Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about peccaries and tapirs

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The study region despite to be highly fragmented are, still has some areas in which native wildlife of big size persist. Today’s post, as well as some post in the following weeks, is about that fauna different from monkeys that is still present in the region in which the study area is located.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to survey some of the biggest forest fragments in the region (500 – 1000 ha). Although immersed in a cattle ranching matrix combined with tertiary roads and perennial crops, as well as palm oil plantations. These forest fragments still have the characteristic mammal fauna typical of more preserved areas, including big mammals such as peccaries and tapirs, as well as their predator’s jaguars and cougars.

In those fragments, it is in some ways common to find tracks and even to see groups of collared peccaries (Tayassu tajacu) when they are present in those fragments. Observations of small groups and solitary individuals have also been done in fragments around 100 ha in the area, but with less frequency.

Rarer are the observations of white-lipped peccary (Tayassu peccari) in the area, although there are still present and in the past, they use to reach the town park. Last time a group of white-lipped peccaries was observed in town was 10 years ago, according to some local people. However, in the largest fragments, herds of white-lipped peccaries had been reported by locals the last year. Both are still hunted in the region and their meet is highly appreciated by locals.

Landowners in the region have problems with illegal hunting for the town’s market although it is illegal as it is not a subsistence practice. Information from local people suggest that a kilogram of peccary’s or tapir’s meat in the illegal market can cost around USD 11.5 in 2014. Today, probably that price had increased substantially due to the long-distance and time needed to hunt these species in the area.

Also, it is still possible to see tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in the region, especially tracks and footprints more than observe them. Most of the observations in the region have been done in forest fragments of more than 500 ha surrounded by savannas, with some observations were done in the savannas near to watercourses. Swamp areas inside of big forest fragments are the areas where most observations have been done in the area, as well as close to the main streams in the region. Observations in small fragments are rare, probably because of hunting.

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Most observations of collared peccaries lasted just a few minutes, depending on how fast they perceived my presence. However, I had the opportunity to see groups as bigger as 15 individuals, including several females, a few males, and some young individuals. No threatened behaviors towards the observer has been observed on all those encounters, even when the peccaries’ herd had small individuals. Mostly once they perceived my presence, the whole group just scape, running sometimes in opposite directions. Sometimes it is possible to observe some individuals coming back to follow the rest of the group after the initial encounter.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Challenges for the new year, 2020

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As we approach a new year, I want to share with you some of the plans we are making to continue this project. Thanks to the willingness of some of the landowners in the study area and some new collaborations with people in the area. During 2020, we are planning to continue doing the long-term monitoring of native fauna in the region, as well as include some new areas close to the main city in the region, Villavicencio.

One of the main lessons for me over the past 15 years has been the importance of being in the region over time with perseverance despite the challenges. This presence had increased the interest of landowners to know and learn about the native fauna that they have in their land and in some cases to go beyond that simple knowledge to try to preserve it.

Some of the new data we want to collect on this new year in collaboration with institutions like William Barrios Foundation and Professor Martha Ortiz, Ph.D. from Universidad del Llano is:

  1. Information about the effects of road killing on primates and other fauna in the urban and rural areas of the region
  2. Establish the current conservation state of dusky titi monkey in their distribution area
  3. Continue with the demographic data collection on primate species in the San Martin area and expanded to other towns in the region
  4. Information about the economic cost of crop-raiding by black-capped capuchins on perennial crops in the region
  5. Expand our data collection to other native fauna in the region
  6. Implement some citizen science data collection in the region to monitor threats for native fauna in the region
  7. Assess the impact of food provision on urban monkeys in the Villavicencio area

Although some of the topics are more challenging than others, new collaborations were formed in the past months that make me confident that it is possible to reach this new information. My main motivation is the increased interest from students from the regional universities that want to work for the native fauna in their region.

