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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Monkey Forest Tales: Let’s celebrate Monkey’s Day!

This week on December 14th, we celebrate Monkey’s Day. A day to create awareness, recognize their diversity and role in our and forest wellbeing. In today’s post we are going to talk about this day’s celebration.
Around the world people working with primates in general and specially those working with monkeys (all primates with tails from America, Asia and Africa) use this day to celebrate the diversity of this incredible group of animals with which we work on a daily basis at laboratories, reserves, rehabilitation centers and field in different regions.
We also use this day to create awareness about the threats they face like the illegal pet trade (if you want to know more about why they are not pets, see here), hunting for bushmeat, loss and fragmentation of their habitat as a result of different human activities (mining, agriculture, grazing, urbanizations, infrastructure constructions among others).
Monkeys are an important part of all the habitats in which they live. They disperse seeds (more here), transform their habitat (more here), and they also are preys and predators (more here and here). They help to maintain the forest and all the services that forest provide to us like clean water and clean air, a place to enjoy ourselves, home for pollinators that also helps us to grow our crops.
With this post, we celebrate the diversity of diets, families and behaviors of the five monkey species living in our study area. We celebrate their flexibility to adapt and survive in forest fragments surrounded by human activities. We also celebrate that until know the monkey’s populations we have been studied over more than a decade are stable and able to reproduce.
We also invite you to celebrate with us, so if you live, work or have been close to a monkey (not pets, only monkeys living in their natural habitats) send us a message to telling us something interesting you have seen from those monkeys. We will choose some of those stories to post in this website to celebrate monkeys diversity during more days in 2021 (your name will be published next to your story, unless you prefer to remain anonymous). You can send us a message in English, Spanish or Portuguese and your message will be posted in the language you send your message and in English.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Did monkeys drink water?

In past days while talking with local people, someone ask me if monkeys drink water? So, in today’s post we are going to talk about that. The short answer is yes. However not all species go to streams, ponds or water reservoirs to drink water.
Most of the water monkeys use for their normal functioning came from the metabolic process, which means that water is extracted from the food they eat. But in some places and at some seasons some species also go to the ground and drink water from streams, ponds and even human water reservoirs or water reservoirs used by our domestic animals.
For example, during rainy season in the study are as well as in humid forest like the Amazon, red howler monkeys, black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys drink rainy water from branches and palm leaves. However, we have not seen them drinking water during the dry season from any of the water ponds remaining in the ground or from the cattle water reservoirs.
In dry forest howler monkeys and capuchins use to go to the ground and drink water from human made water reservoirs or small streams. At other parts monkeys have also seen drinking water from rivers or from house roofs in India.
During the dry season of 2019, some of the stream ponds that usually have water in dry months dried completely, leaving all of the wildlife present in the area without water except by the cattle water reservoirs. We don’t know if monkey have started to use these reservoirs too.
Therefore, with the increased change in precipitation in the area and the possibility of another long dry season during this end of year and the first months of 2021, we put some camera traps at some cattle water reservoirs in past weeks to monitor the use of this water sources for wildlife. Hopefully these cameras also give us some information about the use of these water reservoirs for monkeys during dry months.
We will keep you posted on what animals we found using cattle water reservoirs in our new camera traps monitoring…
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Monkey Forest Tales: Why some forest has more primates than others?

Over the years I have the opportunity to visit many forests in Colombia and around the world, some of them with many primate species and some without any primate species (like Eucalyptus forest in Australia). So, in today’s post we are going to talk about what make a forest to have more primates than others?

Presence of primates in a forest depends of many factors that goes from historical factors to factors related with the availability of resources (i.e. food, nests, partners) present in those forest. Let’s start with the historical factors…

If we talk in a long-time scale, several thousands of years, presence of primate in a forest depends on the origin of that primate and if that forest had the conditions for those primates species to have originated or dispersed to that forest in ancient years. But if we talk of historical factors but I a small time scale, several years or even a several decades, then presence of a particular primate species depends not only on the original conditions of the forest that allows that primate species to live there but also all the human activities, such as hunting and deforestation of that forest that also influence the presence of those primate species.

For a primate species to live in a forest conditions such as climate, presence of food resources (fruits, insects, nectar, leaves) from the species they like to eat, other individuals of the same species (i.e. potential partners) and potential places to nest need to be present.

Also, some forest has more monkeys species than other because the species living in that forest have different specializations. For example, some of them eat more insects and other eat more fruits, while other eat more leaves. Or some like to move more on the top of the big trees while other like to move closer to the ground or in the middle of the tree forest. Therefore, the food resources in the forest can be used by different species at different heights and that allows many species living in the same forest. Also come species are more active during the day while others prefer the night.

