Monkey Forest Tales: We need your help!!!

Over the years Zocay Project had different sources of funding, a few small grants, support from some farms and funding form my personal projects as well as my own personal funds to cover field work (last four years). However pandemic and economic situation in Colombia is making more difficult to continue supporting this project through my personal funds, so in today’s post I am asking you to help us continue with our fieldwork.

How can you do it? I made a webpage in Fine Art America where you can buy prints and other products using my wildlife pictures (https://fineartamerica.com/art/xyomara+carretero). Think about giving a Christmas present that also support the work that we do in the places where wildlife live. All pictures were taken by me over the past 10 years of field work in Colombian Orinoquia and Amazonian forest. All pictures are from animals whose distribution include the Zocay Project study area.

What activities will you support? Mainly you will support our cost to go to field sites in San Martín area (Meta), Villanueva area (Casanare) and some places in Villavicencio (Meta) to count monkeys next year. All these places are in Colombian Llanos and are part of our continuous field sites (Villavicencio and Villanueva were included in 2019).

This work is especially important during January to April as well as during June to August and a final season in October and November. During the first months of the year is important for us to visit as much sites as possible as it is Colombian squirrel monkey and dusky titi monkeys birth season. During midyear months we are monitoring the Colombian squirrel monkey mating season as well as trying to identify the reason for an aggregation of black-capped capuchin groups that seems to occur every year during June or July but not seems to be related to any fruiting pattern that we had identified yet. Last months of the year sampling help us monitor the birth season from all the other monkey species in the are that doesn’t have a seasonal pattern.

What kind of expenses will you support? Most of the expenses we cover during our fieldwork includes food, transport, and materials at the study sites from students and me working in the field, and in a few places, some support for logging, although most farms in which we work we don’t have to pay for this item. In a few places also you will help us cover field assistant salaries.

We appreciate any support you can give us to continue our work for the conservation of monkey species in Colombian Llanos. If you want support us in any other form, please don’t hesitate to send us an email to xcarretero@zocayproject.com, xcarretero@gmail.com

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Monkey Forest Tales: Challenges of working in urban versus rural areas: Logistics

Over the past two years. Zocay Project had included a small monitoring of primate populations in urban areas additional to its initial monitoring in rural areas dedicated to cattle ranching. In today’s post I want to mention some challenges to working at both areas, some considerations that you may need to think about while planning.

Working in rural areas implies logistic planning that need to incorporate accommodation, transport, landowners permit to enter to the field sites and in some cases additional permits from local actors. Additionally, people working at rural areas usually come from other regions or countries, which means you also need to plan and understand how to deal with cultural differences.

Working in urban areas also implies some of those same challenges and requires logistic planning. Depending on the researcher knowledge of the city, some cultural adjustments are also necessary.

Although, security issues should be considered in both cases, how you deal with and how much risk you can have from robbery is different and you need to plan accordingly. It seems this is not always considered while planning urban projects, especially in countries like Colombia.

In our case, there are areas in the city where we work that we can just not sample, even if access seems feasible, because it represents an additional risk of robbery and in some cases, even a risk to our lives.

So, if you are planning an urban survey, additional to the usual considerations about accommodation, transport and permits that you consider for your rural projects. You also need to consult with people living in the city you are going to work in about security issues related to robbery. For example, which areas are dangerous if you carry equipment like cameras, binoculars, SPS. Which neighborhoods needs special considerations in terms of transport access and council information to allow you to work there. Finally, don’t assume that if you live in that city, you won’t need to plan your survey schedules and consider additional local help, just because you are in a city. Plan in advance financially and logistically.

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Monkey Forest Tales: About Ecology Day…What is Ecology and why is important to all of us

This week there were a celebration of the ecology day. Another day to celebrate nature. But what is ecology? And why is it important for all of us? So, on today’s post we are going to talk about it.

Ecology is the study of the relationship between living things and their environment, this means how they interact with the water, soil, and air. But why is it important for us because we are living beings and like animals and plants we also depend on and relate with the environment that surround us.

Most humans living in cities kind of forget that we are part of nature, and we relate with nature in the same way that plants and animals do. Even some kids thinks that chicken comes from a fridge in the supermarket and not other place. An idea that if you think about it make sense if they never see a chicken outside of the fridge, in a farm.

