Primate Diaries: An epilogue

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an account of my experiences with the Macaca Nemestrina Project in Perak, Malaysia.  I am finally in a place with much better internet access. 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



It has been exactly a week since I left Malaysia. A lot of my important thoughts and experiences are chronicled already but I know that that’s easier to do. When my friends and family ask me to tell them ‘How Malaysia was’ I am overwhelmed with so many things to say and emotions and memories attached to them but seem uninteresting without context or a connected story. I find myself answering -“Awesome”, “Amazing”, “great” and “I loved it” which I guess is the jist of it and convenient to say because I can’t possibly summarise explain all of the things I experienced without prompts. Words are more important and lose meaning or change meaning over time. The pictures I took, so many of them, plastered across my social media- was amusing at the time and the most meaningful to me; to others who are bombarded with images everyday- it is but a small novelty, this passing moment of me reminiscing-and not well.


And yet I can’t help but reflect on what I experienced. I was anxious about jumping into a role where I believed my investment would never be as much since I was only volunteering. I was quite wrong. I thought living there would be filled with boredom and I’d be ‘slumming it’- it was more convenient than I thought. I thoroughly under-estimated exactly how physically strenuous the day can get and that I would eventually get used to it (I was wrong). I thought all this walking up and down and climbing would mean rock hard abs, killer thighs and brilliant upper body strength. I just have immensely calloused feet, a crazy tan and no perceivable physical changes. And yet I know that I am stronger- physically and mentally than I ever was before.


I thank anyone and everyone I ever crossed paths with. Most of all Dr. Nadine Ruppert for being open to experimenting- with people. That is how we all learn best. Trial and error. For all her support and her big-heart and jovial disposition. She has a vision and works on multiple projects simultaneously where she is equally actively involved and I hope to be able to do at least half of what she does. Anna, of course is my personal badass hero. She is silent and soft-spoken, so different from me- a different class of introvert. I have of course waxed lyrical about her enthusiasm for science, her speed of hill climbing and her uncanny ability to locate and keep track of AMY. Mimi of course has more similarities to me- a lot of it could be because of our cultures being similar and having similar problems but she is amusing as she is resillient and charitable. Plus she introduced me to paneram and minyak gamat and was my first guide into non-touristy Malaysia. Vino is my unlikely friend. This weirdo is the clumsy and fragile-looking but resourceful and brave. She watches creepy violent Anime and plays graphic videogames with tons of violence so you probably do not want to mess with her. And yet she is incredibly sweet and an amazing artist with an imagination that I can’t even imagine. Michele is most comfortable with her curiousity- about EVERYTHING. A trait she and I share despite our difference in opinion about many a thing. She is the yin to my yang. She is the most courageous of all the people mentioned above for coming all the way from the cold Netherlands, never having done this before, fighting her friends and family, even people at her University to prove that she is made of stronger stuff (SHE is). Leo and Lea- I of course didn’t spend as much time with them but they each add value to the project and to my life. Lea with her humble beginnings and big aspirations with a hint of practicality thrown in and Leo who is quite similar to me in his need to be wanting to analyse and be intellectually stimulated. And Ameer, who in close to 8-9 hours of interaction seemed like an interesting and passionate person.


Of course, I thank the macaques for bringing all of us together. Helping us discover things about each other and ourselves that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. We are all from different countries, educational and socio-cultural backgrounds but what binds us together is curiousity, passion and a hint of rebellion. The ability to critique societal norms. I am done with my adventure, my part in the story. But I hope each of us has been a useful addition to the story. As I contemplate my next step, I wish them all the best for their adventures to come.


Primate Diaries: On conquering heights, depths and fears (Days 52-54)

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.

7th March 2017, Tuesday: Where do they come from, where do they go?

To bring everyone up to speed- I had lost AMY yesterday. That is the gist of it and it bothered me that I was solely responsible for this loss. I was still relieved to not be working today though. I could nurse my bruised ego and aching head while Anna and Michele left at 9 am to try to find them. At 11 am-still no AMY, so I went to drop Vino; another set of eyes, ears and legs is always welcome. It’s just too bad she has to do THIS on her first day back.’Searching for AMY’ involves walking to and fro in the plantation, usually between checkpoints on the edge of the forest. The second avenue is usually to go deeper into the plantation, walking along paths or inside the forest in common haunts of the pig-tails that are easier to access (needless to say-there aren’t too many such places). Of course, it can be incredibly boring and quite exhausting because you are constantly moving and searching, excited by every noise only to be disappointed mostof the time.

I did my laundry, caught up with a dear friend, wrote a bit, made some Roti and long beans curry for the landlord and landlady, and squeezed out at least 3 spines embedded in my thigh from my adventure yesterday (Yep it was gross and painful). At 2 AMY was still nowhere to be ‘found’. Anna was getting desperate. “Could they be in the swamp”. “No, definitely not” I typed and sent without hesitation but then I considered my luck with them recently and suddenlyI wasn’t too sure. Michele had meanwhile found the other pig-tail group- VOLDEMORT on the logging road and been puckered at by a Norbert look-alike.

I wanted to take a nap. The heat and buzzing flies and physical and mental strain from yesterday demanded it from my body but I was too anxious. It was around 5 when I felt my eyelids droop and lift back up with difficulty. I heard the bike and was up in a flash. Michele and Vino were back. “we found them at last. Anna is with them. They finally came out to the plantation”. “Douchebags” I murmurred and the others nodded in agreement. It can be difficult to ‘keep calm and science on’ but we are weirdos who keep at it day in and day out.

8th March 2017, Wednesday- The trail not taken

AMY had arrived in the ‘clearing’ only half an hour ago when Vino and I got there. This area is the buffer zone between the forest and the plantation and I hoped they would move further in. But after spending a total of one hour in the clearing, they were heading in. I was reminded of the day before yesterday, when it was a similar hour in the clearing that started my adventure to the pinacle. But I was feeling better on realising that at least they weren’t moving as if their pig like tails were on fire. Norbert was sitting, chillig as usual, cleaning his nails. Putih and her baby Pummeluff creeped by slowly, sinking away when she saw us looking. I helped vino get reacquainted with the monkeys after her 3-week absence. Emma was again on the ground with her characteristic haggard-looking eyes while Reggie tried to be brave but puckered when she realised she had gotten a bit too close to us.

Swelling females were sneaking off towards the periphery as that is usually where the non-alpha males hang out. We saw Brienne approaching Anakin and presenting. But Norbert was only around 0 m away from her. “Anakin won’t do it- he must know Norbert’s right there” I said. Anakin saw us and puckered as if ensuring we were his confidants and then mounted Brienne. Norbert was looking for some mushrooms in the opposite direction

The group had started moving higher and higher but not as fast or as high as that fateful day (it’s hard to realise it was only the day before yesterday). By 5:30, we had reached a place where there was no way we could sit that was not on at least a 45 degree incline. And to top it off, when we did find and gingerly try to sit on a tree branch, we alarmed Jane who happened to be sitting on the other end and looked annoyed by our interruption of her alone time. When by 6:20, there was still no movement I thought my luck was finally improving because it was still early and we could spend more time in the city. We’d be out by 6:50 at the most since we were higher up. But I was glad that we had so much time to climb uphill and going downhill is easy. I’m mostly glad Anna has the morning shift tomorrow. She’s the only one who can get to this place in the relatively early and dark hours of the morning without breaking into a sweat.

