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September 27, 2005

Last time’s the charm?

Filed under: — crofoot @ 12:34 pm

My project is over, and I am leaving Panama in so few days it can now be reasonably counted in hours.  Vilma and I are done following monkeys, counting fruit on trails, scraping pulp off of seeds, and are now packing up our lives.  It is astounding the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated, and the things I was looking for several months ago, and finally found.

The real end of the project was Sept 10th, the last day of our last round of monkey darting.  Earlier this year, we darted 15 monkeys fitted them with  radio-collars, which we had to try to recover. 

For this final round of darting, I decided that it made sense to collect biological samples to conduct a health analysis.  Once again, Bob Lessnau came down to dart for me, but this time, his colleague, Terry Norton, a wildlife vet came as well.

Darting to recover collars is much harder than darting to put them on.  First of all, you are aiming for a specific individual rather than any monkey of the right age/sex class.  More importantly, every monkey you are trying to catch has already been darted in the butt.  I had begun to think that maybe capuchins weren’t really as smart as everyone says–they rehabituated to Vilma and I so fast after being collared, and would hang out several meters from us without the slightest sign of being concerned about us.  It seemed like they hadn’t really learned anything from the experience of being darted–how wrong was I.  In fact, they were smarter than I gave them credit for.  Vilma and I were not percieved as threats.  One look at Bob, and a collared monkey that had been feeding calmly, down low and out in the open, was all of a sudden 40 meters up in the canopy and a half a kilometer away. 

We had a tough week–lots of running after monkeys who were being very uncooperative.

Bob even smoked his good luck cigar early in the week.

Our lives were made harder by the fact that the capuchins were eating Doliocarpus olivaceous–a liana fruit that tends to be really high up in the canopy, and that a couple of the collared females had riding infants, making it impossible to safely dart them.

In the end, we ended up capturing some animals for the health analysis, and to train Claudia Branderis, a vet from the University of Panama, in wildlife health techniques.  We failed to recover any collars though.

The group of people who helped me dart this time were amazing–it was a real pleasure to work with them.  In addition to Bob and Terry, Robyn Hoing came down to help again.  She was here for the first round of darting as well.

Sheryl Straaden, a large mammal keeper at the Jacksonville Zoo also came to help.

Their experience and expertise working with animals was such a help.  I am truely appreciative that they were willing to take vacation time to come down, slog through rainforest, covered with ticks, chiggers and sweat, get totally dehydrated (once again, I had Robyn puking on the side of the trail on the first day–I’m amazed she is still willing to speak with me, let alone work with me again), and be good sports about the whole thing.  It was a really great group, and I had a lot of fun working with them!

Vilma and Robyn, hard at work

Collecting yet another fecal sample.  The first monkey we worked with completely freaked us out because her feces looked like this:

We were worried it was blood, but it turned out that she had just been eating a lot of Trichilia tuberculata, which had turned her feces bright red.

One of the cool things that happened with this round of darting was that we captured a juvenile with ambiguous genitalia–a pseudo-hermaphrodite of sorts. 

We aren’t sure if SheHe is a male or a female–it will be interesting to see if we can figure out what it going with him/her.

So, depending on how you define success, the last part  of this project was either a complete and utter failure, or a moderate success.  I prefer to think of it as the latter–we put in our absolute best effort, had fun with the work and with each other, and have some positive results from our efforts!

So, extra big thanks to Bob, Robyn, Terry, Sheryl, Vilma and Claudia! 


1 Comment

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