If you want to support any of these initiatives or want to be involved in any way, please don’t hesitate to leave a message on this website or write to me at xcarretero@zocayproject.com. There are many ways in which you can be involved and we will be happy that you join us.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Thinking about families: how similar are monkey’s and human’s families

 

We are at the time of the year when we think about families more than probably other times during the year. So I thought will be nice to make a comparison of how similar monkeys and human families are?
Depending on the human society, families came in different sizes and forms, in the same way monkeys families varies depending on the species. So we have big families with several males and females and many young members of different ages, we also have families were the males are not the father of the younger ones, we also have families with lots of aunts or lots of uncles and families with just a mother, a father and their youngsters.
Same as in human families conflict appears motivated by the same reasons…. Resources…either mates or food. In humans food resources had a cover that we can put all under money.
Same as in humans, monkeys strongest relationship with the out world started with their mothers and the closest members of their groups. Through them they learn about how their world works? where they can find food? who are their friends? and who are their enemies? where to move and sleep?
Also, same as humans, in monkey’s families, mothers sometimes have the support of sisters and grandmothers to educate their babies. Sometimes they help carrying the babies other times they help watching over them while playing. And they always give alerts when some danger is close to them or give their lives to protect them.
Monkey’s families also have individuals who are greedy, jealous or just difficult, same as human families. Although some human families expel those members some others just accept them and deal with them in a different way. In a similar way monkey’s families also have some of these complicated members. They can also be expelled or just relegated to the edge of the family group depending on how much support they have from other members of the group or how much the alpha males tolerated them.
But all these families, human and monkeys, are the center of their societies. They are the center of their social lives and all are based on the same biological principle to pass their genetic information to the next generation.
I wish you all a happy holiday season and let’s hope we all can accept the diversity of our human families during this season.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of edge plants for food for all monkeys species

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Black-capped capuchins eating arthropods from branches of a Schefflera morotonini tree at a forest fragment edge.

Today’s post will explore the importance of edge plants as food for monkey species in the study area. One of the main effects of fragmentation is the creation of forest edges, a series of conditions that differs from the center of the forest in terms of light, humidity, plant species, temperatures, therefore affecting the use of those areas for monkeys species and in general for all animals in an area.

Some species can be more or less tolerant of those edge conditions and use it in different ways and intensities. In the case of the monkey’s species living in the forest fragments of the study area. The use of these areas for monkey’s daily activities varies with the season and it depends strongly on the plant species producing fruits in those areas.

For example, when species of plants from the Melastomataceae family (nispero (Bellucia grossularoides), Miconia spp.) and other species such as Tapirira guianensis, Protium sp., Cecropia spp, produce fruits, the use of forest edges increase for all the monkey’s species. In the case of Colombian squirrel monkeys the use of forest edges reached up to 26 % of their time in some months and for the endemic species of dusky titi monkeys, the preference for forest edges has also been associated with the use of plant species typical from this areas.

Another factor that can influence the use of forest edges by the monkey’s species in the study area is the proposed increase of arthropods abundance that forest edges can have. Arthropods are used by many monkeys as food in the area.

Probably, the most important factor is that the plant species common on forest edges which are consumed by monkeys are also the same species that appear in the earlier stages of natural regeneration in the study area, locally and at a more regional level. These are especially important if connectivity projects want to be implemented.

At the moment, in the region, most of the projects in which reforestation is proposed are based on non-native species and where native species are used, no information about species useful for native fauna is used as a baseline for those projects. Information about the species used by the native fauna on forest edge condition is useful as those plants usually are adapted to more light, higher temperatures and lower humidity typical or forest edges as well as more open areas. Additionally, these plant species can also be used for silvopastoral and agroecosystems where pastures plots include tree species of fast-growing capability as the ones present on forest edges. The use of edge plant species on reforestation projects as well as in silvopastoral systems can increase the value of those areas for biodiversity as they will provide more resources to the fauna passing through and using those areas.

