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.

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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.

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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.

Primate Diaries-Days 37-39

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

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20th Feb’2017- Eyes wide open

Mimi has been gone, volunteering in the state of Pahang where a health check-up has been organised for on of the Aboriginal tribes (She is a do-gooder. Tell me how the “youth are out of touch and lazy” again). Anna really needed a day off after all those 12-hour shifts she has been pulling. And thus, I was here in the forest this morning while Michele would take over the afternoon shift. And being alone (the times I either Anna or I were lost don’t count) meant I was going to have to ensure that nothing made me lose AMY.

I reached the sleeping site and though I was on time, it was already well lit though the sun wasn’t out yet. I thought I heard rusting further downhill, in the direction heading towards the plantation. This would make sense as AMY had only gone into he plntation once yesterday. It was the sensible thing to do but AMY may not do what I dem is sensible for them to do. I abandoned my plan to go down and walked left instead because I thought I heard more sounds. Seemed like a good call (call- get it? the pun?) but I still had no visual confirmation. And as if answering my silent prayers, there he stood, on the ground staring intently at me. The Heimdall of AMY- Franzi. With a look in his eye that seemed to say, “Where were you? You’re late” before he got up and led me straight to the females. They were busy grooming infants while some juveniles and adults were still climbing drown from there night perches. They began to move and I wondered what direction they were moving in. You know what, doesn’t matter. I WAS NOT going to lose them while I was busy staring into the GPS, phone or filling up the tablet too long. They move like ninjas, no sound,no warning and then…no trace.

They were moving in small circles around the sleeping site, looking for things they could feed on. Biru had finally caught Norbert’s eye and I got bored of watching them go through the predictable motions of ‘present-pucker-mount-vocalise’. Although, as Michele had pointed out yesterday, Biru for some reason doesn’t groom whoever has just mounted her. I was tumbling through more spiny Bertum while avoiding muck in my bid to follow AMY. My conflict with Phoenix, tormentor of juveniles and pain in every macaque’s butt continues (I celebrate silently everytime he gets rejected by a swelling female or chased by some other adult -male or female). Meanwhile, Oliver and I have finally reached an understanding following our series of stand-offish encounters. He no longer glares warily at me while uckering incessantly though he’s still not reached the level of almost a weed-induced chill of Franzi and Norbert (according to the knowledge I have of weed-induced chill from TV and movies). Brandi watched me curiously when she though I was unaware. Wish I could pucker like they do when they catch you watching them (obviously this is a bad idea- i is best to keep a neutral”resting bitch face”).

We finally reached a flat surface. We were quite close to the logging road. I sat down on the only available log without spines and I could see Febe to my right around 10 m away and Franzi diagonallly in front of me around 7 m away calmly plucking out a spine from his foot. It was a tranquil moment and I eased up. He looked at me and I at him and then suddenly, before I could move or react, he had jumped like a startled cat and up a tree while a gigantic WILD PIG passed through and jumped over the log at the exact spot where Franzi was a second ago. I sat there frozen while images of Peppa pig and Pumba were replaced by this silent giant who could actually jump over this log like a graceful ballerina as well as crushing someone with its monstrosity. When I unfroze, everyone seemed as unperturbed as they were before and Franzi as back to grooming himself as if nothing had occured.

AMY got on to the logging road and I realised they were heading into the swamp at Checkpoint 1. This gave me a chance to do a head count as they trickled from the forest to the other side of the logging road. I saw the shy mother Chewbacca. (Shy is an understatement. She alarm calls every time she spots you watching her. Anna gets frusrated when trying to do a focal on her) Or at least I think that’s her. Where was her baby? I go closer, she spots me and runs up a tree snatching her baby Chocolate (whose sex we still don’t know because Chewbacca won’t leave it alone) from its surprised babysitter Jane, the swelling sub-adult who is fond of all juveniles and currently swelling herself. “Sorry” I whisper for having caused grief though I doubt they understood.

We reached the swamp and a familiar part of the swamp too for that matter. Michele and I had spent two-three consecutive days in this area closest (again…relatively) to ‘bridge 2’. It was almost 1pm and none of the areas I had been in had reception so messages giving my location had been unsent. I hoped AMY would move steadily to the plantation and I could just be spotted by Michele there but suddenly AMY stopped. They were just taking their own sweet time to get to the plantation. Luckily, this gave me the erefct opportunity to try out our new walki-talkies and they worked. Michele came to bridge 2 and I told her I was only 87 m away from her. Easier said than done in this area but we have used the way and so cleared part of it. She got to us, I handed over the tablet, briefed her about my day,we exchanged GPSs and I wished her good luck.

I had almost reached the tarred road without incident when I saw something on the path. It was black as coal and glistening, and moving from the forest to the field on my right. I slowed to a standstill at a standstill. I knew by then that it was definitely a snake. And then I saw its head, the unmistakable whiteband on the underside, near its head- A COBRA. It’s funny how time slows down for your benefit and you can notice eveery detail, every second when you know you can’t photograph it because it happpens so suddenly (Also, I don’t want to get trampled by a pig or bitten by a cobra).

I got home. Mimi had arrived last night after her trip to Pahang and was going back home to Kedah. She had been kind enough to make us all Tom-yam because she is a saintly creature. The landlady had invited the remaining three of us (Anna, Mimi and I) to lunch which we accepted and enjoyed. Mimi left with the promise that she’ll try to come and visit before I leave and I’m going to hold her to it.
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21st Feb’2017- Little AMY wants to play

I had a terrible headache last night which was not impoving because I couldn’t sleep much thanks to the crazy downpour interspersed by loud thunder. When I finally went to sleep, it was still raining. And so it was when I got up. Anna and I decided that it would be better if we took the jeep. We got there but didn’t go to the sleeping site immediately. It was so dark and still pouring cats and dogs. We would not be able to see ahead or hear AMY thanks to the rain. Finally, at around 8:15, we decided to go in the moment the rain eased up a little though it was still a steady drizzle. And then it hit us where the sleeping site was. I learned the true meaning of swamp. It was waterlogged. Places I knew so well, with muck and Pandan trees looked novel when so much of it was under water. I could feel something on my inner arm- a leech. I started to bleed though it wasn’t too bad. “That’s only the first of many” said Anna.

We got to the sleeping site Michele had marked. The rain was so bad that AMY had definitely not moved. We went up a bit further till we reached a place where we could hear them. The long-tails and Duskies were here too though no gibbons. Anna believes that AMY tends to sleep in either of the swamps when it is about to get stormy that night although she doesn’t know how to prove it scientifically…yet. We stood under a tree to shelter from the rain while fending of and removing leeches before they did too much damage. We watched as Jisuaf repeatedly mounted Goldie who-bless her vocalises every time so we can be assured of her, and thus AMY’s presence. Afetr a while, our eyes adjusted to the low-light conditions (it was 9:30) and we saw others. “We’ve only moved 20 m today” Anna said looking at the GPS. Soon, the males had their barking and support-shake rituals (they seem to do this ever morning as if their heirarchy needs to be figured out and reinstated every day). By 10 am, when the rain finally stopped and it started getting warmer, AMY started moving and I removed the 9th leech from my body. “I once had 20 in total on a single day, your number too will increase as we walk more now” Anna remarked. Dreading the leaahes, we began wading through the almost knee high water and looking for little island made of dead wood and solid mud that could suport our weight and wasn’t surrounded by clumps of spiny plants. This was a difficult task to accomplish and we had to take many a detour to avoid getting stuck. Luckily, we knew AMY was heading towards the plantation using our favoured route via bridge 2, which though mostly underwater was still manageable.

By 11 am, as I removed my 12th leech, Anakin had come out to the plantation though still in the buffer zone. Biru was getting mounted by some male, probably Oliver. Anna did a focal on Anakin while I filled in the tablet while I waited for others to come out. It was 12 and we could still only hear AMY on the other side of the bridge. Even Anakin went back in. So we crossed back again and waited. Then we waited some more till we got bored of seeing and hearing them but frustrated because they didn’t seem to want to go to the plantation. We wondered how hungry they might be and why they weren’t going out. Tim was sleeping above us while Curli mounted and groomed Phoenix, who for once seemed too sleepy to torment anyone. While other males fought and barked, Norbert was too busy getting groomed. And suddenly, the long-tails that had actually gone into the plantation started alarm-calling for no apparent reason. AMY seemed not as excited- probably because they knew they were safe. Tim momentaily raised his head and looked. I followed his gaze and saw what the fuss was all about. The dogs were here.

This whole time, my message to Michele who had her day off, to come pick me up hadn’t been sent (no reception in the swamp) and I wanted AMY to go out so I could go find reception. It was 1:15 pm. We had watched as Norbert was chasing Biru up and down several trees to probably mount her while she refused and avoided him. Finally, the mothers came out of the bushes in the distances and we saw that the group was definitely travelling to the plantation this time. I spotted Putih on who Anna was desperate to do a focal. We crossed the makeshift bridge 2 yet again. But in the time it took us to cross cautiously, Putih had gone. My head was throbbing now and I decided that it was time to get to a place where I could find reception so all my messages to Michele could be sent. I finally called her the moment I had reception asking her to please come pick me up on the bike. She had luckily just received my messages and was about to leave.