For example, in the study area there are five monkey species, but all of them doesn’t move all the time at the same height, also some of them eat more fruits like dusky titi monkeys, or more leaves like red howler monkeys, while others eat more insects and spiders like black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys. And, some other prefer to be active at night like the Brumback night monkeys.

Sometimes, especially in fragmented areas, monkeys didn’t find all the resources they need in a particular forest fragment, then they have to move to another fragment, so in fragmented areas or areas closer to where we live some forest had lost all or some of the monkeys species that used to live there because the food is not enough or because we had killed them until they disappear…

So, part of the questions we have in Zocay Project are related to understand why some forest fragments have all five monkey species present while others don’t. Up to know our results shows that its depends on how much food resources there is and how big the trees are, but also how many living fences and other forest fragments are nearby. However, these fragments are in continuous change because of our activities so many things can happen that influence which monkeys we can find and for how long living in a particular forest fragment…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some thoughts about domestic dogs and cats

Although we love our pets, specially dogs and cats, we cannot forget that they came from predator ancestors, who use to hunt in pacts in the case of dogs or alone in the case of cats. Therefore, they still have in their genes that instinct to hunt even if we tamed.
Today post we are going to talk about domestic dogs and cats effects at the study area. In past months there was an article about the effect of domestic cats on Australian fauna and the results were just terrible for wildlife, from birds, lizards, frogs and small mammals. Although there is not that kind of information for Colombia, for sure there is an effect on domestic dogs and cats.
At the study site, the effects on the wildlife are not clear. There is dogs and cats at every farm and palm oil plantation in the study area. They move around freely and through all farms without any restrictions. Around houses cats hunt small birds, preying on nest and small birds learning to fly, small rodents and rats.
At the forest fragments, live fences and wire fences dogs attacks monkeys, tamanduas, coatis and other mammals. At cattle pastures dogs also attacks giant ant eaters and sometimes other domestic animals, like goats.
Over the past 16 years, we have witness at least two confirmed successful dog attacks, both on black-capped capuchins (Sapajus apella). At least three more unsuccessful attempts were witness on Colombian squirrel monkeys (Saimiri cassiquiarensis albigena). There has been local people reports on dog attacks on red howler monkeys, especially when they move on the ground through pastures from one fragment to another.
In the past two years local workers from one of the farms with which we work reported a group of at least four dogs from a near palm oil plantation hunting in the forest fragment where we have been monitoring monkeys for more than a decade.
Although we will need a more detailed information of how domestic dogs are affecting the wildlife in the area, at least we know the presence and probably the freedom with which we are handling our domestic dogs and cats is affecting the wildlife living in highly fragmented areas.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Back in the field: how it is working at night?

Today’s post I’m going to explore a question a colleague makes to me a few days before I went to the field, ¿Are you scare when you work at night? But first, let’s explain why sometimes we have to work at night.

As you have notice from this website, at the study area there is nocturnal species, Brumback’s night monkey, a small size monkey who make all its activities during the night. They sleep during the day in hollow trees or very high trees cover with lots of lianas and vines and they search for food and move around during the night.

To be able to know how they live, how many they are and in which forest fragments we can find them, sometimes we need to go out at night and search for them. Although we have not been so successful as in other places to follow them at night, we have been able to count them and find out some of the forest fragments in which they live in the study area.

My first nocturnal monkey counts weren’t in the study area, they were in the Amazon, in large areas of continuous forest, where there is also big wild cat such as cougars and jaguars around at night. So, in those days, specially at the beginning yes, I usually was scare while doing my work at night. I was always with an indigenous who knows the forest a lot and who was good at recognizing many animal sounds and smells.

At night, you can rely on your vision as much as you do during the day so you learn to recognize the sounds of nocturnal animals, and sometimes the sounds of some diurnal animals that you encounter sleeping during night walks. For example, during this last fieldwork we were working in one of the fragments in the study area, one that I never walked before at night, and we found a small group of coatis sleeping in a high tree, near to the stream. I had never encounter them at night before and never paid attention to the noises they do, so at the beginning it was difficult to know what they were, we just saw small bright green eyes, until we can use our binoculars and see their long nose and fluffy banded tail.

At the study area, usually is not that scary to work at night as it was in the Amazon, because the forest are smaller and I have walk them for so many years I can recognize parts of some of those forest fragments even with poor light. My main concern in the study area is to meet a person during night work, that is why we usually do night work only in farms where we make sure the landowners and farm workers know that we are there.

We sometimes found snakes that usually leave you a bit shaken, but don’t attack you. In the bigger forest fragments in the area sometimes we hear or found tracks of jaguar or cougar but never met them face to face. Not in this area, although I met the in the Amazon and in Macarena (a bit southern from the study area)…

So, the answer to my colleague’s question is yes and no, depending on where I’m working at night…

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