Primate Diaries: 10 working dayss to go

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Author’s second note: So I have to be honest. I think I confused the dates and events in my last post. I had become slack and wasn’t recapitulating the events as soon as I had come back home. So what I wrote for the 29th actually happened on the 30th and what I wrote for the 28th, happened on 29th. I will have to resolve the mystery of what the hell happened on the 28th and why I didn’t write about it. So since you have already read what happened- here goes….

 

30th March 2017: 10 more days of field-work
31st March 2017, Friday (9 days left): the hills have rocks

Leo and I climbed up the hill at checkpoint 2 according to Lea’s instructions in order to relieve her and MIchele from AMY-duty. When we got close to the co-ordinates, I wondered aloud if AMY and they had moved. I couldn’t hear any monkeys. But Lea called out to us. There were sitting on a rocky outcrop. “Where are the monkeys. Still in trees?” I asked. “Oh! Didn’t you see the messages? Anna is coming to get us” Lea said. And then I glanced over at Michele for an explanation and my heart stopped. “Holy shit Michele, you are bleeding” I said to the dazed and obviously in pain Michele. Leo and I had missed all the messaging. Michele and Lea were following the monkeys who decided to disappear behind the huge wall of rocks. Since Michele was not sure of another route to take in order to meet them higher up, she and Lea had decided to undertake the risky climb. Michele had climbed first and held out her hand for Lea out without a firm footing, she had taken a bad fall. She had a gash on her shoulder and there was blood under her nose and on her chin. Anna had her day off so was luckily available. She was coming by car and would take Michele to the hospital. The usually perky Michele was quiet and exhausted. They had lost the group of course and THAT is what worried Michele despite her close call.

Leo and I mollified Michele and Lea and assured them that AMY can’t have gone far. They had told us that they had only lost them about 45 minutes ago. We bid them safe trip and decide to take the alternate on-rocky route I knew, to meet AMY somewhere higher up on the hill. So we kept climbing. WE were exhausted in the first 10 minutes. It was humid and even though there weren’t too many slippery rocks, the bertam and rattan spines were a hassle enough. I knew we were nearing the point where the bertam lumps grew so thik and intertwined, it would be impossible to get through. This is close to where I had lost them once. Anna had told me that they usually don’t go an higher. So I decided to trust her judgement and wait for 10 minutes (mostly to catch my breath). We climbed back down and decided to split up to search. Michele and Lea had told us that AMY hadn’t gone out to the plantation and would have to do so eventually. So we hoped they were right.

Like they had described, there was quite some actvity from the plantation workers today and the plantation was abuzz with harvesting and hauling of fruit onto trucks and tractors. Not ideal. At first I asked Leo to stay in the clearing while I stayed at checkpoint 2.5. These were the closest exit points if AMY took the routes I thought they might take. After an hour though, I decided to expand my search and walked to checkpoint 3, while instructing Leo to go to checkpoint 2. I had just reached checkpoint 3 when Leo’s voice crackled through the walkie-talkie. He had found AMY at

 

Author’s second note: So I have to be honest. I think I confused the dates and events in my last post. I had become slack and wasn’t recapitulating the events as soon as I had come back home. So what I wrote for the 29th actually happened on the 30th and what I wrote for the 28th, happened on 29th. I will have to resolve the mystery of what the hell happened on the 28th and why I didn’t write about it. So since you have already read what happened- here goes….

30th March 2017: 10 more days of field-work
31st March 2017, Friday (9 days left): the hills have rocks
Leo and I climbed up the hill at checkpoint 2 according to Lea’s instructions in order to relieve her and MIchele from AMY-duty. When we got close to the co-ordinates, I wondered aloud if AMY and they had moved. I couldn’t hear any monkeys. But Lea called out to us. There were sitting on a rocky outcrop. “Where are the monkeys. Still in trees?” I asked. “Oh! Didn’t you see the messages? Anna is coming to get us” Lea said. And then I glanced over at Michele for an explanation and my heart stopped. “Holy shit Michele, you are bleeding” I said to the dazed and obviously in pain Michele. Leo and I had missed all the messaging. Michele and Lea were following the monkeys who decided to disappear behind the huge wall of rocks. Since Michele was not sure of another route to take in order to meet them higher up, she and Lea had decided to undertake the risky climb. Michele had climbed first and held out her hand for Lea out without a firm footing, she had taken a bad fall. She had a gash on her shoulder and there was blood under her nose and on her chin. Anna had her day off so was luckily available. She was coming by car and would take Michele to the hospital. The usually perky Michele was quiet and exhausted. They had lost the group of course and THAT is what worried Michele despite her close call.