We got back by 2 and I showered, had lunch and decided to replenish my body with electrolytes before sleeping for close to 4 and a half hours. It is my day off tomorrow and I intend to write my blog, do some chores and relax.
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Wednesday 22nd Feb’2017- An ode to ‘uselessness’

I went to sleep quite late, taking advantage of the fact that internet is stronger (again- relatively, post 11 pm). I set an alarm for 7:30. I was going to unwind, type my blog up with the least mistakes possible, do laundry and cook for the wake so I didn’t live on Maggi and apples. I had given Anna and Michele all the stuff they would need for this morning. But I missed out on one crucial thing….bike keys. So Michele after trying to start the bike without keys realised that this bike needed keys which were in my hut. After I was woken up, I couldn’t really go back to sleep but I decided to browse some internet, or try to. I lay back down and felt a crunch. Almost too afraid of whether my head had cracked open, but rationalising that it would be louder and more painful, I slowly sat up and turned on my phone’s flashlight. It was a big-ass spider. I had crushed it to death. Well, no point relaxing now.

After disposing off the corpse, I decided that I should really get on to doing my laundry while having coffe and working on the blog. I wanted to finish all my weekly chores while I had the time. The landlady informed me that long-tails were in the village again. This was enough inspiration for me to finally procrastinate on cooking. I finally had lunch by 1pm. It was a nice day- not too sunny and not rainy. Although I’m completely okay with rain if I don’t have to work or leave the house.

I had made plans to start a new book or read some papers after a little siesta. Until I realised Youtube was working. And then I fell asleep. I got up and Michele was knocking on my door informing me that the cooking gas cylinder was probably empty. There goes my plan to do something work-related today and cook the Silica gel. Anna would have to come so we could drive to exchange the cylinder. And we were seriously low on petrol. As in we were sure it wouldn’t last us till the next trip to the city on Saturday. So after Anna came back and filled us in on AMY’s activities and sleeping site, we made the impulse decision to come into the city, change Starbucks day from Friday to Wednesday and get food after.

One doesn’t realise how exhausted one gets. And I never feel tired when I am working. In fact I feel I am not doing enough. So this is my post appreciating a relaxing day dedicated to unwinding. Though it did not necessarily start out or pan out as I had planned, me the cynic has realised that it is not necessarily a bad thing.

PS- Follow my adventures via images and videos on:

twitter- @mad_megs

instagram- meghamajoe

Primate Diaries- Days 34-36

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

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17th Feb’2017 – The lull

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

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

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

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

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18th February 2017: I hear voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days 31-33: 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 account of 3 days. I will try to explain biology jargon and/or provide links for them. But I’m pressed for time as internet is precious and I use Starbucks’ wifi (shoutout to Starbucks for all the caffeine). Excuse the atrocious spelling and grammar. I’m using a tablet and I miss MS Word pointing out my errors. Photos are more difficult to upload but I’ll figure out a way to do it later, and hope that my words are enough to paint a picture. Please read the previous posts for context. Feedback and questions are appreciated. Curiosity drives us. It drove me to this adventure.

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14th Feb 2017: Back in business

Anna and I rode out on the two seperate bikes this morning.The partying was done and we were back on track. AMY had slept in the same place they had slept the day they…I didn’t even want to think it- ran super quickly and dragged us to “The Swamp”. We were dreading that outcome but AMY was feeling kind today. After confusing us a bit by moving in no particular direction, we caught up to them moving into the plantation. Most of the oil-palm fruits had been harvested and the macaques decided that they weren’t even going to bother leaving the buffer-zone. Anna could still do focals on the juveniles she needed though. I sat down and checked off all the individuals I could see, the state of swelling that the females were in and which males had achieved the coveted ‘pink scrotum’ (when they have a red penis- Norbert and Oliver currently do so). It had only been an hour and the last few individuals were trickling back into the forest. I looked around for Anna but couldn’t find her. I presumed she must have gone inside already and waited for Biru (swelling considerably), Brienne (starting to swell), Mina (regrowing swell) and Phoenix (currently mounting Biru when he has the chance). Soon, they started to move in. They were going through small thickets which I could access with some difficulty and the difficulty level kept increasing. Finally, I only had eyes on Mina who quickly averted my gaze and climbed quickly up a steepish rock. I couldn’t see or hear anyone. But I knew this area by now and so I kept climbing. I was climbing a small rock when my leg slipped and I tripped over a vine. I got up and realised that Phoenix was intently staring at me. He has no concept of personal space and is growing increasingly troublesome. He torments juveniles almost everyday and even the usually calm Scarlet and Emma are wary of him. Scarlet even chased him screaming today after growing tired of his rubbish. I avoided him and kept on my path. I was just about to start panicking because Anna wasn’t answering me when I heard juveniles playing and males grunting. Anna was at the far end doing a focal on the shy-ish mother Chewbacca (and her infant Chocolate). I realised that is why she didn’t answer- also because she knew I would find her and was panicking unnecessarily.

AMY was moving around quite a lot though not really towards a particular place. I was keen on seeing my bae Norbert who seemed to be a rare sight today. Oliver, my slightly intimidating frenemy was abundantly visible though. He was sneaking up on me and testing how close he could be without needing to pucker or run away. Phoenix and Anakin were taking turns hanging out and mounting the swelling females. Anakin too has become more habituated to us I believe. He doesn’t pucker as much and is cool just sitting around pretending to ignore us while snidely keeping an eye out to track our movements.
AMY began to move again, this time climbing quite high up. We were almost close to the highest pointthat boasts breathtaking views of the sun setting on the ocean. But AMY had alternative plans for us. They decided that we were better off fighting Bertam palms’ spines that relaxing on a hill top with views of the ocean. And so we started climbing down, watching juveniles clamber onto falle logs that were to big for them to grip and Brienne quickly moving away when she encountered Scarlet. I caught a glimpse of my valentine Norbert but he ws too busy barking in short grunts to mollify some juvenile probably or discipline them (we don’t know much about vocalisations and their purpose in different contexts).

Michele had the day off today and Mimi and Vino have been tasked with attempting to find the other group- VOLDEMORT. And Anna being the badass she is and amazingly nice had decided that she was going to pull yet another 12 hour feat and let me go home whenever I wanted. I was disappointed as I had failed to get a chance to try a focal yet again because AMY kept moving downhill so fast even Anna had to stop focalling. I asked if she needed any chores to be done back at camp, just so I could make up . “Go and enjoy your birthday”. Man, such awesome humans studying pig-tails.
So I returned in time to see Vino off. She is going to another project site for 2 weeks. I showered, ate a late lunch, tried to write my blog, got annoyed of all the flies and mosquitos, decided to go to my room to type and then decided that I would take Anna’s advice and enjoy my birthday. And so I took a nap- for almost 2 hours. It was a beautiful birthday
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15th Feb’ 2017: You-Know-Who

I woke up at around 6:30 and decided to ask if Anna and Michele who were about to leave for the morning shift needed some equipment from our hut. They realised that Mimi had the keys and I realised that they were still in her bag. So I had to go wake the poor thing up. After handing over the keys I reminded both Anna and Michele to fill petrol in their bikes. Michele realised that she couldn’t find her head-torch. And it couldn’t be lost in her bag. It is fluorescent-ishly pink and would stand out. Since they were getting late I offered her mine and tried to write the blog while being side-tracked by the cats and the dawn -chorus of the birds. Mimi and I were to leave soon too as today she and I were to repeat what Vino and her did yesterday, in vain. Look for VOLDEMORT.

I have mentioned VOLDEMORT in my first blog. They are the other group that share the reserve with AMY. They get their name fromthe alpha of the group who had no nose. Nadine hopes that we can habituate VOLDEMORT like we have habituated AMY. This is good because it will increase the amount of data collected for the different projects and we will avoid confounding our data by having just a single group who may have a particular set of behaviours that are only observable in them and can’t be claimed to be common to all pig-tails. We had already made big plans for VOLDEMORT. Anna had told us that many of VOLDEMORT’s indivuduals were still not-photographed or catalogued, we had a chance to name them. Vino had quipped that all the individuals should be named after deatheaters. Or if not, at least some one should be named Bellatrix. Having conversations like these make you realise how much of an impact certain books have on people (also that Potterheads are everywhere).

So, here we were, Mimi and I. We decided to split up at checkpoint 1. I would scour the plantations while she would stay closer to the forest edge. We would go all the way uptil checkpoint 0 in this fashion and meet at a designated point (Such good planning whe you know your communication devices are going to be useless). So I made my way into the plantation and kept an eye and a ear out for any movement in the leaves or low hoots characteristic of pig-tails. And there was nothing. I don’t mean no pig-tails….nothing at all. No long-tails, squirrels, shrews, rats, dogs, cows, humans. Nothing. You know those movies where when there’s supposed to be pin-drop silence they fill it with sounds of crickets chirping? Yep that was it….just some crickets chirping. I remembered that Vino and Mimi had informed us that almost all of the fruits in the plantation had been harvested so there would be lesser feeding opportunies for the macaques and others. My mind wandered onto other things. I noticed that the sun was filtering out through the leaves manifesting in my favourite scenario-The Tyndall effect. This also made a lot of spider webs visible. I immediately decided to take some pictures and hopefully be able to photograph some of the designers. I was trying to get this beautiful crab spider in focus when I heard a rustle from the dried oil-palm leaves on the ground nearby. Probably a skink, I thought. But then a sound as if something was laughing like we type a laugh “He He He He”. I turned around and tried to look for a source- nothing. So I went back to trying to focus on the spider. But there it was again, the sound. You know those same movies with the pin-drop silence and the crickets chirping which suddenly gets filled with soft maniacal laughter and then a piercing scream from the protagonist as they die? Yeah. Me too. Thus I moved away cautiously and quickly knowing full well that it was probably a frog or a gecko that makes the sound.