In today’s world when we have so many crises in our hands, pandemic, climate crisis and biodiversity loss is important to remind ourselves, as well as teach our kids about the importance of our relationship with nature and how best to relate with it. Nature gives you strength, happiness, and peace of mind. For me nature is my natural recharger, is in nature where I made the best decisions of my life, is where I go to think and where I’m reminded of how much monkeys means to me and why I decide to dedicate my live to them.

So, in this post we just want to remind you that ecology and nature is important for all of usand we should be teaqching ourselves as well as our kids to remain connected with the only force that can save us and our planet…NATURE!!!

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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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Monkeys Forest Tales: Some thoughs about work – life balance

Today’s post is again a personal one. Today we are going to talk about a bit about work-life balance in science. We will talk about why it is so important to get a work – life balance not only in science, but in any discipline, you work in and a bit of my life experience with trying to get that work- life balance that is so important for our health and well-being.

Life has its own way of showing you when you are not living a life that is in balance. Usually, your body give you signs in ways of fatigue, headaches or pain in other parts of your body, lack of sleep and other kind of signs that you should pay attention. But, when you are young, you usually don’t pay any attention…

When I was studying biology, work-life balance wasn’t something we talk about, actually, my days were longer than 12 hours, reading and making essays and reports…I didn’t realize the importance of having a work- life balance until I was doing my master. At that moment, I was studying and working at the same time and didn’t have much of a life. My days pass with a strict routine and a lot of work stress, until my body started to give me alarms. My stress levels were too high that my body collapsed, and I get my first notice…and I finished in a hospital…

Usually, for me to get balance in my life, I need forest and especially monkeys. It seems that combination is my perfect energy recharger. It gives me so much energy that I sometimes forget that I must be careful to not overwork. When you are a scientist and you are pursuing a career in academy, is common and even reinforced that to be successful, you need to overwork all the time, you need to work longer hours and not get holiday or free time. It is a wide culture that it is promoted by the system. Except by some smart people…

While I was doing my doctorate, I had the fortune to have an adviser who is also a great human being, who take the time to talk to you not only about work, but also about how to enjoy live and who usually, motivate you do social activities at the same time that you were doing your work. He tried to teach me a lot about work – life balance, I didn’t always listen to him, but I learned to appreciate what we did for me at the time.

Although I was aware of the importance of work- life balance, I did have another notice from my body during that time. This time wasn’t that bad, and I didn’t go to the hospital, thanks to my support system of friends and my supervisor. However, life has its own way to make us forget that you need to have other things apart from work, things like hobbies, family, sports, pets, etc. that help you relax and enjoy simple things of life… Now, my body is giving me another notice, still don’t know how bad it is this time, but make me wonder of how much I really have learned about work – life balance and if I had been smart enough to teach my own students to have that work – life balance in their lives.

So, the message I want to give you with this post is to really stop to think about how balanced your life is now and don’t wait until life and your body teach you that lesson. Spend time with your families and friends, take time to learn new things and have hobbies. Be active and practice any sport if that motivates you. Yes, work is important and making a good job is important, but don’t overwork, don’t burn out yourself with work, that will never give you back the time that you can spend with the people you love and the things you love to do…

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Monkeys Forest Tales:  Celebrating Biodiversity Day!!

In today’s post we are going to talk about biodiversity day that was celebrated this week around the world. It is a day to celebrate how diverse is the natural world and for a country like Colombia, which has one of the highest biodiversity in the world is also a day to raise awareness of the biodiversity crisis we are living right now.

Over the past decades more animals and plants have been disappearing because of the effect that our activities do on the environment. One of the things we usually don’t think about is how everything we do in our daily activities affect the environment around us. For example, every morning when we take a shower, think about the amount of water you are using, and it is not about having or not the money for paying the water bill, is about to think of where that water come from. It is about not throw out any garbage near to the rivers, streams, lakes and ocean. It’s also about be aware of what we buy and where those things come from.

Biodiversity day celebration is also about enjoy how diverse live is and how that diversity gives us so many benefits. For example, the fact that there are many species of bee means that there are many different bees pollinizing the flowers from the plants we get our food from. Also, how much we can benefit and enjoy the diversity of birds, butterflies, frogs, and mammals we have near to our homes.

In a country like Colombia, which is one of the most biodiversity countries in the world, it is also a celebration of what we have and why we should protect it for future generations. We are after all the most diverse country in birds and one of the most diverse in palms, frogs, orchids, trees, butterflies, reptiles and mammals. So let’s remember and celebrate the high diversity we have and make everything we can to protect it and to teach our kids to protect it for the future…

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