Forest edges plants are not only important for the monkeys but to other fauna in the region, who also use it as nesting sites, food source as well as predation grounds in the case of small hawks, owls and eagles, that use forest edges as perch sites to hunt. Due to the high density of lianas and vines on many forest edges in the region, those are also sites used by giant anteaters to rest, hiding places for foxes as well as deers, especially when young animals need to be hide while their mothers feed in the open pastures and savannas. Less conspicuous species as crab-eater racons and armadillos also used those areas to hide and search for food.

Edge plants as the ones mentioned above are also the first to appear at natural regenerating areas, which increase their diversity and benefit to native fauna when it is left to progress in abandoned pasture and agricultural plots. Although forest edges had an effect on the native fauna and evidently have less biodiversity than areas inside of large forests. Their importance and use as tools in natural regeneration and reforestation programs have been poorly acknowledged and can be of great importance in the study region, where a dynamic of deforestation and natural regeneration is still present in some areas, depending on social and politic conditions.

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A Colombian squirrel male searching for arthropods at a forest fragment edge.

Monkey Forest Tales: Crop-raiding by primate species and some possible solutions

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A maize crop next to a forest fragment in the study area.

One of the main problems of wildlife living close to human housing or settlements is the conflict generated but this closeness. One of the most complicated problems is crop-raiding or the use of crops by wild monkeys causing some loss for the people who depend on them. This is the topic of our post today.

In the study area and in general, in the region, crop-raiding is more commonly done by black-capped capuchins which sometimes is joined by squirrel monkeys. However, depending on the crop black-capped capuchins can be more destructive. That is one of the reasons why they are generally seen as a pest. Some of the crops in which they cause damage in the study area are citrus crops (mandarin and orange), maize (this is the reason for the local name in Spanish “maiceros”), banana, manioc, mango, avocado, and palm oil.

Although the economic cost of the damage caused by monkeys in the crops of this area has not been calculated, the people’s perception is that it is high. Therefore, they usually take measures to control the monkey’s damage. Some of these measures are as strong as killing some individuals or complete groups and others are less strong such as noises to repel them, or the use of dogs in the periphery of the crops.

One of the main reasons for monkeys to use crops as food sources is because the food inside of the forest fragments is scarce. And this is increased if the crop is planted close to the forest edge, giving them more accessibility to the crops with less risk, especially from predators.

This problem is common in all countries with monkeys’ populations living in close proximity with humans in rural and urban areas. Although in some of these places there are a series of strategies to deter monkeys to get close to the crop and produce damage, not all these measures work well. Some of the measures used to deter monkeys to crop-raiding are the use of dogs, a variety of devices to produce loud noises to scare the monkeys, the use of bees in the periphery of small orchards, and killing of problematic individuals. However, all these measures are used when the problem of crop-raiding is already happening and none of these measures prevent crop-raiding.

Some strategies that can reduce the impacts of crop-raiding, especially when the groups are not so used to feed on crops and didn’t depend on them for survival are:

1) reduce the selective logging inside of forest fragments close to crop plots

2) crop plots distance from forest fragments edges of more than 300 m

3) maintain the forest fragments quality by reducing natural product extraction from those forests

Although all these strategies tend to reduce crop-raiding from monkeys’ species, some of their skills can make crop-raiding reduction a challenge and a rotation of the deter measures has been proposed are successful in some places. More detailed information on the actual economic loss for people is still needing it in the study area although it had been done for primates in other countries and for other species of monkeys.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Possible explanations about why primate’s movement is not static in this highly fragmented landscape

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Google Earth’s image of the landscape in which the study area is located.

Today’s post is based on observations made over the past 15 years on primate species and other species movements in the landscape. One of the first thing that comes to my mind from all what I had seen in the study area is how variable and non-static seems to be primate and other species movements in the landscape of the study area. Even inside the big fragments in the landscape.

For example, in the larger fragment in the study area, even in the same months of different years, it wasn’t always possible to find primates in areas where they were observed in other years. Although this can be partially explained by the variability in the production of fruit trees from one year to the next. It also can be a product of other factors influencing the forest fragment like hunting, selective logging, and predation by domestic animals (dogs especially).