After scouring the area without much luck, I went back. Mimi and I decided to use the logging road and go as far inside as possible, “Hmm”ing and “Huh”ing to mimic the sounds of pig-tails as convincingly as possible in the hope of a response. Mimi had made the sound and heard a lost call, turns out it was from a lost long-tail though. We walked along sharing our common amazement of fungi diversity and flowering plants along the way. “Maybe VOLDEMORT needs to be resurrected” Mimi said. “Hmm, bone of the father unknowingly given, flesh of the servant willingly sacrificed, blood of the enemy forcibly taken” I chanted (Well I I had to google the exact words- I’m not that big a nerd (that’s a lie) ). Mimi spotted a tiny little leech trying to look for an ideal location on her skin to bite and suck from. She flicked it away and suddenly I felt something on my neck. I realised that it was a leeck. It had begun biting and I now had a red mark on my neck. Red blotch is better than being drained of your blood though.

We had decided to scout checkpoint 3 next when Anna communicated that they were going to the plantation with AMY, which was moving to checkpoint 2. So we wnt there after a quick-ish albeit relaxing lunch since we had no pig-tails to keep our eye on. I finally got a chance to do a focal. Anna decided I should start with someone simple- Scarlet, my favourite female. It was a mostly successfull first attempt thanks to Scarlet’s activities being limited to foraging for and peeling or cracking unripe oil-palm fruits while the her juvenile Scatz (darling in Deutch) and Tiga (means 3 in Malay-after the shape of his tail) hung out nearby.

While I waited for Mimi, she had gone to checkpoint 3 and had her own adventures while waiting for a sign of VOLDEMORT which involved getting ice-cream from the local vendor (ice-cream box on a bike), realising she had no money and being given free ice-cream because the vendor took pity on her and knows the ‘orange t-shirt girls’. Mimi got back and we decided that it was time to think out of the box, or atleast flip the box and look for VOLDEMORT on the other side of the forest, where there exists yet another planatation. Who knew? Well, Anna did and so did Mimi. So we took the jeep and heard the same Maroon 5 song that was stuck in our head already because we had heard it this morning too. We went into the plantation there, which grew a little more wild and the borders between forest and plantation were less clear. “Gosh we should be able to summon them. Get the dark mark tatooed on ourselves” I said. Mimi said she couldn’t as if she had seriously considered it. “Well you can get a dark mark with Henna. Should work just fine”. And we went on at length about summoning the Dark lord which would definitely sound super creepy in a small village like this with strong superstitions about dark forces if they understood English and did not know the context. We also discussed our dream to go to Orlando to live the real Harry Potter experience. We went ahead till the plantation was so thick with weeds that we thought it better to return.

It was almost 2:30. We had been looking for them since 9:15. But it’s the same difficulty we face with AMY when we don’t know where they are. THE PIG-TAILS CAN BE ANYWHERE is the general mantra. Any chance of finding them can only come when they present themselves to usin the plantation or the periphery of the forest. We spent the next half hour climbing up a small hill near checkpoint 2.5 where Mimi remembers having seen VOLDEMORT, although that was 2 years ago. Well, we were out of ideas so we spent the next half hour climbing up and down the small hill. “THIS VOLDEMORT IS USELESS. We are actually using the name”. I said exasperatedly, taking out spines from my hair and scratching my hand. We decided to head back, realised we couldn’t get down to the plantation at the only opening possible so stepped and swung on lianas hoping they would support our weight.

We got back around 3:30 and witnessed Michele get really excited saying she HAD to show us something she had photographed. It was Norbert sitting like the boss that he is while investigating something fluorescentish-ly pink. Michele’s missing head-torch! She had probably dropped it along the route somewhere yesterday before Franzi found it. It had been passed on to Schatz and then Norbert had played with it before abandoning it and Michele could retrieve it. Norbert-this is why he is my bae. Full of surprises. Anna got back after her 12 hour day. AMY had come back to the plantation and stayed late so slept in the buffer-zone. Anna was able to get a hold of Putih finally to do her mother-infant focal but still no Chewbacca.She feels and hopes that scrlett and Brienne are pregnant as they haven’ been swelling. Brienne’s ‘swell’ doesn’t seem to progress or regress so it could just be a body feature she has when pregnant. We told Anna of our plans with VOLDEMORT very excitedly until we realised that she wasn’t getting any of our HP references because she is a complete muggle, unaware of the books or the movies. Mimi, Michele and I almost immediately decided to explain all of our Harry Potter references all at once and probably overwhelmed the hell out of her. The three of us were busy fawning over Ronald Weasley, debating Snape’s morality and the political struggle and analogies in Harry Potter before we realised that Anna wasn’t even there anymore. “We need to have a Harry Potter movie marathon” we said together. But until next week (because we spend only 2 days of a week looking for VOLDEMORT), AMY.

PS: I realised that considering how many Harry Potter references we had made already, perhaps it would be cool to count the number of references we can make before we finally find VOLDEMORT. Also of course, the number of kilometres we walk.
References today: 3-5
Kilometres walked (as phone says)- 6.45 Km
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17th Feb 2017- The Summoning

Mimi and Michele had the morning shift today designated to the usual things- scanning and following AMY. At 9:43, I received a message on the whatsapp group fromMimi “We found Nagini”. At first I thought they had found another individual of group VOLDEMORT, hence the Harry Potter naming, as per our earlier conversations. It turns out, they were following AMY when the juveniles had seemed very excited about something and huddled together. Michele got closer to them to take a picture before Mimi noticed and warned her about the reticulated python that was slithering away to safety under a tree nearby. That was excitement enough. Anna and I had to make do with watching Miezer the cat eat a bunch of grass to cough up, nay, almost vomit his furball. Reticulated python in the forest and cat coughing furball. Same right?

At noon, we were getting ready when there was another series of messages starting with- “Megha, is your scar hurting?”. Another Harry Potter reference, this time well placed because Mimi and Michele momentarily lost AMY and then Michele spotted some juveniles so they followed them for a few minutes before they saw a male that was barking. He turned back and they saw his face. He had no nose. It was the Drak-lord himself (This is what I could glean from their excited narration of the incidents afterwards). It was as if the python was indeed the sign, forewarning for the sighting of Voldemort himself, the alpha male of the group VOLDEMORT*. Luckily, they found AMY back soon. VOLDEMORT was not on the agenda for today.

By the time Anna and I reached, AMY had apparently climbed quite high up and obviously were not on a rocky hill that was easy to climb. Mimi and Michele did not know how to get down so we sent them the way we had climbed up because it was the best of the bad ways. AT least we had AMY. Anna was desperate to do a focal on Charli because he was difficult to see and very skittish.While she was doing that, on this very slippery hill, I was precariously perched at a somewhat stable location watching Pamkin and Emma climb down. Anna dejectedly said that she had lost Charli yet again because he had gone down and she couldn’t see him anymore. “Oh we can go this way. Looks okay. And there;s no rocks, just mud so we can slide down without injury if it is too steep.” I said. Anna looked weary but agreed. Charli was getting away. So we carefully climbed down. She went first and warned me that there weren’t too many things to hold on too and place your foot on. “That’s fine. We only wanna go down anyway.” I assured her. Soon, she reached a platform while I was still struggling to make up my mind about my next step on this almost 80 degree incline. “Umm, we can’t get down any further from here. It looks pretty bad.” Anna said. We decided to go back up and go down the same way we had suggested Mimi and Michelle to go. And remember that loose soft mud which was going to make it easy to climb down. Well, it made it really hard to climb back up. I apologised profusely for wasting our time and we were back on the route we knew. Luckily, AMY was waiting for us. So we went back to carefully following them. While Anna did her focals, I sat down, removed all the mud from my boot and did some scans. Goldie was swelling and quite poular . Pippi, no longer swelling, had gone back to hanging with her juvenile Pie and adopted kid Lori.