So, I decided that we should take one of the trails since there was quite a lot of Bertum and thick vegetation around us. The closest trail was only 80m away from us. But SAYING “Only 80 m” when in a forest or swamp is ludicrous and I should know better. It was so fraught with obstacles only fit for a jewel-heist movie, we decided to use the other trail- “This one goes to the logging road so we can get out at checkpoint 1” I said.

We fought a lot of spiny plants and entangled climbers, I tore the skin on my arm while simultaneously fighting Bertum and swore and yellled in frustration. It didn’t help that the day had been sulry and humid and both our glasses kept slipping off our faces thanks to the sweat while spider-webs we inadvertantly destroyed kept sticking to them like….flies (see what I did there?). I’ve never apologised to spiders with such genuine emotion. Actually, I’ve never HAD TO APOLOGISE to ANYONE with that genuine an emotion.

It always grows darker in the forest earlier because of the thick canopy and it was happening now. We were in an unfamiliar area at 7 pm, kind of lost and slightly worried though I still had my prioirities right “at least we didn’t lose AMY and they went to sleep early”. We passed a brook we couldn’t really appreciate given our hurry, many trees we were sure looked familiar- classic reaction when one is lost. Finally we found this trail we had been hoping to reach all this time and….it was no better than the ‘non-trail’. It had probably been a long time since this ‘trail’ had been used. And the vegetation that had been cleared had returned with a vengeance; we were bearing its consequences. It was growing draker and we were getting desperate.

“You know what, screw the trail”, we both said almost in unison. We knew the direction in which the logging road lay. we’d be pioneers and make our own trails. the GPS showed the logging road to be only 50 m away. Again, I sould have realised that “ONLY” is always an understatement. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We saw it soon enough. We were about 10 feet above the surface. There was a tree branch in the middle but otherwise, it was a drop. There seemed to be nothing to hold on to from here to the tree branch even if we did slide down. And we were surrounded by wild Pandanus trees. It is a monocot, each leaf has serrated margins and the underside is also raised and serrated. “Bloody brilliant!” as Ron weasley would say . But, there was no other way and how bad could it be. We could figure this out. To make a long story short- I fell most of the way down to the tree, got entangled amongst sharp pandan leaves and other twigs. But i somehow let myself out. Vino followed shortly after. With mud caked in many places, twigs in our hair and aware of the darkness- we were growing tired of being pioneers. And we still had 35 m to go. Soon, there was another drop. This time it was 90 degress- a straight fall though not as high and I desperately dug my fingers and found some tree roots to hold. I could step on another so as to help break my not-so-gracefull decent.

And suddenly, just like that- flat land. Actual flat land. the lowest surface we were sure. I could senese the presence of the logging road. My strides were more confident. We would get out. And then we burst out. The logging road- Valhalla. It was 7:30 when we finally got out. We ran to the bike as the light- even in the plantation was fading fast.We got home, extremely crabby, grimy and exhausted yet proud for some reason. Anna told us we aren’t supposed to take the trail we took since it was so rarely used and in a terrible state. “I should delete that track from the GPSs”, “yes” Vino and I said.

But, all’s well that ends well. We made it to Starbucks. While Vino and I used up Starbucks’ resources, Anna picked up an ex-student (also called Anna) who did her Masters thesis here working with AMY around 4 years ago. She wanted to come back to see the monkeys and relive her memories. I think EVEN after today, I completely understand that.

9th March 2017, Thursday: The Dark Lord approaches

Vino and I were glad we had got the morning today to unwind afetr our adventures yesterday. And today we were sure we would have soemr. We were going to be looking for the other group – VOLDEMORT (Named after their nose-less alpha male Voldemort) in hopes of habituating them. More the data points, stronger your tests and evidence as they say.

We left after Michele got back in the afternoon. This meant Vino and I each had a GPS and walkie-talkie so we could split up. And since we didn’t know VOLDEMORT’s favourite haunts, we were going to just be walking all over the plantation and checkpoints waiting for them to show. We got there by 2:10 and split up. I decided to check out the plantation close to cehckpoint 1 while Vino was at the buffer zone between checkpoints 2 and 2.5. That is where I rmember seeing them when I was looking for AMY last. I was returning after having only found skinks and squirrels in the plantation when I saw somthing big, seemed to be oving on all fours. Dogs or pig-tails? I didn’t know. I saw their silhouettes better as I got closer. A male and female pig-tail. I moved cautiously. Startling them would be a bad start when the aim was to get them to know that we weren’t a threat (That is why we always wear orange- they learn to associate the colour with us: non-threatening peeps). But it turns out my tip-toeing wasn’t necessary. This was AMY, Anna was in the distance with her notebook. And she hadn’t encounteered VOLDEMORT. Somehow AMY and VOLDEMORT rarely cross paths though we know that when they do, VOLDEMORT displaces AMY.

Vino and I soon looked in other places and after exhausting all possibilities, went to the other side of the forest. AMY never goes there but another student had marked a trail there when he encountered and followed VOLDEMORT in the plantation on that side- albeit that plantation is wilder and more unkempt. We drove there and walked the paths we thought looked clear. Nothing. We got back. It was 4:50 already when we parked and started to decide on doing another sweep before we quit for the day. Looking without finding is always more exhausting than following. I was near checkpoint 2.5 this time while Vino had gone to check the logging road. I heard them, sounds that were definitely pig-tail females and juveniles. They were jumping en-masse from the plantation into the forest. Vino had spoted 2 males here but that was hours ago, which is why we hadn’t investigated. I called Vino on the walkie-talkie and asked her to rush. The group wouldn’t wait. She was on her way-the logging road was quite a distance away.

But I had HIM to keep me company. Voldemort himself had arrived and was puckering incessantly. This time, I kept my distance. I didn’t want him lunging at me again when I was alone (Read “the summoning”). But I felt braver because I was in the plantation and couldn’t trip over or get caught in things although lets be honest- I sometimes tripped over my own feet. As long as I stood my ground and didn’t get too close, we were fine. Soon, he eased up. i really hoped he wouldn’t go in making me lose the group. He didn’t. I could take a lot of pictures tilll Vino arrived. But as soon as she came, Voldemort had started moving. It was frustrating because he went up a small hill-obviously filled with Bertum and I could only see parts of him. Vino had been dying to see his face- it really does take your breath away and she wanted to experience it first-hand. But he seemed to know that. Finally we reached a landing with Bertum on all sides and could hear a lot of individuals but see no one. We were about to go forward when we spotted him coming toward us- puckering. Was this an ambush? Can pig-tails strategise? We know chimpanzees are capable of co-ordinated hunting of colobus monkeys.

