Primate Diaries: Days 40-42

Author’s Note: I am typing this in the last 15 minutes when my Starbucks wifi finally decided to work. Again, ignore the spelling and grammar. Please read the earlier blogs for context and google “Macaca Nemestrina Project”- you won’t regret it.

 Follow me on twitter- @mad_megs and instagram- meghamajoe

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23rd Feb’ 2017- Thursday: Sluggish

Got up this morning before time because of the thunder and lightning signalling yet another rainy morning. Luckily, AMY slept at the forest edge, quite close to the plantation last night. By the time we reached, we could barely hear them though, making Anna doubt whether they had moved further in. While the rain pattered down harder, we decided to stay under a tree and hope that AMY, being close to the plantation wouldn’t waste the opportunity to come out as soon as the rain lets up. And we were right. AMY had actually not even moved. Norbert, Jisuaf and Oliver were barking. The other males joined in the chorus and support-shakes while juveniles whimpered and whinnied.

The rain wasn’t too bad as when we were in the swamp though so the macaques were out by 8:15. While Anna looked for Brandi my tiny stalker, I witnessed and recorded Casimodo mounting Goldie. I walked around to check up on all individuals and fill any details of injury and/or sexual-swell. Norbert was again up to his antics of the past two day. Volatile and vocal. Defending Biru so hard while she tried to get away. He puckered, chased and lunged, scaring everyone else in the bargain. Goldie meanwhile still has some freedom. She presented to Oliver, Anakin and Phoenix too though the last one didn’t work out too well because Oliver saw Goldie present and growled before Phoenix could go to her to inspect her swell. Phoenix quickly slunk away.

Anna had been unsuccessful with Brandi because she flits about so fast but she finally got Charli while she had the chance and Brienne. Thanks to the rain, hardly anyone was walking on the ground. This makes it extremely hard too see and identify them. Plus the rain makes their fur look terrible and any extraordinary hair features like mohawks or spikes get flattened out. Even size is difficult to determine because of he flattened fur which then puffs up due to the post-rain humidity. I sat down near a newly formed stream and watched a male damselfly duel because they are beautiful to see. And then I spotted Emma. Of course she was the first one to come onto the ground to forage. She hardly ever eats but she forages a lot. So I followed her as she calmy crossed over the moat separating two sections of the plantations using a strategically fallen oil palm leaf as a bridge. The rest of AMY seemed to be heading there too so I decide to get my feet dirty and crossed over. This was quite far into the plantation for AMY, at least since I’ve been here. The plantation workers were around and their houses could be seen through the gap in the trees but the macaques seemed indifferent. In fact Norbert decided that this was the perefct moment to draw attention to himself and the group and go on a barking and chasing-Biru spree. The other males seemed excited too and joined in. Oliver, who was too busy getting groomed by Goldie while his eyelids drooped got up, did his bit from afar and went back to being groomed.

Anna was trying to do as many focals on the plantation as she possibly could. These pilot tests will help her perfect her experimental design and figure out any variables or confounds she might have missed out from her current design. While I was reminiscing about my pilot study phase during my Masters research I was dragged back to the present by harsh screaming. Phoenix the tormentor was at it again. It was a mother with her infant. Since I had just seen Putih and Chewbacca I guessed this was Febe. He was lunging and growling with passion while she started to slip down the palm leaf in order to avoid im but realised she would fall into the moat. She tried to hold her baby and climbed back up screaming so he stood down. She was just on the verge of fully regaining her balance when he lunged again. She, luckily has better reflexes than me and jumped just in time so as to land, though not very well, on another type of palm growing underneath. While she was busy grooming and pacifying the still traumatised infant, I decided to go closer. She saw me and didn’t screech. Definitely Febe. I stayed for a while. I needed to sit down to finish writing this in the tablet. We use codes- for each individual and every activity the perform as well as events that are characterised as affiliative, aggressive, sexual and food-related. While I was glancing up at her to make sure she was still there, she got up and turned. Wait this wasn’t Febe with her super red butt and mangy looking tail. But neither was it Putih or Chewbacca. And then I saw her head. So light brown. And her nipples- barely there. IT WAS EMILY, Emma’s daughter, the older of the juveniles who loves grooming Febe and her infant Fefe. Where was Febe when all this drama was happening anyway? Nowhere I could see. Her mothering technique is indeed very different from Putih and Chewbacca’s (considering my little thing with Chewbacca that day). It is probably this hands-off (and was so with Felecia too according to Anna) because she has a better suport system while I think Chewbacca doesn’t really have anyone as a constant. Or Febe is just a chill mom like her possible mother Emma the forager, with her crazy confidence.