We reached a place where Anna’s focal individual was in one direction whereas other members of the froup were in another and moving upwards though to where I couldn’t say as my view was blocked by a big rock. I sat ona tree trunk so I could turn around and keep an eye on Anna. I could see Pamkin in front of me. She started to move. I looked back but Anna had already left. I thought I should follow Pamkin so at least I KNOW where the group is in case Anna is following a male who takes her elsewhere and she gets lost. I followed Pamkin till I reached a series of bif rocks- they form a sort of bridge between the cliff I was on and the hill on the other side. I knew this ‘bridge’. It was two big boulder with a small one wedged in the middle. It was a little slippery but easy enough. I could still hear the group, easpecially the excited juveniles. I saw Malu so I was relieved even though Pamkin would have been my first choice to have followed. He and the male next to him puckered in my direction. and turned back to leave. I decided to climb back over the rocks and follow them. I could now see a mother with an infant going away from me. I thought it might be Putih or Chewbacca as they are both shy. I could see a male sitting on a small boulder facing away though. He had a dark back. “At least Oliver is here” I thought. And then he turned and all my thought imploded in my brain. I couldn’t belive my eyes though he was so close. I needed confirmation so I fumbled through my bag. My hands were shaking as I looked through the binauculors. There could be no doubt. He had no nose.

Literally, they were slits. All this time, I still didn’t picture him to look like this. I was face to face with Voldemort*. I had lost AMY and found VOLDEMORT. That is why they moved so fast. Everyone but the alpha. He saw me and puckered. We were quite close and his face is slightly disconcerting especialy after Norbert’s. But I followed him while he walked around assuring ‘hmmm’-in juveniles with short barks and sitting calmly, looking at the sky and foraging. I noticed that he had white eyelids and his dark tail curved outwards at the tip. He seemed okay enough with me and I decided that I could follow VOLDEMORT to their sleeping site and hasten the habituation process after I had informed Anna and the others of my separation from AMY. The GPS was working as was my phone and I knew this are of the forest. I would be fine.

Voldy hung out on the ground instead of in the tree, much like Norbert. I could still hear the group. They had climbed trees because of me but not run far away. There was hope. Suddenly, Voldemort started to move. I followed, as closely as he would allow me too. I was climbing up an incline when he suddenly turned to pucker at me. I stepped back to give him some space, accidentally cracking some twigs under my foot and holding a tree. I heard a female screeching and before I could think I saw Voldemort rushing in my direction. He lunged and I moved to my left. Away from him and the tree with the panicked female. He puckered again and I decided to retreat. Change of plans. Maybe we should look for and habituate VOLDEMORT when 2 of us come together. I was unnerved and didn’t realise that i was stepping in a ditch. I fell on somewhat soft ground but was on all fours. I could take the slight bruising of my knee to macaque-attack though. We didn’t get off to a great start because I startled a female but I like to think that in a few weeks, Voldy and I are going to be great friends.

Anna had received the message that I was separated and I followed her directions to reach AMY who were in the plantation. She confirmed later on that she too thought that AMY and VOLDEMORT had crossed paths again today. After my little adventure, I was more than happy to be with the already habituated AMY where on the way to the sleeping site, Phoenix was the only upstart who tried to pucker at me before turning it into a weird squint of his eyes and leaving me alone.

While we were going back to the bike after having left AMY’s sleeping site, I heard calls that were unmistakably of an Alpha and humms that were of female pig-tails. Yet, AMY was quite far away from the edge of the forest. “Its not AMY, right?”. No, Anna said. “Is it them, VOLDEMORT” I said the name with a hushed reverence. We got back and obviously discussed at great length about our encounters today and hoped we would find VOLDEMORT just as easily when we look for them next week.

*The name of the group shall always be in all caps so as to differentiate it from the individual Voldemort/Voldy/dark-lord,You-know-who etc.

PS: Follow my adventures via images and videos on twitter- @mad_megs

or

Instagram- meghamajoe

Days 24-26: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.

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7th Feb 2017- Rain on my parade
I was concerned that I wouldn’t remeber where Michele and I had left AMY last night. The location was already difficult to access and everything looks different in the dark, by the light of the head-torch. It wasn’t the ideal route to have taken (tons of muck and spines) and I was afraid I had misjudged the sleeping site because Anna was unaware of AMY ever having slept there before. To my relief and Anna’s surprise, pigtails were around, evidenced by the diverse vocalization by the juveniles, the hoots from the females and the short low almost-growl grunt of the males. And Mina’s currently huge butt doesn’t lie. We made ourselves comfortable as we had a clear view of some individuals and could follow them if they moved. We were just getting tired of waiting when we realised that we may have to wait a bit more thanks to the rain percolating down to the trees and which would soon be too heavy to ignore. It had rained a bit last night and again this morning, stopping just before we left so we thought we’d had our quota of rain for the next 24 hours but weather doesn’t work that way.

So we sat on our haunches, cautious of Bertum spines and wishing for more cushioning on our behinds while we discussed the recent squirmishes and confrontation amongst the males. Both Mimi and Anna despise my bae Norbert, the alpha because he displaced and ousted both their favourite males Vince (the old alpha) and Matze (the old-beta) respectively. And apparently without too much visible struggle which is classic Norbert. He doesn’t need to fight though he cuts a big, shaggy intimidating figure. Anna wished Jisuaf, the instigator of most of the recent fights ( and who Vino later said reminded her of Scar from Lion King) to take over Norbert’s position. We were discussing the power struggle and social order of Macaca nemestrina when the rain stopped. As AMY made a move to go into the plantation, we could appreciate the sunlight now streaming into the previously unlit patch. The rain had touched most surfaces and the droplets stayed on all the tips of spines. For once it was a joy to be amidst so many spines, and the shining sun meant the drops glistened while they hung on to the pointy spines. Yet another fight had broken out and I probably wasn’t going to have the time to practice doing a focal today before the end of my shift. So I did scans and kept up with the drama and romances of Mina and Pippi.

It was sometime before I saw my bae Norbert. Although he usually is late, gallavanting in after the whole group has reached, it was weird that he wasn’t around Mina. Nevertheless, I was glad to see him….until he happened to come close and I saw that he had blood on his right cheek. Thinking about Anna’s wishes this morning and couter-wishing that future, I proceeded to follow AMY back into the forest. We made two stops along the way. At one rest-stop Casimodo and Phoenix were woken up from deep meditation and slumber by yet another tussle that they unenthusiastically joined-barking a couple of times before sitiing back down. In the eye of the storm was Biru, calm and collected. She saw Anakin and decided to groom him after he had finished his barking quota. It is always interesting to note how many individuals seem unaffected when such a fight breaks out. And the fights too seem quite short, mostly solvedd by a few barks, some crazy lunges and vigorous branch-shaking. A pacifying ‘puckerace’ and probably an affiliative mount, and that’s that.We wondered if the pig-tails had the cognitive capacity to enable forward thinking and vindictiveness anyway. Though there are instances where punishments have been meted out to liars and cheaters in studies conducted on chimps and meerkats among others but it’s an interestin avenue to pursue, if only a thought experiment. Barbie, the female was being groomed by Curli, a juvenile. Anna and Nadine are concerned at the fast rate at which Barbie’s health has detereorated and how skinny she has become (befitting her name). Anna decided to do Baabie as a focal soon because other females who started growing thinner and miserable looking were soon missing.
AMY was quite high on the rocks when Mimi and Michele arrived at the plantation. AMY had steadily moved down and seemed to finally be heading to Checkpoint 3. I left to go down while Mimi and Michele went up to Anna and AMY. I got back and finally had the time to read ‘1984’, which probably means I am forgetting some chore I was supposed to do. Well, tomorrow is another day. Tonight we go to the city for emergency internet use- which means many emails, messages, and instagram and blog updates.
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8th Feb- Bogged down
It was Anna and me this surprisingly hot and windy morning. We had arrived at the sleeping site marked by Anna, Michelle and Mimi yesterday but AMY had apparently climbed higher up a hill afterwards. But no harm no foul- Casimodo and Mina were around to welcome us. We had barely had time to sit down when we heard loud grunting and shuffling. Anna and I got up immediately. Sitting with your back to a group of panicky wild pigs is not a great idea. We clapped and snapped and shushed and the noise died down. It was peaceful again, all too peaceful- the macaques hadn’t responded to the noise. Was the shuffling sound actually them moving? How fast did they move? Can Mina even move that fast with her humongous swelling? Actually at this point I have come to expect the unexpected from AMY. We climbed up further as it was the easiest way to climb down without going through rocks and spines. There were still spines of course but we persevered, moving so quickly downhill, jumping over fallen logs, through rotting leaves and fighting more Bertam on the way down. Finally, we got to a point where we could see them but couldn’t follow them as closely as we would have liked because unlike us, they have agile bodies and arboreal habits and they can solve most travel problems by swinging and jumping while you are still figuring out the spiny obstacle course.