Vino and I had just picked up the closest sticks without spines (Vino insisted her fan would make a great weapon) we could find when we saw another male coming toward us puckering. then suddenly he laid eyes on Voldemort and they both just kept puckering at each other. However they seemed to be having a heated stare-down and every few moments, Voldemort would keep moving closer- though sideways, moving like a crab. As if he didn’t want to look at us. “Megha, Megha, Megha, no”, I could hear Vino saying. But I couldn’t stop the adrenaline. This was a weird rush. Suddenly, we both saw it- Voldemort was about to lunge. I was in front. I waved my stick and growled “No”. I din’t realise that the stick broke in half when I waved it and one part went flying,missing him by an earshot (he already doesn’t have much of a nose, what if I maimed his ear?). I think both Vino and I discovered that our fear response was laughter- which can be misconstrued in polite civil human settings I am sure but the noise made both the males hesitate. And so we went back to the terse situation and alert immobility as before. This meant we anticipated it when he lunged a second time. I stomped on the ground and we both held up our weapons. This again arrested his movements. Eventually, the other male started grooming himself and left soon after. It was 6:10, the juveniles-wherever they were hiding had already begun humming and hooing while females started their nightly ritual. They would sleep here, or nearby. Voldemort soon grew bored with our little game and left. We didn’t feel particularly inclined to follow him into the bush he had disappeared into lest he be waiting for us. It was 6:30. We had managed to follow them to the sleeping site however and felt incredibly lucky, especially after yesterday.


Primate Diaries: Days 49-51

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.

4th March:  Impending
I spent the morning lazing about. It was extremely hot and I was glad it wasn’t me who had to walk all the way to the forest early in the morning (Both bikes were in need of tweaking). Nadine and her husband came by to fix the bikes and it was almost 1 by the time I left but luckily AMY was in the plantation. Michele was nursing her newly formed blisters while Anna was yet again looking for the elusive Putih, who is master of sneaking around with her baby Pumeluff attached to her. I spotted her and yelled for Anna who came running to conduct her focal.

Anna and Michele left and AMY too decided that they had had enough. The thunder sounded threatening and strong winds were blowing. It is the sign of a storm brewing and I would be happier in the forest too when it started to pour. But AMY lingered on, spending time grooming and drinking from puddles in the buffer-zone at the cusp of the plantation and the forest. Norbert sat there, in all his magnificence and made some grunting noises in response to or as a stimulus for the juveniles’ humming. I had my eye on Pippi who is swelling again. Brienne, it turns out is definitely not pregnant and is now hanging about the periphery of the group to solicit some mounting. I followed Febe, through the access point at Checkpoint 2. Inside, it was cosier and I already felt protected from the wind. But soon, the sun was streaming through. False alarm about the rain then. Though the thunder seemed unrelenting and growing louder. AMY hung about for a while before starting to climb up.

Yet again, Casimodo and I had a stand-off. He puckered at me and moved toward me while I decided to stand my ground till he was too close. Waving your arm like I do to get the juveniles when they get too curious is not avstrategy that works. Plus, Casimodo is a pretty big male. Luckily, he got distracted and decided that was more novel than I. We were steadily climbing for what felt like a half-hour. A lot of it was obviously me just being paranoid about losing them and climbing too fast without realising my foot was placed in lose soil. When I did reach flattish land, my view was obscured by all the Bertums. I could only hear the pig-tails yet again ravishing, what Nadine claims is a rather bland snack.

We seemed to be going along the same route Anna and I had climbed the hill up yesterday. But at least we seemed to be going downhil.. Maybe they were going back into the plantation since it didn’t rain after all I thought. I leaned against a tree to rest my weary legs. I had a good view of Pippi puckering at Pie who dutifully came to groom her mother while Lori was in a Bertum clump in my line of sight too. And then I felt a drop, and then another. But it didn’t feel like rain. I could see a pig-tail’s behind and I quickly jumped away. I just got peed on. I had heard this happens and it had almost happened on two-three separate ocassions but….ah well, at least it wasnt a full shower onmy face I thought. But I now had a good view of the perpetrator-of-pee. It was my new nemesis Tiga, the soon-to-be sub-adult who has been skittish and puckering a lot at me off-late. However, I saw what he was doing. He was actually scooping out and drinking the water that had filled up in a stump on the tree. SO it was water, that explains why it wasn’t warm and continuous. Close call but I’m guessing my initiation into getting peed on will happen one day or another.

I didn’t have to wait long before AMY began moving once again. This time in the direction of checkpoint 2, I hoped. I was not ready to deal with the swamp at checkpoint 1 by myself. The thunder was louder and the wind was strong enough to shake the trees inside the forest as well. Plus, this was the same hill where Michele and I had become confused thanks to the longtails, yesterday and I knew they regularly hang out there. And right I was. AMY was currently sprinkled with long-tails. Tiga bullied Curli into giving up his nice tree-bark with a lot of potential insects while a juvenile I couldn’t identify, played with a juvenile long-tail….for quite a while. And the long-tail, after giving an alarm-call and realising that his playmate and playmates troop didn’t care, realised that I probably wasn’t a threat and guessed that I probably couldn’t climb up a tree anyway. They mock-bit each othe, swiped at each others tails and swung aboutwhile holding the other in a tight embrace. It was adorable. I moved a bit ahead thinking that soon we would be in the plantation. We were so close after all.

But I waited and waited. Pippi groomed Putih for a solid half hour and the huveniles were playing and calling. Putig groomed a female for quite some time and I realised it was Pamkin, who we recently hypothesised is probably one of the three highest ranking sisters’ trio, and quite aggressive too. Norbert had returned again and fulfilled his seemingly minimal and obligatory duty of grunting in return to all juveniles’ hmmms and getting a hoooo…back. Maybe that’s how they also keep check to see if all the individuals are present, though the males don’t usually care I would think (Males leave the group, females form the core permanent group- google Female Philopatry in primates). I was really getting worried about being rained on. Luckily I had reception and was able to tell people at camp to come pick me up slightly early.

It was surprising how close they were too the plantation, but how difficult this place was to access, thanks to the water I would have to cross, and the horribly tangled mass of lianas interspersed with clumps of Bertum. I finally got out though. Anna had just arrived and eveerything looked bone-dry. I felt silly but Anna was understanding. She said she wouldn’t have taken the risk either. Plus, AMY hadn’t moved for an hour and had gone through the sleep-time ritual already so we felt more confident. We went to the city, earlier than we had ever gone before. It was weird! Anna ‘s standing fan had breathed its last, we attribute it to one most terrifying thunder strike the other day. I also needed to run some errands before my next trip to Indonesia so we spent a precious couple of hours in the city and got back at a somewhat decent hour. Ok I’m lying, it was 12 when we reached home. But, we tried.

5th March 2017, Sunday : The sun’ll come out tomorrow

I woke up to the sound of thunder, but the air smelt dry. Anna and I headed out, me hoping that AMY had indeed stayed at what I had marked as the sleeping site, considering how early they had seemed to be done for the day yesterday. We were on the tarred road when we felt the drops turning into an ominous drizzle. “Do you want to stop so we can put our rain jackets on?” Anna asked. “I don’t care as much, but the tablet in my bag needs to be protected” I replied. We quickly covered all the equipment and protected ourselves as best we could. But when the real rain hit, it didn’t matter. It was pouring so hard and the wind was blowing. It was still dark and the rain meant Anna couldn’t see where we were going “We can get to Nadine’s house, I think it’s not too far” Anna suggested. Atleast we’ll know where it is because there will be light. Since their house is built in the traditional Malay architecture, it’s on the modern version of stilts, so there’s the space underneath that doubles up as garage, workspace and bike shed. We got there at around 6:55, already wet thanks to the storm. We sat at the kids’ arts and crafts table and talked to while away our time. In order to allay any fears of thieves that Nadine’s family might have, we sent her a message explaining that we were under their house perse and not home invaders.

