Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Day in the LIfe (Of a Titi Monkey Field Assistant)

5:00am            I awake feeling grogy and tired. First I put on my field cloths, they smell from the day before and they have little bits of plant stuck on them and are sticky from my mosquito repellant.
                        Next I pack my day bag: Binoculars-check,   Temperature gauge-check, Mosquito repellant-check, Water bottle? I can´t remember where I put it-hopefully it´s in the kitchen, Hat and bandanna-check,  Food for the day- will make now.

5:15am            I head to the kitchen where the other field assistant (Kate) is eating happily. She is a morning person and thus has already packed her bag (lunch included) and is checking her E-mail already. I make my oatmeal and scrounge for something to eat for lunch. As I forgot to go shopping yesterday my options are bleak- cold oatmeal or a bun with marmalade. I opt for the latter and grab an apple as well- the same apple that has come and gone with me to the field for 3 days- I am trying to be healthy but failing miserably.

5:45am            We meet Pepe our morning taxi driver and start the half hour journey to the field site. Along the way there are many quick pulses, held breaths and long sighs- but we always arrive at the field safe and sound, albeit, many near death experiences later. Driving in Santa Cruz is an experiment in social behavior (of humans) where there are no lights, stop signs or laws. Add this to the fact that very few cars have working seatbelts and it is akin to social suicide to wear one.

6:30am            We are at the field, Yvaga Guazu, have signed in and are in our respective territories (each field assistant is assigned a territory and a family of Titi monkeys to work with-sometimes 2 groups). I have been looking for my monkeys for about 15 minutes at this point. I do this by treading lightly, and stopping frequently to listen to the rustle of canopy which would indicate movement. I have gotten to the point where I can hear a single leaf falling from a distance of 10 meters- not even exaggerating. If it is windy or raining this becomes extremely difficult and it´s more likely you will find them based on knowledge of sleeping trees, food trees, movement patterns or just plain luck.

7:41am            I have just found my secretive monkeys. Yes it has taken me over an hour, sometimes this happens as my territory is big and they are extremely quite. It is also windy which makes their movement inaudible. As I am watching one of the babies a short distance away, a large steaming turd lands on my data sheet. Actually it was a tiny titi turd, but the point is every day they try to pee or defecate on me. But the joke is on them because I need to collect fecal samples, they have just made my job much easier. I put the sample into a small container which I will add alcohol to later.

8:50am            I have been with my titi family for over an hour taking as much data as I can. I have mostly witnessed resting and feeding (they are feeing on vine flowers and little green fruits). The babies have been very inquisitive of me, tilting their heads from side to side while starring. Sometimes they come very close and watch me, and then they run away like giggling school children. I also have some data on calling. I have noticed that they call a few times in the mornings so far, the male and female mostly, but the sub-adults and babies chime in from time to time as well. Sometimes they are all in one tree but often the sub-adults are in a tree over and the babies take this time to be rambunctious and run around wildly.

9:15am            I have just lost the group as they headed into an area that I cannot get through. I make a mental note to get the machete tomorrow to clear some more areas so I can follow them and also see them better. I wait where I am but still nothing, so I try to approach to where I think they have gotten from a different path. Along my way I see a crazy site-traumatizing actually. I see about 100 centipedes all together in one ball and moving as if they were one entity- I wish I had a camera with me.

9:45am            Still nothing, but I have discovered that a 3 toed sloth is living in a tree that I always sit under while writing my notes. I have named her Beatrice and she is fun to watch- I secretly wish I were making notes on her as she could never evade me.

10:00am           I meet up with Kate to eat my cold bun and watch enviously as she eats her Oreo cookies. We collect some bugs- grasshoppers and stick bugs mostly- to give to the baby squirrel monkey that is a recent addition to the rescue sanctuary at the fringe of the field site. We have named him Snatch Adams- Snatch on account of his bug catching abilities and Adams on account of the movie.

11:00am          I have been wandering around aimlessly for about a half hour, again looking for my monkeys. I hear the rustling of leaves and follow the sounds for quite a while. When I am finally able to see the monkeys I see that they are not in fact monkeys, but squirrels- I have been following a family of squirrels-great.

11:30am          I finally find my monkeys again, pure luck I believe, for I bent down to tie my shoe and looked up and there they were above me, making not a peep but creeping along the vines hoping not be seen. I feel somewhat like a stalker but they will get used to me soon enough. My mind wanders and I think about new names for them. Sneaky- because they always evade me, Cheeky- because they think it´s funny to defecate on me, and leaky- well that one speaks for itself I think.

12:30am            I have been watching them for an hour or so, this time they are locomoting quite a lot, and I do my best to stay with them while not making them think I am stalking them. I stay back and then follow at a safe distance. Finally they settle in a favorite area where they can rest and feed. I see the male catch an insect-not quite sure what it is-but it had long legs- it is probably a type of grasshopper. I have a great view and see him crunch down hard. He chokes twice and regurgitates the leg-the second time chewing more carefully.

1:00pm            Kate and I are on a micro on our way back to the house. It is very hot and we are standing with our heads bent at unnatural angles; the micros are not made for anyone with a stature over 5ft. We are packed in like sardines and I am feeling self conscious of my stinking and dirty field cloths and am pretty sure I have a bug in my hair. Usually we begin by standing but we are scalpers and as soon as anyone remotely looks like they are going to get off we rush over to steal their seat. We take two micros to get back which takes about 40 mins, and then we walk the last 10 mins. If we are feeling especially hot, wet or irritable we will take a taxi, but the cost is about 10 times more.

4:00pm            We awake bleary eyed and content after a nice long nap. We had arrived home, showered and passed out, which is a usual occurrence. Now we are lying by the pool enjoying the sun.

5:30pm            We just arrived back to the house from the Hipermaxi, which is the local supermarket. We have bough many things exclaiming that it was more expensive than last time- 120 Bolivianos- how could we have spent this much? But then we remember that 120 Bs is only $23 USD, and really three full bags of groceries including a bottle of wine, that’s not bad at all.

6:00pm            We put in some computer time, where we are making a plant database with photos and descriptions of plants eaten and used in other ways by the titis. We are also looking at all of the google docs and how to put in our data collection properly (which we will begin shortly) but we are allowed some time to practice so the data will be usable.

7:00pm            I contemplate riding the stationary bike but opt instead to watch a film, of which there are many. We watch ¨The Help¨, which is very good. It catalyzes a long political discussion, also,of which there are many.

9:00pm            We head to our room to read and chill out before dozing off. We will wake again at 5am and repeat the cycle for 5 days before the weekend of debauchery begins. Actually there is little debauchery but a lot of nice communal dinners, dancing, and plaza wandering.