We were heading downhill yet again and I was taking out some more spines and dry leaves from my hair when Anna looked up at me and pointed to my shoulder. “You have a…..” and I quickly brushed away whatever it was with an intense fear not waiting for Anna to complete the sentence with-“butterfly”. Wait what! I looked down. There was something yellow- “Oh thank goodness it’s just a dried leaf…..with a body and eyes when you bend down to examine it- yep Ijust killed a big yellow butterfly”. I’m always complaining that butterflies never sit on me, even though they love sweaty people but my sweat probably doesn’t contain enough minerals to replensih them (Google ‘mud-puddling’ to understand the concept of butterflies and sweat). But I didn’t have too much time to mourn the butterfly I had brutishly killed because we had to keep moving. Amy was going into Checkpoint 3 and not showing restraint and turning back like they did yesterday. And they kept on moving. Anna’s usually stoic face fell when she saw where we were headed…”The swamp” she exclaimed in defeat. Vino and I had experienced a very small part the swamp at checkpoint 1 and that swamp was considered bad but ‘The Swamp’ at checkpoint 3 was said with reverence that can only come for impassioned fear and dislike. In these moments you take quick decisions and the priority almost always is AMY who doesn’t give you too much time to reflect and make calculated decisions. We took a deep breath and followed as closely on their heels as possible. They were in the trees and steadily moving. Their hoots, more vocal and often was the only proof of their presence. The wind had picked up and it had become hotter. Was there a cyclone warning we didn’t know of? Is that why they were moving so fast- to seek respite- But why move closer to the sea than if you were on a hill? These are the times when you wish you could just ask one of them and they could answer. We had passed tall trees and were approaching a mucky area but there was dead wood without spines and we could step on them to get across. Not too bad. But I had spoken too soon. We were going through more mucky and slippery areas with water almost upto the part of the calves where my rain boots ended and the trees or plants we could hold on to for support were progressively getting spinier till we couldn’t hold on to them any longer, and the bushes were getting thicker till we couldn’t kick and stamp our way out anymore. I now understod why this was ‘The Swamp’.

I like mangroves as much as the next person….okay maybe a bit more than the average person- the pneumatohphores, the prop roots, the leaves that exude excess salt giving them a silverish hue and all those wonderful creatures the ecosystem supports. These positive thoughts were the only things that kept me going through this intense bog that was ‘The Swamp’. We were trying to avoid spines and much simultaneously albeit not successfully. And this was a relatively dry time in ‘The Swamp’. But the frustration was getting to me. In such times of hoplessness I look to a higher power….Anna. She’s calm and quiet and her resolve is commendable. But she too seemed defeated, though not for long. It was time to bring out the machete. We were quickly well as quickly as possible, hacking our way. Mimi and Vino had been informed of the dreaded location but we hoped AMY would be in the plantation by the time shifts changed. But it did not seem like it at this point. I decided that AMY was preparing me all these days, to lead me here. This was a big test. So I might as well enjoy it. I finally started to take notice of the pattern of the spines, contemplate the purpose of particular leaf-shapes, be amazed by intricated spider-webs I haven’t had the chance to accidentally destroy by snorting or ingesting it. Finally, we reached a clearing. The muck wasn’t as much and we were once again surrounded by tall trees and two huge trees that had fallen provided an ooportunity for AMY to finally sit and walk instead of swinging and avoiding us. It always amazes me, the sudden relief and warmth that floods through when you see them so close and so relaxed. Mothers were restraining their infants who were sick of hanging on for so long. . Males were in the distance, grooming themselves or just looking on. Emanuel and Reggie were playing when a juvenile long-tail decided to join them and a Emanuel pulled on its tail while Reggie, the litle one tried hard to keep up. We smiled amusedly at this interspecific harmony. All was well. However, it was soon time to move. We marvelled at the fact that we hadn’t managed to lose them till now though it would have all too easy although all credit for this feat of perserverance must go to Anna.

AMY had stopped again, this time we were quite close to the edge and it was close to 1 pm. We did some inter-observer reliability tests while we waited and right on time, just as I was finally almost out of the swamp, I placed my leg in the wrong spot and put my leg in a hole, filled with water. I wrung my sock out with Brandi the juvenile intently watching me squeal and curse.. Some subadults chased to Giant squirrels up a tree before realising it was too much stress, and abandoning the plan. Mimi and Vino had the co-ordinates and parked the car near checkpoint 3 but had decided to come here through another bit of ‘The Swamp’ with Mimi being the official machete wielder. Which meant she had fallen in spines and muck and gotten drenched on the way here and was not a happy camper. But the persistence and will-power of field-biologists and volunteers is the foundation upon which biological research rests. I took leave, got out without too much hassle and destroyed only one pretty web with yellow silk on the way.

Turns out AMY finally went into the plantation and stayed there till the end. Some friendly villagers noticed that our field-car (A Cambara) had a flat tyre and went to fix it. We decided to believe that all our trials today were so that Anna, Mimi and Vino didn’t get stuck with a flat tyre in the dark on the way back.
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9th Feb- So close
After a anxiety filled early morning bike-ride- with me driving and Michele at the back (don’t know who was more terrified), we had arrived at the planation, relieved that AMY had slept quite close to the plantation. Although most of the individuals were out in the plantation, calmy foraging and grooming, no one was on the ground. Norbert has moved on officially from Mina and onto Pippi so we watched their dalliance for a bit. After an hour and a half though, they suddenly starting to travel back in, and quite quickly at that. We were following them but were always only close enough to hear the juveniles whimper and females call. But that’s still a good sign. I was quite proud of my newly heightened senses though I still don’t know the forest well enough to choose the path with least resistancein terms of spiny Bertum and Rattan.

AMY was climbing uphill quite fast, actually it was overwhelmingly fast and we were struggling to climb up thr rocky outcrops. Soon we couldn’t see them and I was panicking. For once though, they were being vocal, probably because even the juveniles were confused and disoriented. We followed them but soon were only following the contact calls made by the females which now seemed to be coming from farther and farther away. We met Norbert, Pippi and Casimodo along the way but they seemed to be in no mood to let us pass to get to the centre of the group. Michele stepped on a branch and startled Casimodo who panicked and jumped too close toward us before changing his mind. After that almost heart-attack, we were more wary though we coudn’t afford to be as AMY seemed to be climbing higher and faster than we could. So we huffed and we puffed and broke vines and stems and climbed. And then we could at least hear……nothing. One hopes that this pregnant pause which fills you with doubt and fear is broken asap by a small hoot or a whimper or at least some rustling but no. Finally I could see Joey and Phoenix and Oliver.

Though they were taking their own sweet time to head in any particular direction and following males is always a risk because they might have decided to leave the group . If pig-tail macaque groups are nomadic, the males are vagabonds. But we had no option. We followed the sub-adult Joey who seemed most keen to find the group . Though he has no concept of personal space as he sat there and moved closer to us, albeit puckering intensely when we looked at him. But we followed protocol (distance of atleast 3-5 m) and finally were relieved to find Scarlet and Mina. Females is a good sign and Scarlet is the most reliable sign of AMY there is. But they were in an area filled with Bertam and we couldn’t sit anywhere. We realised we hadn’t sat down even for a bit. As soon as we realised AMY was climbing down we followed them. Soon we could hear the babbling of the brook nearby. AMY was relaxed now and we finally had eyes on many individuals at close quarters. Fefe was finally free of Febe’s clutches and gazing at us while attempting to intimidate us with the cutest puckerface we had seen. We too finally relaxed and found the time to wolf down our late breakfast at 12:15 pm. We could finally do scans at leisure and recorded some interesting behaviour. But we realised a bit too late that we had fallen behind yet again. It was bad. We finally found Pippi and Norbert and followed them, that is until the heavy set Norbert climbed a steep rock and disappeared and Pippi did too.
We tried hard to climb up and use the same route as Norbert. But we couldn’t. It was almost the end of our shift and so close to the end, we had lost them!!! Ughhhh. Mimi and Anna were here and luckily we had reception so I could relay the bad news. And then we saw Joey agin. We followed him till we lost him and after some misadventures finally found Mimi and Anna who had come through the other side. We left, feeling defeated but hopig that AMY was still nearby as Mimi and Anna had seen Joey and Curli. And to top all of that, we fell , not badly but still. This probably strengthened Michele’s resolve to learn to ride the bike because it would be easier to control my weight and the bike thanks to her longer legs (and probably higher strength).

Mimi informed me that AMY had been found soon after we had left and they had spent a long time in the plantation. Tim was super-involved in the group and was sitting and hanging out extremely close to Mimi who realised that this also reduced Anakin’s wariness of Anna and Mimi and he didn’t pucker as much. Our relationships with the macaques chnage everyday and who knows who will be my bff tomorrow?

Day 21-23: 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.

 

4th Feb 2017- Tripping, tumbling, trolling

Anna was taking the day off today to work on her data. Mimi and Michelle had successfully scaled the hill and found AMY already gearing up to move. Meanwhile, I had killed another leech outside the kitchen this morning and our shy female cat Blacki seems to have been its victim. I had gotten less than 6 hours of sleep thanks to late night viewing of the one episode of ‘Sherlock’ I have on my USB ( “The Blind Banker” if you must know). So I mostly spent the morning catching up on sleep-it seemed to be a hot day.
Vino and I headed out after lunch, with the information from Mimi that AMY would probably be in the plantation when we got there. I am happy to report that other than a few minor moments of intense gripping fear that Vino definitely felt about my driving through the scary spots- we got there in one piece and ready for duty. This time- tablets and GPSs were exchanged and we bid Mimi and Michelle adieu. AMY having slept in the dreaded location was probably hungry and was filling up. We got a chance to identify some individuals and conduct two scans. We also witnessed Oliver mounting Pippi who groomed him. That is until, she saw Mina- they exchanged glances while Oliver probably felt pampered by all this attention. Pippi moved away quickly as Mina approached Oliver and presented to him. He took his chance and mounted her though she didn’t bother grooming him afterwards even as Oliver held his butt up in her face (an action like this and similar ones are called ‘groom presenting’, different from sexual presenting).
Amy had begun moving inside, travelling quite fast for our likig. But we resolved to persevere. They were climbing up hills, picking at rattan fruit, rolling them on tree barks when possible and also foraging for mushrooms. We realised that after climbing some way up, they seemed to stop. The juveniles were playing on the vines. Tiga was laying on one one his stomach,swinging it like a hammock and we relaxed a bit. Pippi came towards the back and Oliver mounted her. A little while later, AMY was going down- I thought to the logging road. I had not yet been in the area we were currently in. We also saw Norbert mount Mina and thrust long enough for it to be we thought-copulation. Pippi presented to Phoenix who mounted her.