Half an hour later, the rain seemed in no hurry to stop or slow down. Nadine was up and offered us some warm tea and coconut bread. Might as well we thought. And then she warmed our damp spirits when she asked us “Did you see the cats, the babies I mean?”. And then she brought them out. 5 little itsy-bitsy kittens in our laps and we were almost glad for the rain. Their mother, a silky ginger cat was hanging around with another female ginger who is also pregnant. “So many kittens”, I breathed into the ear of one who was trying to snooze on my thigh while her 2 siblings clambered over her to investigate their surroundings. Anna and I reluctantly got up to leave. the rain had definitely slowed down to a drizzle and we anticipated the monkeys to have moved. When it rains for too long, even if it’s heavy, AMY moves sometimes, as if they get bored of waiting or they look for better shelter. We reached the plantation at 9:15 am, expecting to have to look for AMY, a laborious task but I thought might as well try the sleeping site first. Yes it took time to get there. It’s a weird place though quite close to the plantation. We were pleasantly surprised to find that AMY was still there, waiting for us. “Aww, you guys”, I exclaimed as if hoping for some response from them. But it was Anna who spoke- “They are going to the plantation, we have to go there really fast, we will lose them otherwise”. What, to me it seemed like they would take some time, but Anna seems to correctly guess a lot of things about AMY so we got out as quickly as possibly. They were nowehere near the buffer zone. Anna ran further into the plantation while I wondered why AMY would so deep into the plantation so fast. But there they were, moving from one plot to another. We ran crossing the moat with some difficulty. Soon enough we were amongst them.

Anna began her focal, again starting with Putih and her babay Pummeluff, while she could and I started with the ID check and entering ad-libitum events. These behaviurs, usually interactions between individuals-aggressive, affiliative or sexual help us form ethograms and matrices to establish the heirarchy and social relations. After watching Phoenix chase the little independent infant Reggie, I wandered towards Scarlet. She is my favourite female, always calm, mostly grooming her juveniles Tiga and Schatz. Off-late, Tiga-probably on the cusp of sub-adulthood is acting like a human teenage brat and starting to be skittish and invade our personal space. Scarlet, thanks to her pregnancy which is great, is unfortunately also becoming very squirmish though Anna swears it wasn’t like this when she was pregnant with Schatz. And thus, when I went close to her to see if I could get Phoenix’s faeces, she alarm called and screamed till I went away. A little deflated, I decided to hang out with the swelling females, who become a little more bold- you have to be to get non-alphas to mount you without running helter-skelter. A lesson Pippi and Jane still haven’t learned, they run too quickly away after a male mounts them sometimes.

I came across Emma and at a good time too- Anna was looking for her to do a focal. She suggested I look out for Anakin, so i did and then she said I should look out for and keep an eye on Mina-next on the focalling list. We didn’t have to try too hard. Anakin was following Mina, who is sweling again. He puckered and mounted, puckered and mounted again and then they separated. So I foloowed Mina, watched her sexual trysts and recorded them. Passed both Norbert and Oliver on the ground, looking up expectantly at other individuals foraging. There are I think many reasons the big males, who ususallly tend to be higher ranking, don’t climb trees often:
1) They have a great view of the females swells from underneath and can also spot any sneaking around if they decide to stick to and guard one female.
2) They are usually too big and it might be difficult to get their humongous lumbering forms up and across most trees plus their callosites seems pretty small in proportion and the handicap (google Zahavi’s handicap principle) that is the ball-sack is not a great thing to have to sit upon.
3) Most importantly and probably to put in anthropomorphic terms- they sustain themselves by mooching off the food that fell down when others- females, smaller males and juveniles dropped things, usually while stepping on a weak part of the bark, they also can use their superiority and physical strength to snatch food.

Just as I was thinking this, I saw evidence of the last point. Phoenix was looking for insects or other creatures, moving around prying the bark open when we heard a squeal. A rat had fallen down. Before anyone could react, Oliver had already expertly gripped the rat and beheaded it with his canine. I forgot about Mina, and so did he – he was just puckering at her a moment ago (refer to point 1). This is yet another thing we put in ad-libitum. It helps establish whether the pig-tails are actually controlling the population of rodents, a big pest of oil-palm plantations, rather than the pig-tails that are considered to be. Anna decided that she would rather do a focal on Oliver- she needed to do him next anyway. We saw him expertly turn the rat inside out to get to the flesh without bothering with the fur and skin. After being grossed out by the goriness, I decided to get back to Mina, and let Anna deal with Oliver. I realised we had been in the plantation for quite a while. I didn’t want to leave Anna alone- especially because we feared another rain- the sun still wasn’t out. But I was exhausted somehow and Anna said she’d manage. Additionally, she wanted me to leave asap so i didn’t have to drive in the rain, if it did rain. So I wished her all the best, hoped for good weather and non-swampy terrain. Not that it mattered, the moat crossing today had already filled her boot with water. She is looking forward to her day off tomorrow to hopefully dry her things.

6th March 2017, Monday: It’s lonely at the top

We were still functioning with one bike which means, since Anna had her day off I had to go with Michele in the morning, just to bring the bike back, so I could go in the afternoon shift. The logistics management is a skill I wish was something I could formally put in my CV. I came back, almost got creeped out by a turkey, near the house that didn’t seem to know it’s boundaries (Check out my instagram for proof). You’d know if you know how weird Geese, swan and even chickens can get sometimes- especially if they decide to mob and/or chase you. Had a good breakfast and read a book. The weather seemed okay, much better than yesterday.

I reached the reserve at around 1:30, AMY had just reached the plantation. They were still hanging out in the buffer zone. We swiftly made the exchange of GPSs, i collected the tablet and Michele was on her way, I watched as some Scarlet and Schatz foraged a little distance away from me. I sat down to record any interesting exchange. I didn’t have to wait long. I heard a tussle rght above me. Pippi, who is starting to swell was minding her own business around 5 m away from Norbert (Who was on the tree today), was suddenly viciously chaed and bitten by Goldie-the female we believe is the alpha. Pippi almost fell off the last bit off the palm and ran to another tree nearby. Goldie calmly started grooming Norbert, weird as her swell is definitely going down. But we have seen even Pamkin and Scarlet grooming him, when they are not swelling, and he lets them- probably has something to do with their social standing (They are possibly the highest ranking females-probably sisters). A while later, Norbert had moved to the other tree and so Pippi got chased by Goldie again. Poor thing can’t catch a break.

Surprisingly, AMY decided that they had had enough and were goig back into the forest, after spending only an hour in the border of the plantation. Well, AMY is full of surprises. Better not question it- no time to anyway, considering how fast they were moving. Not even hanging out at the forest border like they usually do after their plantation visits. I waited in the plantation for a bit and I’m glad I did. I got to witness Mina get mounted by Phoenix twice. I turned around to see if Putih had finally gone in and when I turned back- holy hell- PHOENIX WAS GROOMING MINA. A male grooming a female is a rare occurance and I was sad I couldn’t record it on my phone. Best ad-libitum recording ever- although probably an outlier of male to female affiliative acts. I finally reached inside, watched as the last of the males came trickling in. Casimodo and Anakin sat almost huddled together as they each got presented to by Pippi and Mina, neither of whose offers they seemed to want to take. I watched as Febe followed Putih in the hopes to groom her only to have those hopes dashed when mina lunged her into running away and up a tree near me. We were quickly climbing up now. I was a little surprised at the steady movements with little time for breaks but Anna said they did the same yesterday after their day at the plantation.