As mentioned in another post, the study area is a highly fragmented landscape composed of forest fragments (gallery and lowland rain forest) of different sizes immersed in a matrix of pastures, natural savannas, perennial crops, and palm oil plantations. In this system, some forest fragments seem to be too small to maintain primate’s groups but also, they seem to be used only as stepping stones to travel longer distances by other mammals and birds (toucans, parrots, tayras, giant ant-eaters, peccaries, jaguar and other carnivorous).

Over the years some primate movements seem to follow a clear pattern influenced by some resource availability such as fruits. For example, we had observed how Colombian squirrel monkeys use different fragments on certain months in search of certain fruits, while other months they use smaller fragments and living fences for frogs, insects, and fruits.

However, some other primate movements like the sporadic short visits to small fragments made by black-capped capuchins don’t seem to be related by any specific food resource. It is also not every year that a particular group of black-capped capuchin moves towards that small fragment. So why is that? For this particular group of black-capped capuchin other factors such as predation by domestic dogs can be a factor, but we need more data.

Additionally, the presence of regenerating areas, abandon watermelon crops and in some cases, palm oil plantations seem to be the reason for the persistence of some species that are more used to open areas such as deer, giant ant-eaters, tayras, and short-eared dogs.

The role of regenerating areas on reducing biodiversity loss had been discussed in the scientific literature. Its function as a new available area for territories as well as connecting habitat and a new source of resources is also important for many mammals and birds dispersing between large areas in highly-transformed landscapes.

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Monkey Forest Tales: A female red howler story, Pamela

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Today’s post we are going to talk about females in red howler monkeys and their relationships. As I mentioned in several past posts, I started following monkeys in a continuous forest at the Tinigua National Park. This story is based on a female from the group that I was studying there. Her name was Pamela, she was an old female and the mother of all the subadult and adult females and males in her group. By the time I met Pamela, she had an infant, a subadult and an adult daughter’s, and a juvenile son. Her adult daughter, Any, had a subadult male and an infant son. Pamela and Any were close but they have different personalities and display different behaviors when taking care of their babies.

Pamela let her infant daughter, from three months old free to move around all the time, while Any was always looking and worried about his son, Al, who has only two months. Even when the infants were older these differences were evident, and Any seems to be a more protective mother than Pamela. I always thought it was because Pamela was older and had more experience than her daughter, who only had one more son and had some infant death. Pamela, on the contrary, had two living daughters and a son, although she also had lost some infants in the past.

Pamela not only was the older female; she was also the one who knows best the groups’ territory. She knew where the fruit trees were, and she was leading her group movements most of the time, especially towards big fig trees. Sometimes she seems to know which was where the ones who were having fruits before others in her group When you follow a group of monkeys, you know that the group had accepted you when the females let you see their babies and don’t make any efforts to get rid of you when moving. Pamela was the first one in her group to accept me. I was able to saw her small daughter, Pati all the time and sometimes it seems that she slow down a bit just to make sure I was following them. Probably it was just my imagination, but I still like to think that it was just her waiting for me.

Pamela was also the dominant female. In red howler monkeys’ males and females have a linear dominance that is reinforced by family relationships in the case of females. When her group started to be followed, in 1986 by a Japanese scientist, she wasn’t the only female in the group, she had a sister, but still, she was the dominant female or at least the one who leads some of the movement and sit closer to the alpha male. Pamela disappears and it was assumed dead in 1996, leaving her small daughter of over a year old, Pati. Pati was taken care of by her sister, Pili, a subadult female according to observations of students and researchers.