We were starting to get a bit worried as we were starting to go downhill at a rapid pace- and not on purpose but because the hill was steep and devoid on much vegetation that we could hold on to. I WAS NOT GOING TO LOSE THEM TODAY! We slid down most surfaces and tripped on tree roots that were jutting out when we did walk on slightly flat surface. Climbed over huge fallen trees, with only Scarlet in our line of sight. It was painful considering we went through a terrace with just spiny lianas and bushes. But we got there. And realised that Scarlet and Schatz, her juvenile were heading back up. Again, over the huge tree and amongst the spine maze. But we got to a clearing. Unfortunately- we couldn’t hear anything and then…..a rustle in the trees and some barks- nope just long tails. “This is just great, I thought between breaths- I’ve managed to lose them yet again.” But just in time we heard barks, definitely from AMY. The males were fighting and females were hooting. We got there to see the females quickly disappearing into a thicket. Obviously it is a thicket of twisted spiny plants- “another obstacle course for us” exclaimed Vino. Suddenly Tiga disappeared into the thicket but from what looked like a clearer path. Oh how wrong I was for this was one of the infamous “swamps” Anna and Mimi had told me about. Well….it was a part of it- hopefully the best rather than the worst part. In such situations I’ve noticed that your brain claculates scenarios very fast. It’s this panic that grips you as you set your priorties. I wish someone could show me a scan of my brain in such situations. Anyway- we had no option but to go through. The swampiness of it is combined with the spininess of it which is the reason for its deviousness. But, we were fortunate enough for recent dry weather and prop roots to step on. Soon we were in a clearing and could see AMY again. It always amuses me how calm and composed the individuals mostly look, it could even be seen as indifference almost but that is probably a bias because you want to contrast your own fatigue and shortness of breath and are flooded by immense relief upon seeing them- an emotion you project onto them.

Soon enough, another fight had broken out. For once Norbert too seemed super involved. The females started moving again while some of the juveniles stayed back to watch the show. We decided that we would follow the females though we caught a glimpse and of course- Jesuaf the big dude who makes a cameo in AMY every now and then to pick fights, was around. They were finally heading in the direction of the logging road and soon we were on it but they were going into the other side of the forest again. We were growing worried that they would sleep really high up and we might have to come down in the dark, in an area I was unfamiliar with, and then drive the bike back in the dark. But fortunately for us, they seemed to finally have stopped travelling for the day. It was 6:30 pm. We stayed till 7 to ensure that they weren’t moving. The hyper energetic juveniles were still having a blast with each other while the females were busy grooming each other or their juveniles. All was well….except Vino discovered another leech bite on her. We drove back, with no accidents I assure you, and went to the night market . Tomorrow, Michele and I go in the afternoon shift while the other three go in the morning.

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5th Feb 2017- Rocky Road

Michele and I had the afternoon shift today. We parked the bike and were heading towards the given co-ordinates when we witnessed a mass movement from the plantation into the forest by…AMY. This unidirectional, often fast paced movement is called travelling although right then it looked like they were running away from something. This was probably because they had been starteled by the sound of the bike and the excess of orange t-shirts. Anna’s focal was ruined but she wasn’t having a great time with focals today. She wanted to follow some of the juveniles, all of whome were chased out of sight by Phoenix, that spiral tailed douche-bag who loves to chase juveniles and make them scream. That is when he is not secretly mounting Pippi.
Mimi and Vino left and AMY started trickling back, although we weren’t sure for how long. The plantation workers were here today though we could only see one and he seemed far away. Most of them were hanging out in the buffer zone- an area that is around 10 m of the plantation and 15 m into the forest. The macaques seem to immediately relax upon entering the buffer zone and this gave Michele and me the chance to observe them at close quarters, especially since many of them were sleeping (because why not) and the juveniles were playing. Phoenix was lying on his back, his body on a swinging branch while his head lolled back, watching the world upside down after having completed his quota of terrorising the juveniles Emily, Felicia and Malu.

The group was starting to go in. Michele and I went in knowing/or hoping we would meet Anna with her focal along the way. We followed Scarlet, who is growing to be my favourite female- she is slow, calm but though she hangs back to get groomed a lot, she is still a reliable individual if you want to find AMY. We had reached the centre of the group. Brienne (the female with a mohawk and a kinked tail) and Goldie (named so because of her golden eyes; has a lot of colours on her butt and is probably the oldest) were at close range. Anna had found her way back to us and so we hung back towards the edge of the group so as to not overwhelm the macaques. The group in question was steadily moving straight over a rocky outcrop and disappearing fast. We had no time to look for an easier way so had to climb over and between huge mossy boulders, one higher than the other on this hill that was getting steeper. My acrophobia had no time to manifest itself because AMY was moving so fast.So we finally reached the top of this hill only to climb down again, fighting our arch nemeses- the Bertams on the way, obviously. They then climbed back up again and we had to stop to catch our breath and watched Emma voraciously but thoroughly and carefully forage as a form of meditation.
Finally, the climbed down again into a thickly wooded area with a canopy that made sunlight difficult to penetrate. It was 5:45 and the hoots and hums signifyig the end of the day could be heard though it is by no means a very reliable signal. The weird guttural call, usually emitted by Norbert had begun- a vocalisation, the mechanism and significance of which is a mystery. We contemplated such questions and many others- from vibrant colours of non-human primate genitalia to the helpfulness of callosites, to oestrous cycles and social heirarchy. About birds and spiders, and skills we acquire when studying Animal behaviour, the academia and working our way into it. You have a lot of time to reflect, introspect and debate while you wait for pig-tailed macaques to go to sleep. On the way down, it was quickly growing dark but probably because we had got waylaid by the amazing view of the sun setiing over the sea- the perks of height and the clearing in the canopy. Another exhausting but beautiful day. Plus no leech bites is always a bonus, though I’m afraid I can’t say the same for Vino who got her 5th leech bite this morning.

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6th Feb 2017- Balls

Mimi and I were in such deep sleep that we didn’t even wake up when Vino and Anna left this morning. I got up only at around 7:45. I’ve been falling behind on blog-updating and reading although the time has been spent with the increased number of humans from different backgrounds and almost always resulted in amazing discussions.

Michele and I received the last location of Anna and Vino only after we had reached the plantation and parked the bike. And then one most recent message from Anna, ” They are quite high up in the hills. I got lost with my focal and separated from the rest of AMY and Vino. Vino can give you co-ordinates…Vino?’ and then nothing from Vino. It was a stream of messgaes from Anna trying to contact Vino or ask us if she had made contact. We were walking around rejoicing in the few moments we had reception so we could know the latest developments. Finally Anna found AMY but Vino was nowhere to be found. This was alarming considering Vino wasn’t familiar with the forest yet but at least she had a GPS. We got the co-ordinates from Anna who instructed us to look out for Vino on the way up. We were just about to start when Michele spotted a sudden burst of orange from amongst the green…”VINO”, we both exclaimed. She looked sweaty, exhausted and scratched up with some blood on her forehead but safe. She quickly told us of her ordeal. She doesn’t quite remember when exactly she got lost but she looked up from the tablet and AMY was gone. She waited for a bit. There was no phone reception so she moved a bit hoping to find some and realised she had better make her way down but unfortunately, the GPS had lost signal. So there she was, in the forest dazed and confused but she worked on instinct, tumbled through Rattans, fought with Bertams, resulting in the cuts and bruises. Finally, after shedding her blood (her 6th leech bite), sweat and probably tears, the GPS had found a satellite and she had burst through like a badass Dora the Explorer, without the damned map to help her. I would definitely have sat down and cried before I found my resolve in such a situation.

We quickly called Anna while I still had momentary cell signal and reached her as quickly as we possibly could (we had to climb quite a bit). We reached her and AMY and relieved her of her duty for the day. We followed AMY closely, over one steep climb and muddy patch after another. Pippi’s love life continued to blossom and keep us on our toes but Norbert and Mina were in very close proximity to one another. This posessiveness by Norbert is a sign that Mina is probably reaching her full-swell (Though I can’t fathom how she can carry her already cumbersome swell). I pointed out Goldie to Micele and her multicoloured butt, Putih’s juvenile Puck who has a hole in his nose, and the juveniles Dani and Charly. Oliver mounted Pippi, both of them watching us, Oliver puckering incessantly and Mina watching uninterestedly.