We were reaching a part of the hill I detested all the spiny Bertums, clumps of them as far as the eye can see. Mostly because the eyes can’t see too far BECAUSE of the Bertums. I remembered that I had forgotten to take the Machete from Michele. Too late now! Well, AMY was still moving and it was becoming more difficult to see them. And unlike the last time, they didn’t seem too interested in feeding on Bertum fruits. They climbed up and down, up and down. I tried to keep up and was successful except for a few scares here and there. Once, i was with just a juvenile in sight whigh was Lori as I figured out and it was just Lori, Pippi and Pie. not a good combo as they are closely related, and Pippi seems to get lost quite a bit. Her lost call wsn’t filling me with confidence. But then the others came over and I was relieved.

We were heading to an area I wasn’t familiar with and I reckoned we were quite high up already. I thought we might be near the vantage point that boasts great views of the ocean when the sun sets- according to Anna. Well, maybe I’d finally get to see this amazing sunset over the ocean. We were climbing quite high now and the Bertums were making things really difficult. It was like in the swamp-I could only hear the pig-tails from time to time. And then we reached a place with less of an incline and fewer Bertums. Finally I can sit and drink some water I thought. Having a snack was out of the question at the rate AMY was moving. And then I realised why there were fewer Bertum- It was filled with huge boulders and mossy rocks. I saw Mina and Brienne disappear to a much clearer are to my left. All the males were hanging out to my right and juveniles had already climbed up via the spiny bertums that were around. I went left after where I’s seen Brienne and Mina disappear to. I’d just go up and wait for all of AMY to get up there.

I followed the clear path. It turns out, after the first bend, there was a rather steep climb and ofcourse I fell on my face, onto Bertums. But I got up there eventually, with scratches and spines sticking out; I’d had to go through some more clumps of Bertum and was really regeretting not getting the machete. I was sweating and hungry but a small breeze blew and I relaxed a bit. I still couldn’t hear AMY. Seeing them was out of the question. After waiting for close to 5 minutes I started moving about, AMY wasn’t coming, I realsed in horror and I was filled with dread. I went up further, I was almsot at the top. Some more Bertum, there was a sense of urgency now that I needed to desperately find them. They would have had to have gone up- why would they turn back and go down? Why were there so many Bertum- what was that sound? THEM? Nope. The wind here was stronger and I could hear eagles at close range. There was a nest up here. The GPS showed that I had reached the pinacle. I could see the ocean. It was difficult because of all the bertum but yes it looked nice. It was only only 4:55. And I was here, in a part of the forest I wasn’t familiar with and AMY wasn’t here with me. When you are with the pig-tails, it doesn’t matter if you are the only person around. It is safe. But right now and here, it was a little unnerving. I breathed a bit, drank some water, realised I was sweating like a pig and that the GPS had lost satelite reception. Luckily my phone hadn’t and so I made the call I really didn’t want to make.

I called Michele, explained things to her and then to Anna. Michele said she’d come pick me up. I wanted an hour, one because I didn’t really know the way back down and two, I hoped I would find AMY on the way. It was difficult, going down. Luckily at least the GPS was working. But I spent some time always chasing every sound I thought I heard only to realise my way was blocked by huge cumps of bertum and that I was afraid of veering of the already dis-used trail which was probably relatively better than other areas. It was 5:45 and I was still in an area I wasn’t too sure I had been in. I wasn’t sure if the GPS was showing me the right direction. I was disoriented. I sat down, breathed deeply and opened my eyes after a few moments. I knew this rock. I’ve been here before. I’m definitely on the right track, it’s just from a different angle. After some confusion, I finally got out after a bit of back and forth with Michele over walkie-talkie abbout how far I was.

I got back feeling quite dejected. It’s really sad when you lose AMY because looking for them means spending time you could have been observing and collecting data. Anna asked to see my track. “At least I saw the beautiful view” I said. She looked at my track intently, saw where I’d marked “AMY LOST”. “Wait, you actually went all the way up the hill looking for them?, It’s so high. The beautiful viewing point is far below this” she gasped. Seriously, so I’d gone and lost them and didn’t even see the beautiful viewing point? What a pathetic tragedy. But Anna was appreciative of my resillience and saw my anguish. I just wanted to curl up in bed after taking a shower. But we had to go into town run errands and pick up Vino who comes back from KL. I decided that I needed to splurge and feel good about myself. And thus today, I had some good Chicken claypot Biryani. Anna insisted I take my day off tomorrow even though I volunteered to help her, Michele and vino look for AMY. I think I need the break. But AMY will be there tomorrow and so will we.

Primate Diaries:Days 46-48

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.


1st March- The bliss

So it turns out that the thieves came back when we went to the city for emergency internet and finished the job-raiding the fridge. Now that we have little food left, we doubt we will be hit thrice in a row. And that is exactly why I spent a large portion of my day trying to sleep. It was my day off and i intended to make the most of it. But sleep eluded me no matter how hard I tried. So I gave up and decided to have an early breakfast of cramelised banana and cereal while reading up on some pig-tail macaque literature. That is after I had a run in with a particularly bold long-tail who has been hanging about our kitchen for the past few days. He is fearless in manner and unwavering in spirit (yes I tried saying “shooo shoo” while moving toward him menacingly)

Though the day wasn’t sunny, it was sultry and I did get an hour of siesta time before Michele returned after her shift. We are still running on a single bike which like yesterday, meant Michele would have to go pick Anna up at Checkpoint 2 at 7 pm. Michele quickly got busy working on her research proposal while I read a few more papers. It’s been quite a few months since I’ve read science-y things continuously for more than an hour and anyone who has been out of touch will tell you how difficult it can be to get back into the reading. So I was happy I’ve still got the ability to read, understand and critique papers without falling asleep or getting too distracted all the time (Facebook and instagram being too slow are probably a contributing factor).

By 6, the temperature had dropped considerably and it had started to drizzle. Michele had just fed the cats when she received a message from Anna “If you guys get this, can you please come pick me up earlier. It will not stop raining and I am in the swamp”. Oh no! So the rain was worse there than it was here. Michele left as soon as she had adequately covered herself against the rain. I sat at the table outside sipping warm tea and petting Mieza, the cat who had decided to shelter himself against the rain and sit on my non-drenched, relatively warm thighs (Yes, he is sort of spoilt by us). But soon, the storm hit. The wind picked up and the rain was lashing against every surface, dripping or spraying through eveerywhere. I had to run with the folder of papers, my phone and the notebook. Miezer soon followed- my room was better sanctuary, and he was soon curled up against the curtains near the desk. Michele and Anna got back without me even realising, because I couldnt hear the bike through the raging storm.

After getting the low-down from Anna, we realised we would have to buy basic provisions to last us through the week. So after the rain had eased up a bit and Anna had treated yet another faeces sample, we went to the supermarket, discussing possible security measures to enforce around the kitchen. And people say you don’t learn any skills when you volunteer as a field assistant on a biology research project!!

