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My Work with Monkeys

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Yesterday our task, from 7-12:45 and from 2:30-4:30 was to try to identify and then stick with one female monkey for awhile. This involves using binoculars to carefully look at the tail, nipples, and then face for distinguishing features. Tails can be crooked, probably from an injury, a little thicker with hair or thinner, and the way they end can be different. Nipples usually are pink, but some have black spots on them, and they can be of different lengths. Who knew! The last thing you look at is the face for eyebrows, open mouth, and the eyes. You have to study the monkeys for quite some time to be able to positively identify one.

After you found and correctly gave it a name (our research assistants are usually close by to confirm that), we headed out to follow where the monkey led us. Sometimes they jumped from tree to tree looking for fruits or leaves. Other times they sat and chewed, groomed another adult or infant, suckled a baby. Our task is to follow as well as we can for as long as we can. This involves going through heavy brush, over branches, breaking trail through vines, over rocks etc. It’s very physically demanding and tiring. And of course, the weather is hot and humid.

Today we were to do the same but added the component of pairing up with another teammate and then recording each minute what the monkey was doing. We have all sorts of codes and abbreviations to use: resting, moving, foraging, feeding, standing, suckling an infant, and carrying an infant. One watched the monkey while the other manned the stopwatch and recorded the actions. I was happy that Laura and I were able to track Athena for 52 minutes (though we did lose her for 12 minutes during that time). This afternoon our luck wasn’t as good. We could only follow Shujaa for about 6 minutes before she got away from us. We never did find her again.

Another task we have is to collect any ‘poop’ we can positively identify from a particular monkey and to take it to the field station for drying. It will be taken back to the US by our Principal Investigator, Steffan, who then analyzes it for the stress hormones. I’ve watched the process, but haven’t had the privilege of collecting the poop myself, though I’m sure that will come soon enough!

kenya_binoculars.jpg
Me, at work, with binoculars and recording sheet

The area around Gede and our guest house is truly amazing. It’s very hard to describe. It feels almost untouched by modern influence. Everyone walks or rides bikes. I’ve only seen a very few cars, probably for the tourists. There are some bus/vans and also you can hire someone to carry you on the back of their bike—bike taxis! There are two little towns we drive through where anyone and everyone sets up a little thatched hut or scrap metal shack and sells something or offers some service—Best Lady Hair Salon, tools, fabric, plastic bowls of every shape and size, mangos or tomatoes or roasted corn. Goats wander everywhere as do the people. They mostly wear traditional dress, though the children wear their school uniforms—we see 4 schools on our 20 minute drive and each has their own uniform.

The people look well fed and happy; they are truly beautiful! Children smile and wave as we pass by. All ages love to walk and use it as a social time. Babies are carried on backs, and packages, bowls, and food are balanced on women’s heads. I feel like I’ve taken a time machine back 100 years to another era, and then all of a sudden you see “Internet Café” signs and they are setting up benches to watch the World Cup finals at the only TV in town.

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