Mimi had still not received word about Vino’s safety and called in a panic. After we assuaged her fears, we decided that AMY seemed to be climbing down. A short walk later, we reached what seemed to be the napping spot. It was a flat patch, probably a naturally occuring terrace on the hill. Light filtered through but almost everything looked like it had a green tint (or there’s something wrong with my glasses). There were a lot of vines for the juveniles to climb and hang from while girthy fallen logs made ideal benches to sleep, groom, mate or eat on. AMY was on the move again, headed towards the plantation we supposed and I had my eye trained on the juveniles who sometimes have no sense of personal space. I moved a stem to avoid them and found it to be unnecessarily heavy. It was a split second too late because the whole tree nearby shook as I realised that I had startled Oliver who was chilling on the branch of the tree whose stem I had moved and on learning that, I was so disoriented, I went and stood, right under him- his testicles on one side of the branch and his puckered face on the other, staring me down. I had already witnessed his erect penis twice today and did not need another scary reminder of his potential to inflict physical harm so I moved quickly before he was tempted to lunge.

AMY moved to the plantation, quite late in the afternoon but were not comfortable enough to step onto the ground, probably because it had rained quite a bit and the ground was still wet and mucky. they stayed for close to an hour and we watched my chill interspecific bae Norbert mount his current conspecific bae Mina just above our heads. We contemplate the pros and cons of having testicles this far back on the body and so exposed while we waited for everyone to fill their cheekpouches for what we hoped was the last time today.
Barely an hour later, AMY had started to move back in. They took us through a very swampy patch filled with rotting trees, spiny palms and thick canopy before leading us to a small clearing where the nightly humming and hooting ritual had already begun. Scarlet chose a tree nearby, the bark of which was filled with spines. She lost her footing on the way though and startled…..Oliver who immediately switched to the offensive and Scarlet wouldn’t back down. There was some squaling and barking until Norbert (followed closely by Mina) rushed in to intervene and everyone calmed down. We stayed on to ensure that this was indeed the sleeping site and I hoped I could find my way here tomorrow morning.

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.
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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.

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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.

Day 12-14 Primate Diaries

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am spending some time in Malaysia volunteering for the Macaca Nemstrina Project studying pig-tailed macaques and this is an account of what I’m doing. please read the other entries for more context.

Raid, Rain, Repeat- Primate Diaries
26th January 2017
Wednesday was our collective day off (considering Anna and I had worked around 9 days without a break). A break means we don’t know where the latest sleeping site of the macaques is and so have to look for them the next day, starting at around 10 am. Mimi and I had decided that she would do the morning shift with Anna while I did the afternoon (since I can drive the motorbike now;) )I received a message pretty soon after their arrival that they had found AMY. After days of cludy skies, our fortunes were shining. I too had a leisurely morning, reading a book after breakfast. 20 minutes into the book, I had a series of thumps. Normally paranoid me reading a thriller is not the brave lion you want if you want anything suspicious investigated. After ensuring all the doors were bolted and curtains drawn, I braved a peek. It was the damn long-tails again. Two of them going through the trash while 2 attempted to squeeze through into the kitchen. While I was trying my level best to intimidate the long-tails, Anna and Mimi were having a field-day at the plantation (could not resist making that pun). I was excited that I would for once, get to see AMY without having to crane my neck and squint to make out movements or listen intently for the female pig-tails’ haunting hoots.
I got there at 12:50 but only then received the message that the macaques had entered the forest. Walkie-talkies and cell-phones seemed to not be helping but after about an hour I heard the words ‘logging-road’ amidst a lot of crackle. I rushed to the trail we call the ‘logging-road’ and met Mimi on the way who told me that their ‘field-day’ had taken a rough turn when they got viciously attacked by wasps following AMY into the forest. I got to Anna (complete with swollen face and hand) as quickly as possible. Amy seemed to be running for cover and we soon realised why. Guess what, it started raining again. It was 3:30 pm by the time I had finally got to the location and the rain started almost immediately (FYI- this hurts me as a person whose name literally means ‘cloud’) and didn’t stop till about 4:30. The rain stopped but as my fate continued to mock me, the macaques would obviously not come off the trees. A second not-so-intense rain as it turns out was on the cards and yet again, all macaque-activity halted. By the time it was 5:30 pm, we had taken some unfriendly sounding tunder as warning and realised that AMY too would. We marked tonight’s sleeping site (marked as “AMY SLEEP” on the GPS so we can find them tomorrow morning) and rushed home.
27th January 2017
This morning, I wished Anna and Mimi a pleasant time (as the sleeping site was close to th plantation last night) and finished my book before I had more time to get paranoid. At 8:08 I received a whatsapp message- miraculous considering the internet almost never works at this time. It was from Mimi. Apparently, the car had become stuck in the mud on the way to the plantation and they had been trying to get it unstuck with all resources at hand ( not a lot of resources around- there almost never is in these cases). Nadine was around, having come to Teluk Senangin from Penng on account of Chinese New Year week but was not reachable. I called and messaged from here trying to do my part since I would have been useless at the scene of action. Finally, I received a message that ANna and Mimi were at the planatation.
When I reached, I saw that Anna and Mimi were both sitting near the now muddy car at checkpoint 2. Thnking that AMY was nearby I quickly parked the bike and looked up to see….nothing. Then from the resigned faces of the two macaque-hunters I realised that they couldn’t find AMY. We decided to split up again just before Mimi left for home. I was leaving my designated station after a fruitless hour and it was beginning to drizzle (surprise surprise) when the walkie-talkie crackled to life. Mimi had found them and they were heading to the plantation. With some effort, I found them but not before all of us, including the macaques had to take cover. Before the next quota of rain followed, Mimi informed Anna of the good-news, gave her the GPS with the co-ordinates and braved the rain to head home. While AMY did stay in the trees, I saw Emma and her daughter Emily, mentally coaxing the latter to eat a rather large, fast and practically-impossible-for-a-juvenile-to-catch rat (because Mimi saw the Alpha male Norbert eat one and I wanted to see something like that). Amy stayed in the plantation for a while and started heading back into the forest way before bed-time. They hung out at the aforementioned ‘logging-road’ again and i could finally see some individuals close-up. I finally saw the holes in Puck’s nose that was his identifying feature. I also saw with resignation another tick- at least this time it was on my hand and seemed to ave just got there. Tiga (means 3 in Malay- his tail was shaped like the number when he was younger) and the other juveniles picked and ate mushrooms to be scared away by Franzi who knew the secret crevices where these mushrooms could possibly grow. AMY did not seem to want to go to the planatation though they had plenty of time and opportunity. Soon, we heard the frequent calling and hoots from females and juveniles- a sign that members are contacting each other, proabbly doing a head count. Probably signalling the end of the day. We stayed with them till 6:15 just to make sure. Tomorrow, I take the morning shift so I can practice leading again. After we got back (and I tended to the tick), we met up with Nadine who had invited us to dinner at the resturaunt nearby for belated birthday celebrations. We surprised her with cake and made merry, gearing up for tomorrow.
28th January
This morning, Anna and I got to the reserve without incident and found AMY gearing up for a new day at last night’s sleeping site. They were already making noises and moving about so we knew they would get to the plantation quite early. I got to experience my first ‘scan’ at 8 am. Essentially, we spot 3 males, 3 females and 3 juveniles, note what they are doing (acts are classified mainly as aggressive, affiliative or copulatory) and what stratum of the forest (ground, understorey, top) they occupy at the time. Thanks to the thickly wooded patch they were currently in, it was difficult to spot even the three males we did find. The next scan (1 hour later) would be better because they would be in the planatation by then. We were wrong as it turns out. Because on our way to the planatation, we heard a loud ruckus, courtesy of screaming juveniles and barking males and females- a phenomenon so jarring considering the pig-tails are usually very quiet. We couldn’t see what all the drama was about but I could see one male (difficult to identify) who for no apparnet reason was trying to pull at juveniles from branches while they clung on for dear life. I bet prehensile long tails would be of great assistance at this time. Finally, a female, probably the loudest juvenile’s mother charged at the male and he relented. Not for long as yet another little standoff had begun among the mlaes. One glaring absence was of the alpha- Norbert who we realised had calmly walked up behind us (he rarely swings from trees and sits on branches- maybe because he is too heavy and too cool for them) and seemed least bothered by all this noise. Finally, almost unwillingly he climbs up. The noise died down pretty soon but we had by then followed the females into the plantation (always a better idea as the males can quit the group and tend to go on ‘walk-abouts’ often) after our 9 am scan. They were all in the plantation soon enough and stayed there, albeit mostly in the trees. I got to do the 10 am scan while Anna followed Putih ( means white in Malay- she is a dark individual with white eyelids) to do her ‘Focal study’. It basically involves noting down anything the ‘focal’ individual does and anyone with them, eveery minute for 30 consecutive minutes. Nadine had decided to spend some hours with us today and she didn’t have a hard time finding us because we were were quite close to checkpoint 1. And she made it in the nick of time. Amy was ‘travelling’ (movement of the whole group- with an apparent purpose/direction) and we followed closely. After a long time, they seemed to making their way up the hill, with us at their heels. They reached a high point- with a great view of s river stream and the forest nearby and then took us through some Bertrams, to a higher point from where we could see the ocean. There was yet another tussle among the males while the juveniles looked on excitedly. It was time for my shift to end and I would have to climb all the way down. As if on cue, the macaques decided that after this little, seemingly unnnecessary trip to the top of this hill, it was time to go down. So I had human and non-human company all the way to the periphery of the forest. I also removed 1 leech from my neck and one from my back on the way, before they had done any real damage. I was greeted by Franzi outside the forest, who as usual does his own thing and doesn’t wait for the rest of AMY. I switched shifts with Mimi and got back home. I was greeted by our landlord who is back from KL for the week. And as I was talking to him i realised that there was another leech, on my stomach. It was the most awkward conversation of my life. And considering that most of my first-time conversations are awkward, that is saying something. He already thought I was ‘quirky’ because I was the first “Indian” to be doing this- “Usually it is Europeans”, he said. On top of that. I seemed to have the weird twitch of touching my stomach and pulling on my shirt incessantly (I thought I was super subtle btw). I got into my room asap and discovered that the leech had indeed grown nice and fat on my blood. I pulled it out but the anti-coagulant had done its job and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. A shower, and 2 bandaids later, I cleaned the blood out of two shirts and resigned to meditative reading and involuntary itching. Anna and Mimi had to stay in the reserve longer than they expected because the macaques decided to give them another tour of the hill and went into the plantation quite late. But this usually means, they sleep closer to the plantation making it easier to access their sleeping site the next morning.