The rain had left and the plantation was now like a sunless, stuffy sauna. It was 12 and AMY seemed like they had no plans to go in though they had returned from the far end of the plantation visit and were now at the forest edge. Yet again, Anna and I had not had a chance for me to go through all the juveniles and positively identify all of them with her. It is still difficut for me to identify many of them and their constant movement and today’s post-rain make-over wasn’t helping. Well, 12:35, after around 4 hrs and 15 minutes of plantation time, there were making a move. Still mostly hanging about in the forest bordering the plantation but technically still the forest. Oliver seemed to be mounting Biru while Norbert, probably tired of being agressive had gone to sleep or to finally eat. I stood outside so Michele could find us and handed her the tablet. I was waiting for Anna for some tme before she came out and told me that she had suddenly lost them and was helping Michele find them.

We got back, showered and finally went and hauled a new cylinder of cooking gas before the First-world problem hit when we realised we weren’t really sure how to properly fix the nozzle. After a few tries where we could her the gas hissing, we got it right. After zero explosions, warm food and some good conversation we decided to stop procrastinating and be productive while dark clouds loomed and rolled past, the skies thundered and droplets fell. I hope Anna has been more productive than I because all I have done is wait for youtube videos to load while I started this blog post around 3 and half hours ago and tried to get Ed Sheeran’s “shape of you” whose words I don’t even know, out of my head.

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24th Feb’ 2017- Where are you now?

Michele and I wre pretty relaxed because AMY with their weird past 2 days of laziness had again slept at the edge of the plantation. Other than the fact that we had startled a huge wild pig with the bike, who felt it appropriate to jump in leaps and bounds to run back into the forest reaklly close to us, we were good. When we got to the sleeping site, it was still cloudy and dark but though thunder loomed, it didn’t seem like it was going to rain. We heard some juveniles and some copulatory calls assuring us that AMY was there. We waited for a while and then realised that we could also hear long-tails around who also seemed hesitant to go into the plantation. We thought maybe because it WAS going to rain after all. So we stayed there but when they still didn’t seem to come out we had to consider the possibility that they were going to move further into the forest. After much deliberation because I thought that seemed like a silly thing for AMY to do when they are infact so close to the plantation and then realising AMY probably doesn’t care what the non-silly thing is. And then we realised how very silent our immediate surroundings had become. “They’re gone already”, we both whispered. Great. At this point, this game is starting to make sense. I see patterns, guess better where they might be and am better at detecting small motions and sounds. Plus, at this point, I was not too worried because I was so sure we had heard them only 5 minutes ago.

Michele initially lead the way because she was sure she could hear something but everywhere we spotted something we were sure sounded like AMY turned out to be long-tails. But then the unmistakable “TRRR-TRRRR-TRRRR- unckh-unckh-unckh” sound of the high-ranking male would reach our ears and we would rush in the direction of the sound as quickly as one can when moving in a forest and over slippery boulders now wet from the rain. We saw that the hill at checkpoint two had a clearing and spotted duskies and long-tails. ANd then I saw her…. a female with her infant. She looked at me and puckered and then climbed off the tree and went in the direction I said we ought to go in even though I had lost sight of her. Again, as we got closer, we heard copulatory calls. I was really not sure this time though. How could they have moved this fast? I even doubted whether what I saw was in my imagination (Michele was away from me and couldn’t see it). So I climbed up the hill, not at Anna’s pace because lets be fair- only she can do that. But I got to a point where I could see a larger distance. Nothing…no movement, no sound. I asked Michele to do the honours and declare “AMY LOST” on the GPS. Then, because I still believed AMY was still close enough to the plantation to go there, I suggested we check out the plantation and then go back to the sleeping site and decide from there.

