Primate Diaries- Days 34-36

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an account of my experiences with the Macaca Nemestrina Project in Perak, Malaysia. Since, I don’t have great internet connection, each blog post will be an account of 3 days. I will try to explain biology jargon and/or provide links for them. But I’m pressed for time as internet is precious and I use Starbucks’ wifi (shoutout to Starbucks for all the caffeine). Excuse the atrocious spelling and grammar. I’m using a tablet and I miss MS Word pointing out my errors. Photos are more difficult to upload but I’ll figure out a way to do it later, and hope that my words are enough to paint a picture. Please read the previous posts for context. Feedback and questions are appreciated. Curiosity drives us. It drove me to this adventure.


17th Feb’2017 – The lull

Michele and I had the morning shift. Only on the way there did we realise that it had rained last night. The sky still looked overcast. And it took us a while of me fumbling around with directions and almost walking into rocks till we got there. We could hear sounds. But when we got closer we realised they were from Long-tails. But I also heard the haunting hoots and not the trill of the long tails. Another glance and there were Duskies. Adorable as ever but not ideal when your prize is AMY. But then, I saw Norbert (The Alpha) in the trees. He was high up for once. Some juveniles started coming into view here and there. It appeared that all the primates that were not apes (When will I finally see a Gibbon, not just hear them in the distance?) had decided to reconvene during the night. But once you can see a few pig-tails, your eyes automatically pick out more. PLus there were getting louder. A storm was brewing.

The males were barking. Norbert was being joined by other males. They were walking menacingly around each other. There were 4 large males. “Jisuaf has to be one of them” I said. The females grooming nearby just moved a bit and continued grooming. Phoenix- not being big enough but still a lover of fights in general decided that he should stop scratching himself while getting groomed by Biru and stand up to bark excitedly. The long-tails were shrieking and the silence of the morning was broken by this ruckus for about 6 minutes and then, everything went back to normal as if it had never happened. The long tails climbed down. The Duskies weren’t around anymore. It was us, anxious to see where AMY would go and hoping we don’t lose them, and AMY, who knows what they think or if they do. Who makes their decisons? Well it is probably not Norbert, something we knew and guessed considering his grunts don’t do sh*t. Although it will be interesting to compare his ‘leadership’ style with that of Voldemort’s. Michele was supposed to shadow him for the complete shift while I stuck with the group. Norbert, unlike the other males is less likely to run off into the sunset leaving you stranded and lost in the forest.

Actually, that plan was easy on paper. Norbert, normally easy to see as he prefers walking on the grund (not a lot of trees can support his massive form). But today he was on the trees. A single tree. Picking spines out of his arm, scartching his inner thigh and “SLEEPING!” Again?” as Michele explained. They had hardly moved from the sleeping site and we couldn’t do scans because all of AMY was in the trees. High up for some reason we couldn’t possibly fathom. Just when you think you’ve figured them out, they do something that makes you question everything. Well, I guessed it might be because the sun still wasn’t out, though it was 9 am already. There was a slight breeze and we eased up. It was dull compared to yesterday’s crazy adventures and you know what? That is completely fine. We barely moved and when we did, it was at a leisurely pace. The only individuals who was foraging on the ground was obviously Emma.

It was 10:45 when they finally went into the plantation. Jisuaf was having his turn with the swelling females. The sun was finally gracing us with its presence but the clouds weren’t relenting yet. I finally did some scans in the plantation. There were planatation workers in the distance who could be heard but AMY had had a lot of catching up to do. Norbert stared into the distance and Michele pointed out that he did look a silly, with his mouth agape. Mimi had told us that was her first impression of him although I think and pointed out that she was biased because he replaced her bae and then-alpha Vince. We were in the plantation for a surprisingly long time. Long enough for Anna to come and take over at 1pm and thankfully avoiding the hassle of sending and communicating co-ordinates in the forest. It was an easy day. I predict some level of weirdness tomorrow.