2nd March 2017,Thursday: Loss

Anna and I took the logging road to get to the swamp. Turns out AMY was at the swamp at checkpoint 1 and not ‘The Swamp’ at checkpoint 3. Still, it wasn’t easy to get there, what with all the swampiness, now increased thanks to last night’s mini-storm. We could hear AMY long before we could ctually get to them and I had spines in my palm while Anna had water in her boots before we even got there. We really hoped they went immediately into the plantation, me more than anyone. Apparently AMY had spent a better part of yesterday, deep in the plantation, that is before they suddenly realised the rain was about to hit and sought refuge in the swamp, strengthening my confidence inAnna’s hypothesis that they spend the night in the swamp when the rain is going to be particularly harsh.

So there we were, removing leeches left and right. I had one in my hair and when Anna spotted and removed it, there was blood on her hand. Mine. And here we were, thinking hair would protect us. Such naivete. Emma was the only one on the ground….foraging. Big surprise! Jisuaf was here and I saw Norbert chase the swelling probably-alpha female Goldie and her probable sister, close in rank- Pamkin. We decided to follow Emma on her foraging trail, at least we know she won’t forage on the ground in areas that are too wet and swampy. We saw that she had found a fruit, opened it to reveal a transluscent-white flesh and was enjoying her loot. After photographing the fruit and debating which tree it might have come from Anna said she must look for Febe to do a mother-infant focal on her and Fefe, her daughter. And if Emma is around, Febe should be nearby. And then Anna spotted her monitoring the area, from a tree near us. “Wait, where’s her baby?” Anna exclaimed. “What, do you mean, are you sure it’s her?”. ANd then she gave out this loud wail. We had been hearing the lost call for close to 10 minutes now. This was not a godd sign. Anna looked worried. She had seen this many times before. The infant mortality rate was very high, especially considering the rain, the deep water. And considering Fefe was too small to go anywhere on her own, the only possibility is drowning. I considered the possibility that she was with Emily, but Febe’s cries were desperate and Emily wasn’t around. She would come if she heard Febe. The sound of Febe’s call was haunting and deep-well scientifically it makes sense- a low pitch sound probably carries really far. At that moment, in the stillness after the rain, it was disturbing and sad. And, no one else seemed to be visibly upset by it. Not even Febe’s moher Emma.

Febe stopped after a while of calling from different directions. It is possible her baby was gone last night during the rain, she just was resting her chords before calling again at regular intervals. Anna decided to do a focal on the only visible individual easy enough to track in the swamp- Emma. She was foraging for a bit before climbing on a low hanging branch. I sat down on a relatively dry trunk to remove my 4th leech for the day- I had 12 the last time I was in this swamp, we were just getting started. Emma was getting groomed by her 1 year old Emanuel, who was only trying to get to her nipples so he could drink milk.

But Emma was having none of it. She turned away and then after he kept pestering her she seemed aggressive, holding him and pulling his ear. Finally, when none of the tactics worked, she just climbed down and went away. Febe had started calling again. AMY seemed to be in no mood to move. We realised it was 11 already and they weren’t going anywhere. So we whiled away our time by talking-shop, discussing experimental designs peratining to Anna’s project and if research needs to necessarily have a purpose that is not “satiating need for knowledge”. Yeah, we were bored and couldn’t even do Inter-Observer Reliability tests because the individuals were so hard to see amongst the canopy anyway. I waited till 12:30 while Anna sat drying her socks and feet, before I got out after a bit of a struggle and got back home. Michele had Anna’s co-ordinates and went to the forest.

I decided that I should do something productive after having spent some hours trying to take a nap after lunch. So I finally decided that it was getting un-sunny and cool enough to sit outside. After feeding the cat and making myself some ginger tea, I decided that it was time to type out yesterday and today’s events. The rain started soon, as you may have guessed and I worried about making the journey with the tablet to my hut. I heard the gate open. Michele and Anna were back at…6:30 pm- just like the good old days when I first arrived and it rained all the time. Through the crashing rain and thunder, we screamed out the basics. AMY had finally come out into the plantation and stayed till 4 before going back to the swamp. Then, I got to the desk, opened my window and sit here, typing this as a mighty thunder strikes and the winds rage. I am watching the same sugar-canes in the unused field outside my window but I don’t know how long even their sturdy looking stem can withstand the storm’s strength.

3rd March: Recovering

Michele and I left early in the morning, reaching the sleeping site after some confusion (the forest does look very different early in the morning as Michele realised). Last evening’s rain meant Michele and Anna had left earlier than usual but we didn’t expect AMY to have moved much. The long-tails were around and so were the duskies. And bless-my-heart I could hear the Gibbons…well GIBBON! This male had quite a voice, it echoed through the forest and I forgot for a moment to be sad that he was looking for a female who wasn’t responding. The gibbons’ duets are apparently a treat to the ears. We sat there silently, listening to the booming melody. We climbed up a little higher because the ruckus being made by the climbing long-tails was making it hard to heard the muffled sounds by the juveniles. And then a lost call. “Must be Febe”, I said, still in mourning about her lost baby although apparently she didn’r cry after her morning session. But maybe, she remembered again that she used to have a baby.

We waited for a half an hour, but AMY didn’t seem to have any plans to move. And they didn’t go to their morning male-bark ritual or the female-juvenile contact calls. But then it hit us- we needed to have visual confirmation immediately that wasn’t the one male on the tree far below that we could see or the juvenile we thought we saw in th tree nearby. And we went up a little further to have a better view from the hill. By the time we had begun moving a little bit, we had both silently begun to think “AMY lost” without wanting to say it out loud. ANd they were so close to the plantation too. How come I never get a day when AMY just spends all their time in the plantation?

And since we were growing weary without a clue where AMY could be- we went home. Sometimes it good to quit so you don’t feel too mentally exhausted. And the funny thing is that we definitel feel more tired when we are not following AMY even though we don’t necessarily walk through difficult terrain. Since we are functioning on 1 bike since the other one has a flat wheel, Anna and I decided that the two of us would go. They probably went uphill really fast and without much warning or contact-calling according to Anna. Apparently, they have a tendency to do that. Sneak off up a hill, or even down without so much as a peep. Which means they would have to be in the plantation sometime in the early afternoon.

We got there around 2:15 and separated to find the pig-tails. We knew they would have to be close to checkpoint 1-2.5. So I was walking at the edge of the plantation, the buffer zone to the forest when I heard and saw some pig-tails. Some juveniles were going in and a male looked at me without puckering. “Found them Anna”, I said through the walkie-talkie. Anna was on her way when, another male- Oh Norbert…yay. Wait no. His arms are fuzzy and fair and a dark head but his tail was differen, Norbert’s amazing bushy , frayed tail. And then someone else came out to the edge of the forest. And all doubt rushed out along with all coherent thought. “Anna, it was the group VOLDEMORT, I just saw him- Voldemort. I’ll keep searching for AMY”. Well that was a premature celebration I thought walking into an area I normally wouldn’t go to. A little way into the plantation. And then I saw some movement on the ground. Surprsingly, it was a female pig-tail with a pig-tail running away as soon as she saw me. It does look like Chewbacca with her infant Chocolate and she DOES still run away from us. I followed in her direction, crossing a moat on the way. There was Scarlet, my saviour on many an ocassion, climbing up a palm while Tim followed. I heard noises, characteristically pig-tail, coming from the plot on the other side. “This time it is definitely AMY”, I told Anna.

