Thursday, July 28, 2011

G2: A Family Living in a not-so-gorgeous Territory

Vanessito and Isabel in one of their favorite "caves" of chichapi and aguai, where they loved to eat the berry-like fruits of these plants.

Isabel coming down really close to check me out. My camera wasn't zoomed in at all for this picture. Probably the closest she ever came to me.

Sol enjoying a mandarin on my last day watching them. Meagan and I had wondered if they ate the citrus fruit, because we had never seen it until literally my last moments of watching G2.

Curious little Luna. Picture courtesy of Daniel Kr. Thanks!

I had the opportunity to watch G2 during my time in Santa Cruz and immediately fell in love with this group. My first day watching them, I was getting familiar with my new territory, part of which sits on the organic dump for the botanical garden in the front of the park. Needless to say it’s not the prettiest patch of forest. In G2’s territory, I quickly became familiar with climbing over piles of plant and tree clippings, cutting trails, and keeping an eye out for ticks. During my time with G2, I snagged a nest of ticks on 3 different occasions (literally a ball of ticks that brushes off a leaf and quickly spreads into hundreds of tiny-blood-sucking-specks climbing up your pant leg), and came home with at least a few hitchhikers on a regular basis. Needless to say I got very good at spotting tiny ticks among my many freckles and moles J Now, I don’t want to scare prospective volunteers: it wasn’t that bad, and the ticks in South America don’t carry lime disease… or at least that’s what I hear. Plus, you are rewarded with the opportunity to watch the beautiful, friendly, affectionate family of G2.

While looking for Vanessito and his new mate, Isabel, on my first day, I was only looking for two monkeys. However, after watching Vanessito and Isabel hanging out and tail twining for a bit, two young titi monkeys came to join them. I was thoroughly confused at the time, but after discussion with Kim, we came to the conclusion that Vanessito probably adopted these offspring when he joined up with Isabel. Over the next few months, the group was so fun to watch. Most of the time, they hung out in “twos” with Vanessito and Isabel staying close, followed by Sol and Luna. This led me to naming the offspring Sol and Luna, meaning “sun” and “moon” in Spanish. Not only are the sun and moon important to the native cultures of South America, but also wherever Sol went, Luna usually followed, just like the moonrise follows the sunset.

Vanessito, the male of the group, is the easiest to identify of the group. He is unmistakable, and in my opinion, the most handsome male in the park. His whole body is dark red, except for very white ears and a light tail base. His tail is also dark and has a distinct point at the end. He’s quite the lover and guarder, always staying close to Isabel and showering her and the offspring with affection quite often.

Isabel, the matriarch of the family, is a beautiful, confident, and sassy female. She’s quite red for a female, but appears more gray next to the dark and handsome Vanessito. She has pronounced black eyebrow markings, and her tail comes to a point at the end. She would readily join Vanessito to defend their territory and was not hesitant to approach other groups in “calling battles.” The funniest interactions between Isabel and Vanessito were when Vanessito would lie down next to her wanting to be groomed. She would look at him, decide that she’d rather be groomed instead, and lie down next to him asking for a groom. Vanessito would respond to her request, groom her, and then try again to be groomed. However, Isabel would usually get her way, being groomed several times in a row, rarely returning the favor.

Sol, the older of the two offspring is a female subadult. She is about the same size as Isabel, but more gray. Her most defining features are her big, downward-slanting, “sad-looking” eyes. Because of her age, she is quite independent but has not left her family group yet. However, after watching her behavior with Vanessito, it was clear that she is definitely reaching adulthood and will probably be leaving the group within the next year. Because Sol is reaching sexual maturity and Vanessito is most likely not her biological father, I saw some sexual tension between the two during this breeding season. On a few different occasions I observed Vanessito sniffing her genital region (an affiliative behavior). Gross, I know, especially because Sol is Vanessito’s step-daughter, but it was a very interesting dynamic to watch. Because of the attention that Vanessito was giving to Sol, she became a threat to Isabel, and I saw a few fights between mother and daughter. This makes me think that Sol will be kicked out of the group soon.

Luna is also a female, the youngest of the group, and was probably born in the fall of 2009, making her a juvenile. She is the grayest of the group, and her coat is a little more “spikey” than the others. She has a small, cute face with close-set-eyes and pronounced eyebrow markings like her mother, giving her the appearance that her eyes slant upwards slightly. She is very friendly and curious, coming very close to say “hi” to me sometimes.

In my final days of watching G2, I finally saw some mating between Vanessito and Isabel. This was so exciting after months of watching their family drama unfold. I can’t wait to hear of how their family unit develops this coming fall (baby season).