Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Meet Our Monkeys: GE

Now it’s time for you to get acquainted with another one of our monkey families in Yvaga Guazu, group GE. This group is currently comprised of four individuals, Vicente the group patriarch, Elena the matriarch, Pedro a juvenile, and Denito the resident infant who was just born this past year. GE is one of the newest groups followed by the project, that has joined the ranks of well established families like G4 and G3. The group occupies a territory very close to the entrance of the park, and is therefore probably one of the most visible groups as far as tourists and park staff are concerned.

Main Road at the front of Yvaga Guazu

GE is a very recognizable group as all of the members are very gray in their coloring, even the male Vicente. This contrasts them with another group that shares some overlapping territory at the front of the park, G1. You’ll know when you see a member of G1 as opposed to GE, as not only will they probably be more fearful, and run in the direction of the chicken farm, but they will also be more reddish in color than any member of GE.

The shape of GE’s territory can be described as a large backwards “L.” The family occupies much of the front portion of the park, and has been spotted vocalizing and feeding in trees that are no fewer than 20 meters from the restaurant. When in the left front area of the park, GE usually moves no further back than the small lagoon, however they have been spotted past this on occasion, in a small ficus tree grove along the park’s left hand fence line. The family crosses the main road toward the housing complex using several familiar routes, the most common being the palm trees directly across from the guesthouse. The above mentioned area I consider the bottom of the “L,” and the side would be where the group was most commonly found, along Avenida flor de Azahar. In the time I spent with, GE I would say that 7 out of 10 times they could be found somewhere along this stretch of their territory, moving and feeding leisurely just outside or along the right hand fence line of the park. The family would generally go no further than the restrooms located just before the soccer field, but loved to frolic behind them in low lying trees. Here Vicente, Pedro, and Denito would commonly engage in a frisky game of tag, where Denito could safely explore, knowing that the ground was located only a short meter below him.

Fortunately, for a beginner like myself in the field of primate behavior, this charming little family was quite distinct in personality. While initially it was difficult to keep all four members in my line of sight I eventually recognized each individual based on their interactions, size, and personality. Because all the members are so gray, initially telling the male and female apart may be difficult especially if Denito is no longer piggybacking on ol’ dad. One feature that helped me to identify Vicente regularly was a small pink bald spot on the left side of his muzzle just above his nostrils. This may have been a transitory indicator and was likely a battle scar that has faded away now. Otherwise, Vicente is redder along his stomach and legs than any other member, and also has the subtle “mane” that distinguishes males of the species. Elena and Pedro don dark “masks” around their eyes and prominent light gray, almost white markings around these which enhance their cheeks and the area above their noses (Pedro’s is more distinct and lighter…for now).

Fearless Elena

Just hanging out, Elena (below) and Pedro (above)

Elena is the most outgoing and fearless of the group, and would often times come as close as one meter from me while feeding. The indifference she shows while being in the midst of a human presence has led Kim to believe that she may be the offspring of a previously habituated group that other titi assistants have worked with in the past (hopefully we can determine her family tree with genetic samples that have been collected). Elena was also distinct as she, more than any other member of the family, was constantly feeding. This was presumably because she was not only nourishing herself during the autumn of 2010, but also Denito. Pedro was the second most habituated monkey of the group, and unlike Elena who seemed to take no interest in me, he was constantly torn between feelings of curiosity and fear. Usually curiosity won out, and Pedro would come as close to me as his mother, and would stare, cocking his head curiously to the side like a dog. During the time I followed GE, Vicente was the most reserved of the group and kept the greatest distance from the observer. I assume this stems from his protective instincts during a time in which infant Denito was most vulnerable, and relied mostly upon Vicente for transportation and protection. As far as movement and proximity, Elena often decides when the group will move on and leads the way. She can sometimes be found alone several trees away from the group, but stays nearby. In contrast, Vicente takes up the rear of the group and is very cautious, checking for anything unusual before he moves from a familiar tree onto an open path.

While this group likely is confronted by human presence more on a daily basis than any other group in the park I found it difficult at first to view them regularly and at a close proximity. While it seems counter intuitive, I believe it may be more difficult to gain the trust of this group based on the fact that they are constantly bombarded by noisy groups of school children and men with weed whackers on a daily basis. I believe GE has developed an interesting strategy to cope with living in the area most frequented by humans, which has thus far served them well. Generally GE when traveling long distances or taking part in any activities that leave them vulnerable (play, grooming, etc.) within their territory, spend much time both along the fence lines or just outside of the park boundaries. They also seem to spend much of their time in trees that are taller than those in the back area, which is composed of secondary growth forest.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working with GE
-Groups of school children that pass through the park almost daily at 10am and 4pm are almost always a good way to lose sight of the group, so be extra vigilant during these times!

-Park staff can also sometimes cause the group to spook and run when they otherwise wouldn’t; One extremely memorable incident occurred when two men were hacking down an stump within 10 meters of the family with a chain saw…not conducive to observing the group behave naturally

-Taller trees which provide a safe haven from visitors, at the front of the park prevent one from getting
as close and personal to GE, as you might be able to with groups in the back of the park

Some of the park's spectacular flora

-Located in the beautifully landscaped area of Yvaga Guazu, GE’s territory is filled with constantly blooming flowers and a diverse variety of flora

-GE’s territory is very open, so there is no underbrush to crawl through, and no paths to cut
-This makes following the group exceptionally easy and losing them once you find them next to impossible

-GE is the only group we study at the front of the park, so confusing these guys with other groups is impossible, that’s a big plus when you’re just starting out!

Just another lazy day at Yvaga Guazu

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