18th February 2017: I hear voices

Anna was doing a 12-hour shift again. I accompanied her in the morning, scaling a somewhat high hill near the stream, to get to the sleeping site that Anna said was “quite close” but I was defintely winded by the time we finally got there which makes me question how my body is still not used to all this climbing despite me having been here a little over a month while Anna flits around like a butterfly. I should eat more papaya and dragon fruit, she loves those. Maybe they’re the secret? Anyway, we finally sat down. Norbert was standing on the only tree suitable to sit on so we milled about trying to see the others till he moved. Anna had big plans about all the individuals she wanted to do focals on. We talked about AMY, their daily dramas, possible pregnancies and data collection for her project. AMY was in no mood to move anytime soon so Anna decided to go search for Febe, an easy target despite the difficult terrain, to do a focal on. I munched an apple while a juvenile watched and I threw away the core discreetly (We don’t want the monkeys getting anything we throw away, making them associate us with food). in a while, I realised that it had started growing quiet though I could still hear females.

Not wanting to repeat yet another separation, I decided to follow the sound. It was Pamkin, she was walking on trees, down the hill. I followed her closely. I could see Anakin and Phoenix and hear calls from Norbert. The weird sound he and Oliver can make acording to Anna. It sounds something like “trr-trr-trr- ka-ka-ka” although it comes from deep inside their throats or their bellies. It is possibly a call to regroup and is fascinating to hear and even see, though the later is a rarer thing. The sound was being repeated more often than I’m used to and I assumed it was because this area is confusing, even for them. Too many trees, too vines intertwined and a stream cutting across the landscape. Ugghh, the stream, how could I forget. I only realised it’s significance when I was stood on the edge of a cliff with a straight drop of around 10-15 feet leading to the stream. Of course, Pamkin had crossed over using the large trees and branches as bridges.

I knew this area though and so I went to the place where I could climb down. It was difficult but more convenient than climbing up again to go using another route. I climbed down and now I could hear the sounds of thelpha (or Beta) again. I followed it. But I also heard a lost call from a female and this sound again. So I crossed the stream, appreciating the little waterfall along the way and some epineustons gliding about on the surface of the water where it had formed pools. I climbed up the other hill but all I could hear were a few sounds, it didn’t seem like the whole group was here. And then I heard it. The unmistakable short and clipped “huh-huh-huh”. The female copulatory call. The females make this sound after they have been mounted (and /or penetrated) by a male. My moment of doubt passed and I went forth, through some fallen trees and over some gigantic boulders. I had climbed up when I realised I had heard no juveniles at all. And they are difficult to silencewhen you are close enough to hear them. Had it happened again? Second time in three day? I was separated. WHo were these sounds from. Was it them again….VOLDEMORT.

I didn’t have to wait too long before I heard it again, the copulatory call and I took ut my binocs to see two individuals in the ditance on a tree. The female was grroming a smallish male. SHe got up to present to him. Definitely Pamkin’s butt. Then I remembered Anna saying something about a female in VOLDEMORT with a similar butt. “Please don’t be them” I pleaded to no one in particular. There was movement above me. Heavy movemnet, the one that can’t be made by squirrels, no matter how big. It was a male pig-tail. As big as Norbert. “DO NOT BE Voldemort” was all I could hope. It wasn’t. It was Jisuaf. Which wasn’t doing anything to assuage my fears. He does his own thing. He probably roams and mingles with individuals from both AMY and VOLDEMORT. But then, I saw Mina and another male who might have been Anakin. Wait, can Jisuaf make the “Alpha/Beta sound too?”. Is that why I got confused. I could hear more sounds, from the other side of the stream though on a different hill. I spent some time glaring at the individuals till they moved and my GPS found my location. I saw some of them start to move and so did I.

After finding any clear space to move amongst the trees, realising clear spaces are usually filled with spider webs, running nimbly on a log to cross the stream, and climbing the other hill I spotted Anna and the others. She had probably not even noticed I was gone for close to 40 minutes. I sat there to recover from my small adventure and watched AMY closely. They started to move in a while though they didn’t seem to want to go to the plantation anytime soon. It was a splendid day to take some pictures. We were quite high up. The sun was not too painful. Not too many annoying flies or mosquitos and I only had one stare-down with Anakin. Pippi chased Phoenix which made Anna and me very happy and Norbert lunged at him too. But Norbert was being uncharacteristic today. He had scared some long-tails who were hanging out and scared off all surrounding pig-tails by puckering and lunging at who knows-what, disrupting Anna’s focal who was now out of sight.

