Monday, April 25, 2011

Breeding Season 2011

Our 2011 breeding season kicked off in typical fashion with the welcoming of new field assistants and departing of old ones. A former field assistant asked on her Facebook status relatively recently whether or not goodbyes ever get easier. My response “NEVER!” While the norm for those of us involved in field work or travel generally, I’ve never found it easy. It's interesting how we bond with fellow field workers even after a short period of time; often developing a closer relationship than with those we’ve known for years. Perhaps attributed to the strangers in a strange land effect; sharing of odd discomforts (pinhead sized ticks in unwelcomed places, countless mosquito bites, tummy bugs, etc.)? Whatever the cause something funny, as unusual, happens to us in these circumstances.

This season we said goodbye to Sharon Schillewaert, a 6 month veteran of the project. I am grateful and we are all fortunate to have had her with us the first 10 days or so of the field season. She was invaluable in helping me train the new crew and also pitched in to help them navigate the metropolis of Santa Cruz. We wish her well on her new adventure, for she departed for Spain to work on a bird project just a week after leaving Bolivia. She certainly has a passion for field work. Many thanks! You’re certainly missed.

Sharon was replaced by 2 highly competent and motivated field biologists, Meagan (Meg) Selvig and Kimberly (Kimber) Banta. They are still in Bolivia and working hard on the project. In addition to the normal routine, they have taken aboard many extras like creating a titi monkey education sheet for the park guides at Yvaga Guazu, working on independent research project on titi sleeping sites, creating a botanical guide and surveying our new field site, Porongo (more on this in an upcoming blog).

Yuvinka Gareca, a well-respected Bolivian entomologist and dear friend, resumed her position as project manager. She is invaluable in helping and guiding me on the logistics of the project (e.g. permits, visas, transportation) and in organizing the “extras” (botanical training for the field assistants, Spanish lessons, etc.).  Thank you, Yuvy. It’s wonderful to have you back!

The field work, at least my stint of it, progressed slowly. Orientation to the 2 field sites went well but that was immediately followed by a cold, rainy spell which delayed training for nearly a week. Field work was once again delayed by Carnaval. Carnaval is the festival that takes place the eight days preceding Ash Wednesday. While generally a religious festival in the highlands it is a huge street party in Santa Cruz where the spraying of paint is one of the main features. For me the most exciting thing about Carnaval is the gathering of costumes. This year, in order to avoid the body painting, I opted to only participate in our Carnaval parrillada. While a lively and exciting event it does little to advance field work. Most normal operations shut down and transportation is difficult if not impossible to find (taxi drivers are drunk or hung over from the night before). We survived Carnaval, however, and the next few weeks proved fruitful. Meg and Kimber took up regular follows of their assigned titi groups, GE and G2, and I moved ahead with playback experiments.

Overall my visit was a success and my dedicated crew have stayed on to run things in my absence. Kimber and Meg's stay in Bolivia is sadly coming to an end soon. I'm sure they'll fill us in on monkey business before they leave though.

Here are some of the non-monkey highlights of my trip:

Our first day in the field
Sharon preparing for Carnaval
Post shopping celebration

Steffen and Yuvy enjoying our Carnaval Parrillada
Daniel at his best
Sushi preparation for Oscar night