She reached me soon enough and decided to focal Norbert without further ado. I went around doing an id-check. Febe, seemed okay, just sad to see her without her baby. Felicia, her other juvenile was nearby. Emma, as usual was on the ground. It was only 3 when AMY decided to finally respond to the looming thunder in the sky and start moving in though the rain was not too strong. Anna and I followed. She had just finished with Norbert who spent the whole time sitting around feeding from something he had stored in his cheek-pouch which I happened to see was pink when he happened to take it out. It was definitely flesh. We had later heard the bones crunch as he chewed them with his powerful jaws.

We started going up one hill, then crossed to another, through some Bertums till we reached a patch exclusively filled with them. Anna was doing a focal on Biru while I was stalking Tiga to see what he was eating and if I could photograph it. obviously he wasnt letting it go so easily. But I had enough and more time because AMY had found the Bertum fruit jackpot. Half an hour later, Anna seemed very happy. Biru had stayed in her line of sight eating the whole time after an initial hiccup when I had to stand on the other side and give her a running commentary of what Biru was up to. Unsurprising because all the individuals of AMY were bust partaking the very same fruits that grow on a stalk surrounded by spiny Bertum stems. AMY slowly began to move to the left, an area which we thought had taller, non-spiny trees. More approporiate for sleeping. And thus, after waiting for around 40 minutes and realising we were pretty far uphill and that I had worked almost 10 hours today, we climbed down, evading a more rainy time that the camp had evidently seen.

Days 18-20:Primate Diaries

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 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.
Feb 1st 2017- Urges

Mimi and I were to take over from Anna and do the afternoon shift. We were hoping for a respite from the rain as Anna wanted to take the car to the city. She was to run errands and pick up two new additions, Michelle and Vino, the soon-to-be worshippers of the force that is AMY. Mimi decided that perhaps I could drive the bike one way. Bad move as it turns out because I’m not used to people riding pillion with me and she was too nice to say how frightened she was. Well, we got there without TOO much trouble (Mimi might think differently). AMY was out in the plantation so Mimi and I were saved the trouble of learning co-ordinates or navigating mazes of Rattans and Bertams. Anna, again conducted focals while Mimi and I did scans every 20 minutes. I had a personal hooray momemt because I spotted Norbert (the alpha male) furiously wolfing down what looked like a rat. Obviously, I was overjoyed because he was close enough for me to take a video of the behaviour. Mimi believes that he probably bullied someone else into giving it to him. He certainly is physically imposing enough. I was also able to record some of the individuals partaking berries that we aren’t sure have been recorded yet (so I can’t reveal what the plant is- ssshhh SPOILERS!)
Anna left soon after AMY decided to hang out in the forest. And after moving for a bit, we were about to follow them onto a hill when there was a sudden flurry of macaques rushing to climb up trees. Chewbacca gathered her infant (Chocolate) so fast off of the nearest branch, it looked like she gave it a concussion. Males were barking and juveniles were whimpering. And then we heard the dogs. They sounded quite far away but in such cases, it is better to trust the macaques’ instincts more than your own. So we sat there for some time while the only individuals low enough in the canopy were a few juveniles. Other than occasional hoots from females, we would have no other evidence of their presence.
It had been about 40 minutes now and the dogs were long gone, but AMY had no intentions of moving anytime soon. Scarlet was once again getting groomed by Tiga, the juveniles were playing and for once, Norbert was on a tree branch. Well he had to use two parallel tree branches because he is so massive. We sat there, watching him nap lying on his back,his hands splayed out,seeming very human. He finally decided that it was time to leave and lunged onto the branch below. What he didn’t take into account was how brittle the thin branches he jumped on to were. It was a hilarious fall and we couldn’t help startling a nearby juvenile with our laughs of sadistic pleasure. AMY was now moving to another patch of the forest. While we were cautiously stepping around Rattans, I noticed something flutter by. Turns out it was a bat roosting at what seems a weird time, in a weird place for a bat. And as we were about to take pictures was the exact moment an excited juvenile pig-tail decided to jump on the closest branch. We got over the disappointment pretty soon as we spotted Pippi, whose recent dalliances with Phoenix and Oliver were a source of amusement and scientific curiosity. We followed her. Pippi is sort of a loner and skittish around others in the group. We spotted Pippi pass Oliver but Norbert was nearby. Calmly eating some mushrooms and scratching his scrotum. Febe was nearby, with her infant Fefe. Pippi saw him too late and had a fright so immidiately course corrected, crashing into Febe and then tried to groom her started grooming Febe. Febe, who seemed startled and repulsed by Pippi, quickly moved away clearing the path for Pippi to avoid Norbert completely. He didn’t even seem slightly inconvenienced. Anna thinks he is biding his time till Pippi’s swelling grows. But as it turns out, the second encounter between Norbert and Pippi was also in our fortune. Pippi still seemed scared. But she presented to Norbert. He decided to inspect her swelling but Pippi was too nervous and went away from him. But Norbert, always the epitome of chill, waited patiently. She returned and freaked out twice more before she finally let him mount her.
Finally, the group had decided to lead us to the plantation. However, the sky was filling up with dark clouds and our minds were filling with dread as we realised we would have to deal with the rain and then go back by bike. The macaques either didn’t think the rain was going to be too bad, or they were too hungry to care. We decided to go with the former explanation and their instincts. So they hung out. But because it had started raining, it was difficult to do any scans as most of them were in the crown of the palms. Some even kept moving back and forth from the trees in the forest to the oil-palms. After about an hour of this, the rain got heavier, though still not unbearable. The macaques were still not travelling into the forest despite it being 6:30 already. Some more bouts of thunder later, we agreed that it would be safer for us to get back now because the sky seemed unrelenting and the macaques seemed to be slowing down and would definitely sleep close to where they were.
Mimi and I both decided that she would be the best person to drive through such weather and worsening road condition as a result of the rain. Ok, so there were some hassles and I fell into the mud once and got hit in the face by a palm frond a lot ut Mimi definitely handled the bike much better than I would have. Anna too had enjoyed her half-day in the city . By night, we met Michele and Vino. Now I guess, I get to teach them what I have learnt over the past few days.
2nd Feb- Tree falls in the forest

