Primate Diaries: Going, going, gone ( Days 69-71)

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 ccount 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 and hope that my words are enough to paint a picture.

If not- follow me on twitter @mad_megs or instagram-meghamajoe for some images and videos.

Please read the previous posts for context. Feedback and questions are appreciated. Curiosity drives us. It drove me to this adventure

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24th March, Friday: House arrest
I had only gone to sleep at around 1 am because Vino and I only needed to go look for VOLDEMORT at around 1:30. I still awoke at 6:40, Michele and Leo decided to take the Kembara because the sky was ominous with clouds, thunder and lightning. Anna awoke and tended to Vladmir’s fleas (we’ve decided to call our latest addition-the kitten Vladmir, Vlad for short. Michele, Vino and I started it as a joke but I have a feeling we are going to make it stick). He still won’t drink more than 1 ml of milk at a time. Anna also showed me how to consolidate the data we had collected. Lea and Anna were about to leave when it finally happened, The rain that we were all afraid of. The bad kind of rain, the one you couldn’t drive in. Surely, it was worse in the forest. Communicating this predicament to Michele and Leo was of course not really working.

Vino and I were definitely going to wait till the rain died down. Anna and Lea finally decided that the rain had receeded. The macaques were really high up on the hill. And then the final nail in the coffin- the bike that we had filled air in just the day before yesterday had a flat tyre again-probably means there’s a punture that needs to be fixed. And that is how it came to be that Vino and I got an unnecessary day off. I was babysitting Vladmir and fell asleep doing so (he sleeps a lot, luckily meows when he needs to use the ‘toilet’ so it isn’t too bad). It was 4:30 when I got up to take Vlad to the toilet and try and succceed in feeding him some milk. Michele and Leo weren’t back yet surprisingly which was weird. Nadine had just arrived when we received the message that Leo and Michele had fallen over twice with the bike and now it wasn’t really running for more than 10 metres. They were now walking the whole way back and were almost here. We helped Nadine unscrew and remove the flat tyre. Leo and Michele reached, with blood and bruises-mostly from leeches thankfully. We all then continued to try and get the rear wheel out. Guess what, it’s really simple when you have the right tools and KNOW what you are doing. Well, now we do know what to do-we just needed a final set of instruction peppered with a hint of condescention and amusement by the friendly slightly deaf old man that is our neighbour.

The bike that Leo and Michele had taken was fine and Nadine drove Vino to the plantation and after discovering it was just a valve that had shut off, Vino drove it back. We all relaxed a bit, discussed the project and prospective volunteers, and discovered that Vlad is indeed a manipulator when Nadine suggested we give him fish and he immediately woke up with energy we thought he couldn’t muster and relished the sardine. Anna and Lea had had a relatively uninteresting day (considering we were comparing it to the blood,rain and activity that Leo and Michele and experienced). It consisted of AMY moving incredibly slowly and then sleeping at the forest edge near the plantation. There was a new male and Norbert wasn’t there in the afternoon. Could the rain finally have brought about the winds of change in AMY’s social constituency?

25th March 2017, Saturday: My kinda day

Leo and I decided to go to Manjung in the morning. We left at around 10:30. He wanted to use the ATM at the mall and we needed to refill our petrol cans as we were on our last bit of petrol in the one working bike. We ran our errands, missed a turn on the way back and almost reached the next town before realising that we did not recognise the area. Reached back asap and I rushed about showering and eating and packing some food.

Fortunately, we were at the plantation by 1:20. Turns out AMY after having slept at the forest edge, close to the plantation- had woke up, moved about 50 metres and then gone back to sleep. They had come out into the plantation around 8:30 and had been there since. Anna seemed busy TRYING to do a focal on Putih. Lea and Vino filled us in on the slow day they had had and informed us that the strange male from yesterday was gone and NORBERT WAS NOT! I was relieved- I’m not ready to have him leave. Jisuaf, the large male who makes a cameo once in a wile and loves instigating fights was here today. After Anna realised that Putih was not going to stay calm-especially as there were 4 ore people though a little distance away, she abandoned her focal and left with Vino and Lea. She also informed me that they hadn’t marked the presence of absence of quite a few individuals because the juveniles especially had been in the trees the whole time.

Michele has started to collect data more formally. This means she uses our tablet and I can only use the phone for occasional ad-libitum data. And I was moving around trying to complete the id-check. Biru and Mina are close to full swell- they’ve moved onto being puckered at by Norbert and Oliver. I ensured everyone was around and then sat on a mound just like Oliver and Annakin were at around 10 m away from me in different directons. The sun was warm and the plantation was hot though not scorching. Yet, though it was slightly boring, I for one was not complaining. I revel in this lumbering pace. I get a chance to sit around and OBSERVE. They started out in the clearing and Michele ahd moved into the forest because Franzi had decided to do his own thing and she was doing a focal on him. At least that was the plan. I heard her scream. She had startled a large male- possibly Jisuaf who was around and he had almost lunged at her. And then, while I was still inside the plantation, deeper- watching Norbert munch on some little berries, Michele was still in the forest watching Franzi sleep for almost 40 minutes. She had decided that Anakin was probably a better option considering Franzi can’t sneak any meetings if he is sleeping and that too away from the group.