In the study area, groups of red howler monkey had been followed only for short periods of time (around 6 months and not several continuous years) and clear relationships of dominance had been only partially established. However, during census survey most adult females had been observed feeding in close proximity to each other, which can suggest that they can be related. Usually, only 1 – 3 adult females had been observed in every group. Additionally, and only on rare occasions, solitary females had been observed in the study area (5 times over the past 15 years). This is usual in red howler monkey where we know there is a dispersion of both sexes but more common in males than females.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of biodiversity studies in highly fragmented landscapes

Figura 1 Xyomara Carretero-Pinzón. Decision Point

Today’s post we are going back to not so personal story, although it still shows some of my personal views in terms of what I think is important to focus. We are going to talk about the importance of biodiversity studies in highly fragmented landscapes. Highly fragmented landscapes are large portions of land (several hundreds of hectares) characterized by a diverse matrix with human activities in which natural habitat remnants persist. These systems usually have multiple human activities around and inside of the natural habitat remnants, which vary depending on the specific region and/or country. However, there are some similar patterns.

In rural areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America landscapes in which natural habitat and human activities interact are extensive. The increase of the human population since the industrial revolution had increased the pressure on natural resources, increasing the interactions between humans and wildlife. Therefore, an increase in the conflict between our activities and the persistence of natural habitats continues growing. That is a fact and something that we as scientists need to accept. Part of our work now is to focus on methods and tools that help us understand how we can improve the lives and habitat of the species that live on those habitat remnants.

Although a large extension of natural habitat is important to conserve and protect, there are a lot of species (plants and animals) that only live in areas with human activities. Those are the only habitat that is left to them. Some of those species are not present in National Park or large tracks of natural habitat with less human pressure. Therefore, we need to understand how those species persist in close proximity to human activities and how we can maintain those populations.

The persistence of those species in highly fragmented landscapes depends on how well we manage the natural remnant in which they live as well as how we mitigate the human activities surrounding them. Every action we humans make in the environment had an impact on those habitat remnants at different scales, from the impact on the site where the activity is done to several kilometers around that area. It depends on how conscious we are about all the activities we make. For example, a watermelon crop established close to forest fragments surrounding a small stream. Every agricultural decision we made about that watermelon crop such as the type of water we are using, how often we fumigate the crop and with which products, where we dispose the residuals from those fumigations, all affect not only the crop but also the forest fragment and the water in it. We also affect the soil in which it grows and all the fauna in it and depending on that soil.

Watermelon crops are one of the many human activities in the study area, over the years I had observed the many practices that they use in their crops. Although it is not always easy to talk with people working on those crops, from time to time I found someone who listens. One of the main concerns for me is the use of pesticides and the management of their empty packages. Many times, when I was doing census or following monkeys, I had found empty packages from pesticides near to the stream or in the forest. There is no management of this waste and no education about how dangerous it is for the environment and humans. And we don’t know what the effects of pesticide residuals on primates’ health are.

Other activities present other types of impacts and challenges that we need to address to find ways in which the fauna inhabiting habitat remnants immersed in highly fragmented landscapes can survive and thrive. Although some human activities are more impactful than others, they all have an impact and they all affect the native animals and plants. It is our responsibility to find ways to mitigate that impact and as a society to ask those impacts to be mitigated by the people/ companies to make the impact.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why I study monkeys?

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Today’s post is a bit personal and I apologize if you were looking for a monkey story, but some days ago, a volunteer from this project and then a local in the study area, both ask me why I study monkeys? Who pays me for doing it? When I mentioned that no one pays me to study monkeys, they ask why I still do it? The reason is simple because it makes me happy. Some of the happiest and more rewarded moments in my life had been surrounded by monkeys. Some of my closest friends had heard me said that monkeys are my angels, and they really are. They are the reason why I wake up every day. Every time I enter a forest and I meet a monkey’s group my heart lift and I’m mesmerized by them. It was a passion that started slowly more than 22 years ago and that keeps growing every time that I enter any forest.