Leo and I mollified Michele and Lea and assured them that AMY can’t have gone far. They had told us that they had only lost them about 45 minutes ago. We bid them safe trip and decide to take the alternate on-rocky route I knew, to meet AMY somewhere higher up on the hill. So we kept climbing. WE were exhausted in the first 10 minutes. It was humid and even though there weren’t too many slippery rocks, the bertam and rattan spines were a hassle enough. I knew we were nearing the point where the bertam lumps grew so thik and intertwined, it would be impossible to get through. This is close to where I had lost them once. Anna had told me that they usually don’t go an higher. So I decided to trust her judgement and wait for 10 minutes (mostly to catch my breath). We climbed back down and decided to split up to search. Michele and Lea had told us that AMY hadn’t gone out to the plantation and would have to do so eventually. So we hoped they were right.

Like they had described, there was quite some actvity from the plantation workers today and the plantation was abuzz with harvesting and hauling of fruit onto trucks and tractors. Not ideal. At first I asked Leo to stay in the clearing while I stayed at checkpoint 2.5. These were the closest exit pointsif AMY took the routes I thought they might take. After an hour though, I decided to expand my search and walked to checkpoint 3, while instructing Leo to go to checkpoint 2. I had just reached checkpoint 3 when Leo’s voice crackled through the walkie-talkie. He had found AMY at checkpoint 2. I hastily walked to checkpoint 2. Just in time for AMY to begin going into the forest. HAD THEY BEEN IN THE PLANTATION THE WHOLE TIME we had spent climbing up? Well they had cheek-pouches full of oil palm fruits hat said so. It was about 3:30 and we were glad we had found them. They were all just hanging about at the forest edge like they do after a plantation visit.Juvenles were playing, individuals were napping or grooming and this tranquility was a jarring contrast to what had happened to the previous shift’s humans. Leo and I spent some time playing “who’s that?”. It’s the best way for him to recap and learn the individuals names and physical and/or behavioural traits. Scarlet peeked at us from behind a stalk of bertam fruit and flower while I pointed out Goldie and Gollum, Schatz and Tiga, and the pregnant Malicia (She hangs around with Scarlet (who is pregnant too) and is less shy, and usually at the group’s centre). AMY was climbing up quite quickly and we were fortunately keeping up. They reached a clearing which immediately led to a clump of bertam. They spent time there while I figured where they would go next. They did say in the bertam thickets for quite some time while Leo and I finally sat down after having kicked and cut through a large number of bertam.

We would barely be sitting for 5 minutes before AMY decided to move again. Also, I was too paranoid to let them out of my sight. We owed it to Michele and Lea to not lose AMY. Before we knew it, it was already 5:15. We had reached the hill nea the logging road which was the only one split by an actual babbling brook. The sky was getting cloudy and I was confused which side of the ‘river’ AMY would sleep on. I remembered that Michele and I had found a rusted old Machete at one spot on the way to the hill on our left. I got it down from the crevice I remembered it was in. we realised that most of the monkeys had definitely crossed to the other side of the river but since we were still not sure, we decided to make ourselves comfortable on large rocks on the river. We could hear faint ‘sleeping-time’ hmmmm and hoos. But we were still a bit paranoid so we decided to stay there and talk about sports and martial arts and dance styles while waiting for AMY to make a decision on their sleeping arrangements. Their whole trail even before they had been ‘lost’ was zig-zaggy and chaotic. We waited till 6:40 before we left AMY to sleep tight. As planned (prior to Michele’s accident), Anna and her had brought the surprise birthday cake for Leo. Michele is fine and Anna decided that she shouldn’t be going to the forest for at least the next couple of days. We ended the day on a choccolate cake-y note and were glad for it.

1st April, Saturday (8 days to go): Snails

Lea and I surprised AMY wit our loud bike noise when we arrived at checkpoint 2. Anna and Leo informed us that they had been in the plantataion since 9 today so they would have probably gone into the forest anyway. Anna, with a mischieveous glint in her eye warned me “They have all this energy now, they were quite boring in the morning. They might need to make up for it”. Oh great I thought. This will be fun! Lea and I held our breaths and went into the forest, following Pamkin. Phoenix and Anakin were sleeping on branches close to each other while Felicia groomed Febe and Scarlet groomed Tiga. Everything was peaceful….for now.

It was almost an hour before they began to move, heading in the direction of checkpoint 1. We had had an okay time so far. They had climbed a bit but it was still close enough to the plantation for us to hope they would go back. Stranger things have happened! Anyway, for now we were waiting again. Most individuals had climbed up trees. Pamkin was grooming Norbert a short distance away until Goldie came and she ran up a tree as well. Lea and I sat down and discussed our cultures, roles of women and expectations from them while we waited for AMY to make a move. They did move but at a pace so slow, I thought I could hear my hair growing. And we couldn’t even get any interesting behavioural data as all of them were up in trees. They climbed a bit further till they reached a thicket of Bertam. Though on a slope and filled with spines, we hoped this meant they would come off the trees to feed. But it was just some juveniles here and there sparsely distributed. We sat down again, precariously I might add- in a spot which gave us a view of Putih, Puck and Pumeluff on one side and Norbert, high up on a tree on the other while we also avoided as many spines as possible. It had rained quite heavily this morning and again the weather was starting to seem stormy. Winds were blowing quite fast making it difficult to ascertain if the group was still there (when they are high up in trees and out of sight, we only guess their presence by pig-tail vocalisations which are very low, and rustling of the leaves- the wind makes both hard).