In a while though, AMYmoved to a location they all seemed to like. Emma was foraging. Pie and Lori were grooming each other, looking adorable as ever. Scarlet was grroming Schatz and Emily grooming Febe while Felicia and Reggie played with her baby. Pippi was tgrroming Oliver and presenting to him but he showed no interest as her swell’s gone. Norbert was layng in the sun, with his arms flayed out and the sun on his chest as he lay on his back, groomed by Biru. She presented. He got up almost unwillingly to inspect her swell and then mount her. ANd then, like a flash, he was as if posessed. Everyone dispersed and he ran around, chasing something neither Anna nor I could see. Even Oliver had run away. After a while I realised I must move again as Norbert had destroyed the tranquil moment and AMY was finally making a move in the direction of the planatation. Anna found Jane, whose swell is starting to grow, and hoped Norbert wouldn’t interrupt the focal this thime. Anna and I were briefly separated but I knew where AMY was heading and I waited for Michele to come take over. I met Anna, going into the plantation, as I was too, followed closely by Franzi.

I got home and showered. Thought I should probably do some other forms of exercise to stay fit and increase my resistance. Laughed at the sheer impossibility of that happening anytime soon while I read a book with Mieza curled up on my lap. One day, I’ll do more than 10 minutes of Yoga and the occasional plank. NOT TODAY
19th Feb’ 2017- Opportunites

Michele and I got to the plantation in the afternoon and met AMY as they were coming out of the forest accompanied by Anna. Anna was the most excited I’ve seen her (She’s a stoic one-Anna) as she informed us that she had seen a Gibbon (probably ‘Agile’) and a python (thanks to the monkeys’ excitement) in the forest and a wild cat in the plantation. All I had done that morning was try to swat flies away, two of whom mated on my sticky-with-humidity-hand.

Anna really hoped to find Putih to do a focal on her in the early afternoon time slot [time slots are divided into 4 so as to remove any confounding effect of time as such- an individual might just naturally act differently at different times and we wouldn’t detect it otherwise]. I asked if she could watch and assess while I did another focal. I chose Febe. She is pretty chill with us watching her and I think it went well. And still couldn’t find Putih so she went on to the next individual on the last, the elusive juvenile Dani.
AMY decided to start going in at around 3 pm after an hour and a half of feeding at the plantation. They climbed up the hill at Checkpoint 2 and we followed them. Franzi, usually calm and indifferent about everyone was being protective of the swelling Biru and chasing other suitors away. This while she was trying to solicit as many copulations with the contenders as possible. Finally, it seemed that after a while Franzi lost patience, or got intimidated when Norbert came, and eased up. We went through a whole patch of Bertums, spines eveerywhere till we reached a clearing. This was a good rest stop and would boast great views if it weren’t for the thick growth of Bertum and Rattan. This gave us time to check for leeches and tend to any thorns or spines that could be removed and source of blood on body parts if there happened to be any.

Soon we reached a place I recognised. This was where Vino and I had had our adventure on the cliff edge after wich we first encountered a tiny portion of the swamp at Checkpoint 1. So luckily, I knew the pitfalls of taking certain routes (as in literally, I know where we could fall and be grieviously injured). Plus, it’s usually a bad sign when ALL of the macaques take to the trees. So we waited, I’d say with bated breath but breathing time is hard to come by when you are busy following AMY up a hill so I’d say we breathed well while we could and our hearts stopped racing a bit. And then, they climbed down. I could hear the stream. I knew this place too. This is where I momentarily got lost yesterday. Tim, one of the males who now has a wound on his nose looked at us while we climbed carefully. The soil was loose but climbing onto this other hill I knew the best route to take althought it still wasn’t the nicest route to take.

Soon, they were on the hill easily (again….RELATIVELY easily) approached from Checkpoint 1 and moved to a place quite close to where Anna and I had found them yesterday morning. It was 6:45 and the sun was still shining making us anxious as to when AMY will go to sleep. BUt they started going up the trees soon enough. The pre-sleep ritual of female hoots, juvenile “ooh’s and male grunts had begun filling the air with yet another sound apart from the crickets. We filled in the tablet and left.


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