Mimi and I were to run errands in the city while Michele and Vino needn’t to buy grocery. Anna had said she would do the morning shift and Mimi and Vino would do the afternoon shift. I was up at around 7. Made myself a nice cuppa and decided to start reading 1984. It was raining but was more of a pleasant, more tolerable drizzle. Perfect reading-while-drinking-coffee weather. I picked up my phone to take a picture of this bliss for Instagram. I had a whatsapp notification. It was from Anna. She was wondering if any of us were awake (Vino and Michele had only got her last night at around 11:30 pm and Michele had travelled from the Netherlands). I answered immediately. Turns out there was a fallen tree blocking the road. A large one and it was wedged so hard among other vegetation you couldn’t move it. Anna said she would walk if we could go by car and one of us could drive the bikw back. I woke up Mimi who got her machete just in case.
At the scene of the crime, we realised that the branch was too thick to hack with a machete. We tried breaking it with our combined weight, attacking it at seemingly weak point. You realise that knowing fulcrum and its appications theoretically is very different from using those principles when a tree won’t budge. We realised that ifwe cut its main branches, it would be unstuck from the vegetation on the other side. So I used all my aggression (I have a lot of it) and all my strength (probably don’t have too much of it) to free the tree from one side. I am happy to report that we moved the tree….by about an inch. We didn’t lose steam though. We cleared enough of a path so at least the bike could pass. But the macaques would have definitely left the sleeping site by this time and looking for them could be difficult because they would still be in the forest. We were getting late to go to the city. And fortunately for us, since the tree had fallen on a used route, it would be removed soon; or someone with a saw or an axe and not a machete, would soon come by. We were able to convince Anna to come with us to the city and assured her that they would find them in the afternoon. I got my work done, the others got their grocery and we had lunch at our regular ‘biriani’ spot.
On returning, we heard that the road had been cleared so Mimi, Vino and Anna went to the reserve. Turns out theat they found AMY quite soon as they were in the plantation. Meanwhile, I recooked some silica gel. Boxes that store our equipment need to be free of moisture which can be difficult when it is so humid; the silica beads help. Meanwhile, Nadine’s husband and friends came to fix the other bike. We also caught a glimpse of the new car, better equipped to take into the forest. Michele wanted to go to the beach, which was somthing I still hadn’t done so as the weather got more pleasant, we went to the beach, saw some hilarious crabs fighting to claim a bivalve’s meat, talked about our dreams, aspirations and frustrations, came to the conclusion that all of us seem to have the same set of problems, regardless of culture, religion or race…all while wading along the shore.
Tomorrow, Anna, Michele and I take the morning shift. I’m excited to see another person get mesmerised the power of AMY.

3rd Feb 2017: Accidents

Michele, Anna and I reached the sleeping site birght and early- well not so bright yet but that’s good. We saw some juveniles but most of the individuals were skittish because of 3 people; one of whom is new. However, Michele was already rather surprised at how close they were to us, though we informed her that this proximity was actually called far. The view would get even better later, when they hung out in the plantation. Anna started with her focal with Chewbacca, who carries her infant Chocolate. Michelle and I conducted scans at a distance so as to not startle Chewbacca with 3 stalkers instead of one. I also pointed out the individuals I was now able to recognise- to Michelle. As we were scanning, we saw a male- Phoenix enjoying some fruit sitting on a fallen tree that forms a bridge between us and the rocky outcrop on the other side. Biru came from behind him and jumped over him like a boss in the calmest manner. He saw her and mounted her. She then stated grooming him. But wait- Biru isn’t swelling. I conferred with Anna but didn’t have to describe what we saw in great detail as it happened- again and again. I made an entry of each event in the ad-libitum section (entries to be made if you see something interesting between scans). Pippi was around again and is easy to spot, and her dalliances with non-alphas that we have been witnessing is exactly what Michelle is here to study- How females exercise choice in the matter although the alpha males seemingly solicit all swelling females. But today, we again witnessed Norbert mounting Pippi. this time, she ran away-looking back as if surprised at what had happened and gave out a series of short hoots-like a hoo-hoo-hoo, the copulatory call. I wonder if the reason she doesn’t do that when she mates with other males is becauseshe would not want the alpha male to know that she has decided to diversify her options of genes.
AMY had begun to move. Pippi, the loner who usually hung out only with Pie, her kid and Lori-her adopted kid, was not associating with them while swelling and upon enquiring, Anna informed me that it was the case for other females while they were swelling as well. Though it wasn’t too hard on the juvenile as it was usually a year after she gave birth, that the female would swell again (though it would happen earlier, if they lost their baby). I was also amused to learn that chewbacca, Putih and Febe who all currently have infants, do not associate with each other much when they don’t have babies whereas they hang out and travel with each other a lot these days. We were discussing such fascinating and probably undocumented/univestigated behaviour going down the hill, when we realised it had turned eerily quiet. This is not uncommon as the pig-tails can sometimes be very quiet while moving through the forest. But there should at least be leaves rustling. Luckily, I saw Emma’s juvenile Emily right then and we heard some females call. Relief came flooding back in. So we decided to go down. Michele was clarifying somethig with Anna so I decided to follow in Emily’s direction. We went down into an area I knew before. Mimi and had lost AMY here before. It was swampy, with the plantation straight ahed but two rocky, steep hills on both sides. This was the only path we could take. So we went ahead and were closer to the plantation but no matter how much we strained our eyes or ears- there was no sign of AMY. Some long-tails, some Duskies but that is it. I had made us ‘lose’ AMY. We were too far in the swamp to go back and course correct. So we came out into the plantation hoping they were there. We searched for them, in vain. Anna decided to climb up the hill close to their sleeping site (being the faster climber and the resident AMY expert) while Michele and I went further into the plantation.
We had almost lost hope and were at our wits’ and shift’s end when we received a message. Anna had sent co-ordinates. They were on the hill. We decided to go in. Franzi was sittin on a rock calmly picking out spines from between his toes waiting to welcome Michelle and me. He is like Heimdall, the gatekeeper of Asgard, and a source of comfort when you can’t spot any Orange t-shirts yet (Check out why we wear orange). We found Anna doing a focal so hung back. She was grateful because she had finally got 30 minutes worth of data on Malicia- one of the shy females. Michele and I soon went down again to switch shifts with mimi and Vino.
It was my turn to ride the bike with Michele sitting pillion. I avoided most pothole and we survived all the dangerous muddy spots, including the one where i had taken a spill. I was quite proud of my achievements and we were quite close to home. We had to stop for cows that had decided to chew cud right in the middle of the road. Instead of stopping the second time we encounteered them, I accelerated to scare them off and I worked. Too bad I accelerated straight ahead into a patch of sand and couldn’t control the bike. The bike turned sideways and we fell. Luckily- we weren’t injured…physically (I can’t account for Micheles’s possible mental trauma). I drove home more carefully. Mimi and I had forgotten that the tablet was iwth me so she would have to take scans on paper. Ughhhhh. Too many things, such little brain space. But I was glad that Michele had already had the pleasure of meeting AMY, fel the disappointment of losing them and the joy after finding them along with the risks associated with bad roads and inexperienced, overconfident drivers (that would be me- hold sexist comments about women driving). She was overwhelmed, exhausted and still jetlagged and I left her to rest after discussing and viewing pictures of all the individuals we had met today.
Anna sent me a message that they would be late because AMY was in the mood for movement today. They had climbed quite far up and did not seem to be stopping. It turns out Anna was right (as she tends to be when t comes to AMY) and the three of them only came back at around 8:30. It had taken them 30 minutes just to get down, stumbling through a mostly unknown part of the forest. Mimi and Michele were to go in the morning tomorrow and expected at least 45 minutes to get all the way up there. Vino’s personal achievement was that she got her first…and second leech bites. The second one was still attached to her and I had the honour of discovering, detaching and destroying so it wouldn’t latch on to one of us, or the cats. I might have been trying to make up for all the stuff that got screwed up because of me. But you learn lessons quickly when you have no one else to bail you out all the time. And so I’ll be more cautious tomorrow when Vino and I do the afternoon shift. I’ll drive carefully, not lose sight of AMY and remember to take and fill the tablet.