Although working with monkeys in the field had many challenges and discomfort (mosquitos, ticks of multiple sizes, rain, hot, sweat, and many other things) I still enjoy the silent moments in which we are together, and they share a bit of their daily life with me. There is always long walks in the heat, there is always lots of mosquitos and ticks leaving marks in my skin, but the monkeys always show me new things.

My mind always has been an inquisitive one, full of curiosity and questions and the forest, and especially the monkeys always leave me with more questions than answers. And that is why I still continue going to the same forest and looking at the same monkeys year after year. I’m probably not the more successful researcher, I don’t publish much and not many people know me or my work but by going year after year to the same area and looking at the same groups of monkeys, not always the same people, I get a bit more understanding of what is happening with the monkeys in a system where they have to interact with humans and their domestic animals in a daily basis and it always surprises me how adaptable and resilient they are, despite our effort to destroy their home.

Over the years my research questions had varied a lot, it started with basic questions such as what X or Y species of monkeys do or eat? How they relate between them and with other species? To how they move in fragmented landscapes and what they do to survive in close proximity to human activities? Some of these questions have answers, some others are still in the process to find answers and that is why I still study them in the study area and why I still continue going to visit the same monkey groups, even if no one pays me for doing it. Or if collecting those data doesn’t seem to be part of a specific research project.

If the landowners still allow me to visit the same farms, I will continue visiting the same groups, that is an opportunity that it’s sometimes difficult to get with animals of long-life span like monkeys, where some changes only happen or are evident after several decades. So, I will continue studying monkeys because I love them and it makes me happy, even if I don’t earn an income from doing that, for as long as I have a place to go and see them…

So, my personal advice for you is that if you find something that makes you happy, do it, no matter if you don’t earn an income from that.

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Monkey Forest Tales: More about baby monkeys’ behavior

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Dusky titi monkey father carrying his baby in his neck.

Today’s post is again about the baby monkey’s behavior. Looking a baby to growth is one of the best experiences in life and for me is the same if you look a baby monkey or a human baby, I enjoy both, even if I don’t have babies.

I think one of the reasons why I fell in love with monkeys was because I was looking at a baby’s behavior. I remember looking at them and making comparisons between what I was seeing and what I had witnessed from babies in my own family. And it’s not only about playing, but it’s also about how they start they live.

Most babies of the primate species in the study area started in a similar way, with small differences in which part of the mother’s body they are carried during the first days. Red howlers monkey moms carry their babies in the ventral part of their body near to their tail. After a few weeks and during the following months, babies move to the back near to their tail. One of the most amazing things about monkey babies is their strength to grasp their mothers, despite their small bodies, their hands are really strong.

On the other hand, moms of black-capped capuchins, Colombian squirrel monkeys and fathers of dusky titi monkeys and Brumback night monkeys carry their babies on their necks during the first weeks of their lives. After their first month, babies of these species are carried on mother’s or father’s back.

They start exploring the world and other members of their groups and families from the back of their mothers similar to what humans’ babies do from their mother’s arms, observing everything and trying to touch and reach everything.

They learn by imitating the behaviors of their mothers and other members of their groups. They learn to choose what to eat from their mother’s mouths, I had seen from al species in the study area how babies takes leave, flowers, fruits and even insects from their mother’s mouth and try it, and sometimes, when they are older (around 3 – 5 months) from other members of their groups.

Although most of them don’t get as messy as small kids end after trying some foods, the behavior is similar in the curiosity that monkey’s and human’s babies show about different foods, they smell it, bite it, and spit it out. A couple of times I had the opportunity to help with the caring of small monkeys, in a rehabilitation center in the Amazon and during a short period of time in the jungle when we found a baby after an infanticide event. In both cases, one of the things that surprise me the most was not only their instinct to grab you as hard as they can, as their lives depend on that, but also how they imitate you when trying new foods.

With this post and the last one I hope now you understand a bit more, why we say humans are also primates, we not only have a similar anatomy and physiology (in general terms), but also share the way in which we learn some of our social skills and how much we depend on our mothers to learn about the world in which we are growing.

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