They weren’t in the plantation or the sleeping site but we heard the damn copulatory call again. This time, from a different direction. But copulaions and mountings take place a little away from the group and sometimes the female and non-alpha male sneak out quite a distance away from the group. “Maybe that is it”. I texted Anna the news and decided that we would follow the sound, and the new juvenile humms till 10:15, then wait in the plantation for them till 11. Anna messaged saying that we could go back home and come back with her, in the afternoon so we could search for them together. While I was reading this I vocalised yet again. I am not great at mimicry and hardly ever get replied to when I make contact or lost calls but someone responded to my female lost call. It was from a distance but not too far up the hill. We pursued the sound. Michele said she could hear more juvenile sounds but nothing after a while. And whoever it was that had replied to me had probably realised my lost call wasn’t very convincing so had stopped answering. Or maybe they hadn’t been responding to me and had found whoeveer they were responding to. It was 10:10. “Shall we go down?” Michele asked. I said we can go up a little more till 10:15. She was ahead of me. Suddenly she stopped. I thought it was because she had reached a sharp edge of the rock. “I think it’s them. The juveniles I see are not puckering or running away” she exclaimed “Come quickly”. And she was right. I saw Norbert on a liana that was twisted soo it formed a sort of seat with a back rest and immediately made me think of the word’s “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier” (which I know is about suicide but it is amazing imagery for this context too). Biru was around so I guess Norbert was still guarding her aggressively. “We’re not crazy after all” michele said. I think she too had been thinking we were just hearing voices in our head. I had reception so i quickly messaged Anna. We were not going to let them go now that we had found them. They were pretty relaxed. They took us to an area with rocks that were smooth and covered in soft moss so we could sit on them and realise that we had an amazing view of them and the forest at the lower level. Emily happened to come by a wild-pandan fruit that Norbert had accidentally discrded and was too big to reach through rock crevices for. She afforded us a great view of the fruit and we watched the others to fill in the tablet and declare AMY ‘found’.

It was all good now, AMY just seemed to be taking it slow yet again after this morning’s scare. Jane, again was unsucessfully parading in front of every male including Norbert (I admire her courage and resilience) and getting no mounting action at all. Biru presented to Anakin who was wise enough to not mount her because Norbert was pretty close. He came running and Anakin moved quickly away. Norbert puckered at Biru and they went back to foraging together. If Norbert can’t or won’t mount Biru, the strategy is that no other male should either. I messaged the co-ordinates to Anna. I was sure that AMY was headed towards the plantation this time albeitat a super-sluggish pace. We moved a little and met Anna n the way and recounted our adventures. On the way back, we encountered a cobra slithering back into the forest, making this my second one.

After some hours of resting Michele and I grew sick of the terrible karaoke singing visitors at the hotel nearby that had confidently begun singing yet another song horribly, and decided to go see the really fancy houses I had seen when Anna and I went to replace our gas cylinder. We saw 2 pet pig-tailed macaques outside houses on leashes (a big threat to the species was it’s use as pets- earlier, they were mostly being trained to pick coconuts and even burgle houses). Anna was late. It turns out AMY had climbed all the way up to the top giving Anna a chance to see the sun set over the ocean from this great vantage point she keeps raving about. After silently watching a civet eat the left-overs of the cats’ food but not staying long enough for us to get a good picture, we decided that it was a day to shirk some cooking responsibility and go to the village resturaunt we frequent for all our mee-goreng and nasi-goreng needs.

Unfortunately, that and all the other resturaunts and small eateries were all closed on a FRIDAY night when there is at least some chance that the village sees some tourists that come to unwind at the beach and sing karaoke. After a walk to survey the eerily empty village and see a lot of shuttered eateries, we decided that we would have to cook after all. Anna told us that she too saw a Cobra in the plantation. Michele and I had one of our nightly debates. This time on whether Viruses are non-living or living and why that matters at all.

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25th Feb’2017, Saturday: Where ARE you going?

Although we were expecting AMY at the plantation when Michele and I took over the afternoon shift, the group had already started moving in and up the hill at Checkpoint 2.5. Anna had the good sense to know and warn us of the steepish climb with loose soil and Bertums eveerywhere. “Do you have a machete?” she ensured before she left. We had to climb a fair bit without stopping before we reached a sort of flat spot. It was difficult to see any individuals thanks to the many thickets of Bertum everywhere. Soon though, Michele decided that she would continue on her pilot studies and practice following and recording the behaviour of Franzi. Franzi is always cool and doesn’t intimidate or get intimidated. So she followed him while I stayed with the group, remaining somewhere with many a female and juvenile- always a safe place to be in.