Lea and I moved on to topics of history, society and politics, dreams and aspirations, funny people we met, travelling we had done (she more than me- I realised there’s a difference between moving around a lot and TRAVELLING, maybe one day I’d have done quite a bit of both). It was 4:45 when AMY decided to make a move. The skies were dark and gloomy and we hoped this was their final move- directly to the sleeping site. We still had Goldie and Putih in view. We climbed a bit more till we reached a small clearing on a hill. Definitely not ideal for rain-protection….for us that is. They had enough tall trees with thick canopies to climb and keep dry in. But AMY wasn’t done moving. We followed them further and I realised that we were approaching the topof the small hill at checkpoint 1 which boasts a pretty good view of the rising sun in the morning. This WAS definitely a good place to sleep in and had been done before. My spidey-senses said we were upon the sleeping-site at long last. Emily groomed Emma at a distance while juveniles played and Putih cimbed up a tree to huddle for the night. The sky really looked bad and Lea and I made the decision to leave as soon as possible.

We were on the way back when the rain hit. The crazy rain. It didn’t matter that we were wearing rain jackets. I could hardly see. The rain was bad, there were drops on my already fogged glasses and the mosquito repellant had flown into my eye and they were on fire. The tarred was was slippery and the others were too mucky. But, we persevered and got back safely. It got worse and though we had come back before 7, we couldn’t actually go to the city till 8 pm because of the rain. We spent time at Starbucks, attended pasar malam (night market), had dinner and did the weekly supermarket run. Everything sped up after the slow day we had had in the forest.

 

2nd April 2017, Sunday: 7 days left

Anna had been kind enough to insist I take my day off today, though we had decided on tomorrow. My head has been throbbing everyday since the past 3 days and I have a low-key cold. Just my luck that I feel sick just as I am about to leave. But I needed sleep more than anything to recuperate. And I did. I woke up wonderfully rested, was still the earliest up (of the people, not in the forest). Damn my mornning person-ness. So I played with Vlad and Miezer, enjoyed the sun and a slow breakfast and lay back down in bed. I watched as Leo taught Lea to ride the bike and gave probably unhelpful advice.

Nadine dropped by early in the afternoon and we discussed (final) aspects of the project and settled accounts. In the late afternoon, Michele and I gave Vlad his second bath. This time he dried up to look more adorable than before and I came back to promptly type evrything that happened yesterday.

checkpoint 2. I hastily walked to checkpoint 2. Just in time for AMY to begin going into the forest. HAD THEY BEEN IN THE PLANTATION THE WHOLE TIME we had spent climbing up? Well they had cheek-pouches full of oil palm fruits hat said so. It was about 3:30 and we were glad we had found them. They were all just hanging about at the forest edge like they do after a plantation visit.Juvenles were playing, individuals were napping or grooming and this tranquility was a jarring contrast to what had happened to the previous shift’s humans. Leo and I spent some time playing “who’s that?”. It’s the best way for him to recap and learn the individuals names and physical and/or behavioural traits. Scarlet peeked at us from behind a stalk of bertam fruit and flower while I pointed out Goldie and Gollum, Schatz and Tiga, and the pregnant Malicia (She hangs around with Scarlet (who is pregnant too) and is less shy, and usually at the group’s centre). AMY was climbing up quite quickly and we were fortunately keeping up. They reached a clearing which immediately led to a clump of bertam. They spent time there while I figured where they would go next. They did say in the bertam thickets for quite some time while Leo and I finally sat down after having kicked and cut through a large number of bertam.

