Lilian, who is from Columbia, is on BCI this summer working with a team of four people that is studying female spider monkeys. They spend their days following the monkeys and recording their behaviors. They split each day into two shifts so that they everyone gets a break. Each evening they ‘put the monkeys to sleep’ and then came back to the station for dinner. When she first said that, we thought she meant something very different! Lily had to explain to us that monkey troops sleep in different places every night and that she and her team have to find out where the monkeys settle in and go to sleep so that the team knows where to find the monkeys in the morning!
Studying the behaviors of monkeys is a tough job! As Lilian put it, “the monkeys are bad – they don’t stay on the trails! So we have to chase them through the forest.” The people who study monkeys in this way have to dress with long pants, long-sleeve shirts, boots, scarves to cover their hair and plenty of insect repellant. Each day they select one of the 9 female monkeys they are studying to follow for 12 whole hours! Every three minutes a timer goes off and one of the pair writes down what the monkey is doing at that moment. The other person gathers the animal waste to test it for the nutrients the monkey is taking in.
The team has gotten to see members of the only troop of spider monkeys on BCI born, die, and live together for many months. One reason people study primates is to better understand human evolution since we are closely related.
Before coming to BCI, Lilian did some other research on some Capuchin monkeys in Columbia where the forest that the monkeys live in is very fragmented, or broken up by human development. She was interested in figuring out how the monkeys shared the spaces and resources. Lilian found that they had overlapping ranges in the shapes of different polygons that were separated by time. In other words, Lilian found that each troop of monkeys had a territory of a different shape (polygon). Some of the territories overlapped. But, in that case the two troops were never in the overlapping space at the same time.
Lilian, like Jesse with his ants (see separate post), knows that the best way to the forest or the monkeys in the forest, is to understand how they live and interact. When scientists figure that out, they can share that information with the people who live near or in the forest so that they can do more to make sure that the monkeys don’t lose their homes.