In around half an hour though Michele said she had lost Franzi and could not find him. He does tend to wander off and might be good at quick getaways, we decided and I suggested Tim who was lingering near me as the next object of her focus. He’s always lurking about, hardly bothers with getting into fights, sleeps a lot and even tolerates and engages juveniles to play around and with him. He was just sitting idle before he decided to peel a fruit open with his teeth. We saw Jane approach him. She, though swelling is still having a difficult time getting males to mount her. We hoped for the most. Time might be the bottom of the barrel for her. She presented, he seemed least interested. And then he casually got up, touched her swell and mounted her. Jane seemed too eager and ran away to stand at distance and look at Tim before giving the “hugh-hugh-hugh” copulatory call. Michele doubts it was enough time to be counted as copulation though. Jane is relatively new at this after all.

We were climbing down now and reached a clearing where I finally sat down on a fallen tree trunk to observe the individuals at leisure. I adore these moments. Everyone seems to relax- no agenda (although we don’t know whether AMY does set agenda and plan, perse). Just them hanging about, juveniles moaning and humming for attention, grooming to strengthen and maintain bonds with males and females and catching some zzzzs. Biru, I noticed was no longer Norbert the alpha male’s bird in a gilded cage thanks to her swell having receeded. So she can more freely solicit mountings from lower ranking males. Goldie’s swell is growing and Norbert seemed to be following her closely though she still seems to be a free agent. She had mounted with Oliver just a moment ago (though Norbert wasn’t to be seen nearby) and was now obliging Norbert. It was successful mating by the looks of semen on her bottom. But there was also something else- Blood near her tail’s base- so probably not from the mating I contemplated. We were still moving. I could hear cars and see lorries driving past. So busy this road is, I thought and then I froze when I realised where we were headed.

“There’s still time, you guys can definitely turn back”, I prayed through gritted teeth. But they were definitely moving ahead. Michele was still somewhere at the back with Tim. “Hey”, I spoke through the walkie-talkie “you may need to stop following him soon. Guess where we are going- THE SWAMP!”. I whispered the last part through gritted teeth (read about ‘THE SWAMP, at Checkpoint 3). “Oh, ok cool”. Cool? Oh wait, Michele hadn’t had the opportunity to be acquainted with ‘The SWAMP’ like Anna, Mimi, Vino and I had become- though not voluntarily. I took a deep breath and followed Scarlet. Michele was right behind me with Tim. We had walked a fair bit and all seemed good. “I hope they stay at the edge and go into the plantation soon” I said. “Is this the ‘swamp’? It’s not that bad. Checkpoint 1 was bad” Michele said. Aww the innocence before you experience the swamp is precioud I thought. AMY had meanwhile been moving steadily in and we had reached areas that were characteristically swampish, complete with pneumatophores and water. Luckily, there were conveniently fallen trees that even the macaques were making use of.

The long tails too had come to hang out and I remembered that we were sitting where I had seen the pig-tail juveniles play with a juvenile long-tail. Of course, the scenery had definitely changed a bit. Thanks to the past few days of kinda intense rain, there was much more water everywhere. Michele suggested we get some strong sticks to gauge the depth of water before we step and also to provide balance. We found some non-spiny sticks and begun what was the first of many wadings (don’t know if that is a word or the right usage but bear with me) through ‘The Swamp’.

The Bertum had begun springing up along our journey and the pig-tails were becoming more difficult to see and follow because 1)too many bertums and spiny+non-spiny bushes 2) us having to keep diverting so as to avoid water and said, spiny+non-spiny bushes. STicks weren’t helping gauge depth because most times, the soft mud gives way under your weight and you sink deeper as a result, all while you figure out which stem nearby has the least amount of spines so you can hold it and pull yourself out. Soon enough, I had water in my boot and was getting worried I’d soon lose AMY or the way- though I knew I had the GPS at my disposal. We sat down the moment we could and I felt better after seeing most of AMY again. They seemed to be flitting towards the edge of the area, raising my hopes before crushing them by moving further into ‘The Swamp’. After this game of hide-and -seek made even more dificult by the long-tail juveniles making similar noises, we finally reached another clearing. As we sat to snack, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I jerked my head and caught Michele’s hand to caution her into stillness. “It’s a mouse-deer”, look”. It was tiny and for once seemed to not be rushing as soon as I caught a glimpse. That’s one good thing I thought. We soon also spotted a little scorpion on the bark of a tree I almost placed my hand on.

It was 6 pm already and I had long abandoned my hope that AMY would leave this place and go into the plantation and sleep somewhere- not-here. Alas, that wasn’t the case. After some vengeful hacking of Bertum and Rattan, a few mis-steps and a disagreement on the easiest way to get out, we finally got out.

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