 

We would barely be sitting for 5 minutes before AMY decided to move again. Also, I was too paranoid to let them out of my sight. We owed it to Michele and Lea to not lose AMY. Before we knew it, it was already 5:15. We had reached the hill nea the logging road which was the only one split by an actual babbling brook. The sky was getting cloudy and I was confused which side of the ‘river’ AMY would sleep on. I remembered that Michele and I had found a rusted old Machete at one spot on the way to the hill on our left. I got it down from the crevice I remembered it was in. we realised that most of the monkeys had definitely crossed to the other side of the river but since we were still not sure, we decided to make ourselves comfortable on large rocks on the river. We could hear faint ‘sleeping-time’ hmmmm and hoos. But we were still a bit paranoid so we decided to stay there and talk about sports and martial arts and dance styles while waiting for AMY to make a decision on their sleeping arrangements. Their whole trail even before they had been ‘lost’ was zig-zaggy and chaotic. We waited till 6:40 before we left AMY to sleep tight. As planned (prior to Michele’s accident), Anna and her had brought the surprise birthday cake for Leo. Michele is fine and Anna decided that she shouldn’t be going to the forest for at least the next couple of days. We ended the day on a choccolate cake-y note and were glad for it))))

1st April, Saturday (8 days to go): Snails

 

Lea and I surprised AMY wit our loud bike noise when we arrived at checkpoint 2. Anna and Leo informed us that they had been in the plantataion since 9 today so they would have probably gone into the forest anyway. Anna, with a mischieveous glint in her eye warned me “They have all this energy now, they were quite boring in the morning. They might need to make up for it”. Oh great I thought. This will be fun! Lea and I held our breaths and went into the forest, following Pamkin. Phoenix and Anakin were sleeping on branches close to each other while Felicia groomed Febe and Scarlet groomed Tiga. Everything was peaceful….for now.

It was almost an hour before they began to move, heading in the direction of checkpoint 1. We had had an okay time so far. They had climbed a bit but it was still close enough to the plantation for us to hope they would go back. Stranger things have happened! Anyway, for now we were waiting again. Most individuals had climbed up trees. Pamkin was grooming Norbert a short distance away until Goldie came and she ran up a tree as well. Lea and I sat down and discussed our cultures, roles of women and expectations from them while we waited for AMY to make a move. They did move but at a pace so slow, I thought I could hear my hair growing. And we couldn’t even get any interesting behavioural data as all of them were up in trees. They climbed a bit further till they reached a thicket of Bertam. Though on a slope and filled with spines, we hoped this meant they would come off the trees to feed. But it was just some juveniles here and there sparsely distributed. We sat down again, precariously I might add- in a spot which gave us a view of Putih, Puck and Pumeluff on one side and Norbert, high up on a tree on the other while we also avoided as many spines as possible. It had rained quite heavily this morning and again the weather was starting to seem stormy. Winds were blowing quite fast making it difficult to ascertain if the group was still there (when they are high up in trees and out of sight, we only guess their presence by pig-tail vocalisations which are very low, and rustling of the leaves- the wind makes both hard).

Lea and I moved on to topics of history, society and politics, dreams and aspirations, funny people we met, travelling we had done (she more than me- I realised there’s a difference between moving around a lot and TRAVELLING, maybe one day I’d have done quite a bit of both). It was 4:45 when AMY decided to make a move. The skies were dark and gloomy and we hoped this was their final move- directly to the sleeping site. We still had Goldie and Putih in view. We climbed a bit more till we reached a small clearing on a hill. Definitely not ideal for rain-protection….for us that is. They had enough tall trees with thick canopies to climb and keep dry in. But AMY wasn’t done moving. We followed them further and I realised that we were approaching the topof the small hill at checkpoint 1 which boasts a pretty good view of the rising sun in the morning. This WAS definitely a good place to sleep in and had been done before. My spidey-senses said we were upon the sleeping-site at long last. Emily groomed Emma at a distance while juveniles played and Putih cimbed up a tree to huddle for the night. The sky really looked bad and Lea and I made the decision to leave as soon as possible.

We were on the way back when the rain hit. The crazy rain. It didn’t matter that we were wearing rain jackets. I could hardly see. The rain was bad, there were drops on my already fogged glasses and the mosquito repellant had flown into my eye and they were on fire. The tarred was was slippery and the others were too mucky. But, we persevered and got back safely. It got worse and though we had come back before 7, we couldn’t actually go to the city till 8 pm because of the rain. We spent time at Starbucks, attended pasar malam (night market), had dinner and did the weekly supermarket run. Everything sped up after the slow day we had had in the forest.

_________________________________________________________________

2nd April 2017, Sunday: 7 days left
Anna had been kind enough to insist I take my day off today, though we had decided on tomorrow. My head has been throbbing everyday since the past 3 days and I have a low-key cold. Just my luck that I feel sick just as I am about to leave. But I needed sleep more than anything to recuperate. And I did. I woke up wonderfully rested, was still the earliest up (of the people, not in the forest). Damn my mornning person-ness. So I played with Vlad and Miezer, enjoyed the sun and a slow breakfast and lay back down in bed. I watched as Leo taught Lea to ride the bike and gave probably unhelpful advice. Nadine dropped by early in the afternoon and we discussed (final) aspects of the project and settled accounts. In the late afternoon, Michele and I gave Vlad his second bath. This time he dried up to look more adorable than before and I came back to promptly type evrything that happened yesterday.

 

Advertisements

Tell me about it!!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s