a pattern that I only discover a few years ago probably because in my country most of the professors I had during my career were man. However, during this journey of being a woman in science, I had the opportunity to work, collaborate and share with many amazing women of several cultures working towards the conservation of many species around the world. To all of them thank you for sharing your experiences with me as those experiences make me a better person and scientist today.
It is part of our purpose in Zocay Project to continue supporting in any way possible women and girls who are interested in working in science and of course with monkeys, so if you are a girl or woman interested on working with monkeys in Colombia, especially in the Llanos, please contact us and we for sure try to guide you as much as possible. Happy Woman and Girls in Science Day!!

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Forest Monkey Tales: Notes from the field: baby’s season


It is the beginning of the year again and with it a new baby’s season for Colombian squirrel monkeys and dusky titi monkeys. Counting all new babies during the first months every year has become one of our happiest times in the field. And this year is not an exception.
Dry season this year in the study area continue and the stream continue drying. There are still some ponds were birds and mammals met. The forest floor is covered with dry leaves and the wind blows all day making the monkeys sightings more difficult. Yellow, green, and brown colors from leaves are combined with yellow and purple colors of Jacaranda and Bototo flowers. A few fruits cover the forest canopies.
This year, we counted less babies from both species than last year although it can be that births are just a bit delayed this year. Some of our observations of trees with fruits over the past months have showed a delayed pattern in fruit production for some trees used by monkeys. This delayed pattern can be related with slight changes on rain amount from past year. However, it is always exciting to see new babies and to confirm that some of last year babies are still alive and growing.
Our monitoring of monkeys use of water reservoirs used for cattle have shown that at least the Colombian squirrel monkey use those water reservoirs to drink water during the dry months, despite of some water ponds still present on the stream crossing the forest.
Probably one of the surprising findings of other mammals using and crossing the life fence where the water resources we are monitoring are located is the presence of the cryptic crab-eating racoon (Procyon cancrivorous) as well as ocelot (Felis pardalis). Those water sources are also used by some yellow-headed and crested caracara and Spin’x guans.
As the dry season progress, we continue to monitor water reservoirs and monkeys’ groups. A couple of black-capped capuchin babies had grown and seems to progress with good health. Red howler monkeys continues with some botflies although this seem to not had affected their health.
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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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Monkey Forest Tales: Friendship in monkeys

Merry Christmas!!!! We are celebrating Christmas today and around the world this day means different thing for many people from the Christian believes, but not for people from other religions who celebrate different things at different times during the year.
For most of us, it means family and friends. For those of us who have lived or live in a different country to the one where our family lives, Christmas became a celebration with our closest friends who became part of our extended families.
In today’s post we are going to talk about those friendship relations, but in monkeys. Monkeys like us make friends during their lives, especially in those species where multiple males and females live in the same group.
In those large groups friendship is important, it can help you to get food, partners, can also help you when conflicts with other group member arise. So same as in human societies, friendship is an important part of some monkeys species lives.
Some of those friendships arise from infancy when infants play with other infants in their group, they develop relationships with all their playmates and some of those relationships became a friendship for a long time, and in some case for their whole life.
In the case of males, some of those male friends leave their natal group together in search of new groups. And, those friendships can help them to overcome the alpha male in a new group and monopolize the females, giving them an advantage to reproduce.
In the case of females, those friendships can help them to get access to better food if you are friend with a dominant female. In some species those friends also help you to watch the infants during feeding and resting times.
Not all friends in monkeys are related, it means they are not necessarily family, but sometimes they are. And like in humans some of these friendships can be broken or deteriorate when new friendships are formed.
When conflict arise from food access or other reasons, those close friends also help you to overcome aggressions and sometimes to gain access to that food you were chased from.
So, friendship is another social skill that we share with primates (monkeys, prosimian and apes). A valuable skill that also help us go in live more cheerfully.
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