Day7-9 Primate Diaries

Author’s note: So I’m almost at the end of my 2 hours of Free Wifi that comes at the Cost of me buying something from Starbucks. Excuse spelling errors. It is difficult to work on a tablet and I will try and upload pictures when possible.(Please read the Day 1-3 and 4-6 before reading this). Visit this website nevertheless to learn what the Pig-tailed macaques are.

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22/1/2017

Day 7:Displaced and raided
We got to the sleeping site on time (giving me the chance to use my head torch). We could not hear anything and sight of them was obscured but we knew it would take time for them to awaken. So we sat there and quickly gobbled down our breakfast lest we have to start following them. But they were taking their own sweet time. Luckily, we could hear stereotypically pig-tail sounds so we sat there. Around 45 minutes after sitting there, we were able to catch a glimpse of the Beta male- Oliver. But he too walked on the ground and up a tree. We sat again in anticipation and everything grew quiet. But as I previously mentioned- these monkeys can be eerily quiet. After a wile though, sunlight streaming through the forest made us suspicious and we decided to get out of the forest and in the direction we thought they were headed. I spotted a male I did not recognise and we decide to follow him. There were other pig-tails an they were running away in large numbers towrads the forest. We looked around to see what their perceived threat was. Wait…were we the threat? AMY’s habituated to us and shouldn’t run away this fast….”This must be VOLDEMORT” Anna uttered the dreaded inference. She was sure she saw AMY and followed them and it was them that we left at last night’s sleeping site. A likely scenario was that VOLDEMORT displaced them after we left (VOLDEMORT often bullies AMY). And now, we had lost AMY…again. Back to yesterday’s strategies. But today, we were sleep deprived and annoyed. So at around 12:30- after searching and waiting, we decided to go back home for lunch and come back at around 3 when we hoped they would come out to the oil-palm plantation. When I got to the kitchen Anna was cleaning up. I realised my packet of bread was on the floor and was torn. “why is my bread on the floor?”. “The long-tails got in. They ate my bananas”, they had also rummaged through the trash and had a go an Mimi’s papaya. The day just kept getting better.
We reached the reserve at around 3:30 and split up yet again. I was at checkpoint 2.5 when I saw pigtails crissing from the forest into the plantation. They looked at me- there were around 10 of them. I made the clicking noise they have learned to associate with our orange t-shirts (signifying that we are no threat). And then I recognised Norbert- the Alpha. I called Mimi and Anna- AMY had been lost, and was found many hours later. Better than being “LOST” for days. We followed them, no mistakes this time. They leisurely walked and foraged in the plantation and started heading back to their new sleeping site. We waited for awhile, realised it was starting to get cloudy and thunder-stormy again so we left to avoid last time’s debacle. And this time, I drove to and from the site on the motorbike. We barely made it back before it started to pour, even worse than the last time. So that is where the matters stand and we hope to have no such dramas tomorrow morning.

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Day 8: With great power
We started the day at 6:45am and reached checkpoint 2 on time. The skies were still dark but it was good otherwise….that is until Anna decided that it was time I led them to the sleeping site and followed AMY so she and Mimi could follow. Ok, I figured out how to ride a bike…I can do this. We realised early on this time that we were at the edge of the group’s sleeping site and so we followed them closely this time. Not that we could see them. The juveniles make a crying sound and the females hoot- sometimes if you are lucky. But we kept our course. I had already fallen on my arse twice while getting to the sleeping site thanks to the wonderful job the rain had done. And now we were following the macaques onto a rocky mound with no trees to hold on to except- surprise surprise- spiny rattan palms. Since I was leading, I got the privilege of unwittingly trying to climb up a rock while avoiding many a spiny branch. Guess what- I didn’t and so Mimi and Anna gave me the opportunity to hack the sh*t out of the dried stems with their machetes. And I did, as successfully as I could. All this while, AMY had hardly covered a distance of more than a 100 metres. We followed them further up and hen down to…just 50 metres from where they were sleeping! And then we heard the unmistakeable sound of thunder. There was a flurry and most of the individuals climbed even further up trees. So we knew they were planning to wait out the rain and so could we. Needs are stripped down to their foundation when you have no cell reception and are in the middle of a forest. You scratch yourself, inspect for leeches/other parasites and eat while you can-just like the macaques. The rain lasted for about an hour and so did we- AMY and the three of us. Mimi decided to go back for the day while Anna and I stayed. And AMY decided to venture out of the forest and into the plantation. We observed and marked some more individuals on the roll (YEP- we take attendance). Jesuef was back again. The hunk of a macaque made guest appearances and had a proclivity for picking up fights with the larger males. We even saw him mounting who we think was Oliver- the current Beta. Mounting in males is done by the dominant male. Is Jesuef slowly trying to creep up in rank? Who knows. Anyway- their time in the plantation gave me another chance to revise the names and features of individuals I know to make it easier for me to teach the new volunteers when they arrive and so I can successfully start collecting behavioural data and even faeces. It started drizzling once again but many individuals did not bother going back into the forest to hide. Until, there were strong winds and the sound of thunder again. This time, we knew they wouldn’t move much as it would soon start poring and we too wanted to get back to camp ASAP to avoid last time’s fun. Luckily we had cell reception and asked Mimi to come pick us up in the car. It was only 5:30 but looked like it was 7 pm. As I type, it has been pouring heavily for around an hour and a half. Of course, tonight is chicken soup or instant noodles night and tomorrow is another new adventure.

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Day 9: Incapacitated
As per yesterday’s plan, I would cover the afternoon shift today starting at 1 pm and staying till we were sure the macaques were at the sleeping site. After the terrible rains yesterday and last night, the morning was quieter. I woke up with a severe pain in my right foot and attributed it to the past few days of hill-climbing and wading through water, muck and vegetation. So, after Anna and Mimi left, I decided to apply something to alleviate the pain. Only, when I brushed my finger in between my third and fourth toe, there was a shooting pain. Let me tell you that it is not an easy task to sit down and contort your body and separate your 3rd and 4th toeto inspect…what looked like a grey blob-that I with a heavy heart decided must be pus from a festering woung (pause to create gross mental image). However, i decided to look at it under my phone’s flashlight . The blob looked like it had reddish-brown legs- 8 legs “It’s a tick” I diagnosed for non one’s benefit but my own. Interet searches told me they grown grey and big when they have been feeding for quite some time. Great- how long has this been her. I’ve had dull aches I associated with walking everyday. I quickly sanitised a pair of tweezers, breathed in and out rapidly and pulled, hopefully the entire creature. I identified the tick to my best abilities and ensured I had no symptoms and then tended the wound. It had begun pouring again and the sky was overcast which matched my mood exactly as I discovered that I couldn’t walk on the balls of my feet thanks to immense pain. I then received message from Anna and Mimi that the plantation was flooded and so was the way to the reserve. And I was supposed to ride the motorbike through that. Regretfully I informed them of my consition and they were sympathetic and said we’d go to a doctor as soon as a symptom presented itself. I decided to pair my misery by finally reading the classic ‘Wuthering Heights’ to set the melancholic mood. More rain outside. At 11:45- the yard outside our houses was flooded as was the way to the kitchen (housed in a separate hut-read about yesterday’s raid). I heard our gate open. Anna and Mimi had also had a dismal day. And after being constantly rained on, wading through knee-high water and finally losing the macaques in the planatation (A phenomenon I was assured neveer ever happens), they decided to call it quits. And a good thing too because it kept raining even more. we had decided yesterday that we would take tomorrow off but no one accounted for these continuous rains in what everyone assures me is NOT the rainy season.. I bandaged my foot so as to cushion it when I walked, finished Wuthering Heights and drank tea-trying to relax thanks to a pesky ectoparasite and unseasonal rain.