AMY and I had already moved a little further into the plantation and were moving in the direction of checkpoint 1. Michele found Anakin and began to stalk him. He puckered when both of us were around so I decided to stay with the rest of the group. Unfortunately I startled Chewbacca while looking for a place to sit and paranoid that she is she ran clutching her baby Chocolate to her chest. Luckily she only went a small distance and climbed up a forest bush occupied by at least 5 long tails. She hung out there and I decided I had rather stay a little away from her and especially the long-tails. Don’t want their cacaophony of alarm calls disturb the calm day the pig-tails were enjoying. While I was in this reverie, a kid decided that this moment was perfect to ride around in the plantation on his loud AF bike. Every around me moved into the forest, crossing right in front of him. Again, I was definitely having a good day because AMY decided to trickle back out very soon.

We stayed in the plantation till about 5:30. We went up the hill at checkpoint 2 in an area with quite a few long tails around as well. The light was still out so we stayed till 7:10 just to ensure AMY was indeed going to sleep there. We got back and went to the night maret. After Vino and I quickly looked around for some cendol (coconut milk based falooda like drink) and then went to Starbucks, I had definitely fallen behind on posting my blogs (If you read my blogs-you would know) and needed to make up.

It was quite late by the time we met up with Anna and Michele, finished Starbucks time and went to eat dinner. It was after midnight by the time we got back after grocery shopping. Luckily I’m not doing the morning shift.

26th March 2017, Sunday: This can not be happening

An acquaintance of Mimi’s wanted to go with Anna and Leo this minute but the Kembara (our forest terrain-apt vehicle) wouldn’t start this morning. We had used it to go to Manjung and back so this was surprising and a bit inconvenient as the Ford is definitely too low and inept to take to the forest. Plus, we still haven’t got the rear wheel of one bike fixed so we are YOLO-ing it right now which is not ideal. We are just glad it was not raining.

I had oly read the message about the Kembara and was about to get breakfast when I received the message on our whatsapp group. AMY was gone. They had definitely seen some individuals and heard them but dusky langurs and long-ails were around and as has happened to Michele and me twice before in the same vicinity, they were confused and distracted and AMY slipped away in the commotion. There was no point worrying about it sitting here. Especially because I had just felt a tick behind my ear and removed it without a second thought and my ear was now throbbing. Again, I thanked the stars Malaysia had no Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases. Vino and I were supposed to look for and follow VOLDEMORT but we decided that we might need to go look for AMY later on.

Earlier than we expected, at around 10:30, Leo and Timmi (Mimi’s friend) reached back. She had definitely got a taste of what we do and as a non field biologist or volunteer she was mindblown by the stress and physical resillience involved in what we do here. And all she needed to come to that conclusion was 3 and a half hours of climbing, walking, dealing with spines, getting 2 leech-bites and a taking a spill into some mud. Nadine and her family had spent their Sunday at the beach nearby and cameto check out the Kembara. Apparently Leo and Lea are lucky they reached back without the car breaking down on the road last night. The engine is sort of kaput so we can’t use it.

It was 12:30 and since Anna had still not found AMY-Vino, Michele, Lea and I reached the plantation by 1:00. Turns out Anna had stumbled upon VOLDEMORT and followed them, bravely I might add, armed with a thick stick to the top of the hill at checkpoint 2. We thought she had better come back down. She told us about her adventures with VOLDEMORT’s possible beta, a large male who looks a lot like my bae Norbert, but obviously not as calm (Vino and I want to call him Salazar- after Salazar Slytherin- ofcourse we do). She had been lunged at about 8 times without being able to get close to the rest of the group. Voldemort himself (the alpha male) was MIA.

We had little hope of finding AMY in the plantation at this time. When they come into the plantation early in the morning, if they do return, it is not until at least 4. But Voldemort’s presence means we could eliminate that hill as a possible location and that’s good. We all split up. The sun was scorching my skin within the first 2 minutes. The mosquito repellent and sunscreen wash out with sweat so fast it’s crazy. You know where this is going. We each had our own little hopes crushed when we followed any rustle in the leaves and calls. it was so hot, we met up at the clearing because it is cooler there and well protected from the sun. We sat by a little brook running by and talked about this and that, coming back to AMY every time.

At 3:30 we decided to try again. This time we went to different areas than we had gone to before. It’s less boring to sit and walk in the sweltering heat in a different place. I was near the area I was assigned when Anna’s voice crackled through the walkie-talkie. She had found them at checkpoint 1, heading into the forest. Unfortunately she hadn’t got a GPS, the one she wanted was with Vino so we needed to go quickly before AMY and she went into the forest. also, there were 5 of us, 3 of us would have to go back. Michele decided to stay while Lea, Vino and I came back.

It was Vino’s last day today. After a relatively relaxed dinner we took a stroll down the beach. There was lightning in the clouds and strong winds but the tide was so low a lot of the coast was exposed. Still no bioluminiscent plankton though but a good night nonetheless. We collected some shells and watched the lightning on the horizon, the only light there was around.

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