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

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an account of my experiences with the Macaca Nemestrina Project in Perak, Malaysia. Since, I don’t have great internet connection, each blog post will be an ccount of 3 days. I will try to explain biology jargon and/or provide links for them. But I’m pressed for time as internet is precious and I use Starbucks’ wifi (shoutout to Starbucks for all the caffeine). Excuse the atrocious spelling and grammar. I’m using a tablet and I miss MS Word pointing out my errors. Photos are more difficult to upload and hope that my words are enough to paint a picture.

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

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

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

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

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

25th March 2017, Saturday: My kinda day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Primate Diaries: A change of scenery and pace (Days 62

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


CONTEXT: We were all invited to hear Nadine and others talk at an event organised by the Malaysian Cultural and Heritage Society in KL and of course we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.
Summary 17-22 March 2017
17th March, Friday: Anna and Michele went in the morning for a few hours. Vino is staying at home so she hitched a ride with Nadine. We left at around 2. Guess what- buses to KL are always booked well in advance. Luckily we could at least get a bus for 5:30 pm. Kuala Lumpur, like all other cities looks creepy at night and has shady characters around.

18th March, Saturday: We met up with Vino and trusted her knowledge of the public transport of KL. It’s pretty good, though a bit pricey. We attended the talk and came to know about some amazing work in conservation, public awareness and cultural heritage of Malayasia. We also met Leo and Lea, the two new French volunteers who had arrived in KL a few days ago. We had dinner with a research group that is studying human-longtail conflict and had amazing discussions about science, culture, international politics and religion. My kinda people always make me happy I guess.

19th March: A contact of Nadine has a rescue centre which she pretty much manages with herself and one other student. We visited her and helped clean and arrange things. It was tiring but rewarding and we again had some amazing conversations over some good food.

20th March: Vino, Michele, Leo, Lea and I got the bus to Manjung while Anna left to Singapore for her visa run (after her bus got cancelled and she had to get a different bus). We got to Manjung and disembarked only for Vino to realise her wallet was probably in the bus. Luckily her dad was in town to meet her on the way to a meeting so they were able to make a quick run to Lumut to retrieve the wallet. We got basic grocery and got back home. Vino and I were still not tired so we decided to take a stroll on the beach in the hopes of seeing some bioluminiscent plankton. No plankton but warmish water and gentle waves.

21st March: We finally decided to go to Pangkor. It’s a 30 minute ferry ride from Lumut. Leo was swarmed by Malays who wanted to take a picture of themselves with the tall white dude. At least Michele and Lea were spared because they were inside. We got to the island and hired ne of the bright pink taxis which took us to all the major sights of the island, including one dilapidated Dutch fort, a Taoist temple and after the wonderfully weird thing that is roti ice-cream (google it), we were dropped to an amazing beach. I had resolved to not swim but the day was amazing and the sun shone bright on the high waves. And none of us could resist. One after the other, we were all drawn though we got pecked at by some transparent jellyfish. We had a brilliant time and then got some local sea bass (3 rasa) along with other dishes because the lunch we brought wasn’t enough. Michele had turned completely red and is horribly sunburnt. We sincerely hope her pain was worth the tan she wishes for.

22nd March, Monday: Back to work
We needed to go look for AMY, vacation over! We taught Leo basics of riding the bike. Too bad he couldn’t practice properly because the bike had a flat tyre again and our morning was spent was spent getting a new cooking gas cylinder and borrowing a pump (Ours is with the helpful villager Saufi who unfortunately lives too far away, closer to the forest).

Vino and I reached the plantation which looked incredibly busy. The plantation workers were all over, harvesting and collecting the oil-palm fruits. It was quite chaotic and the heat was terrible. We had to stop for water breaks and we realised the monkeys wouldn’t be outside. We had seen VOLDEMORT (the non-habituated pigtailed macaque group with the noseless alpha male- Voldemort). The heat was stifling and we were having no luck so we decided to g back and persuaded Michele and Lea, who were on the way, to turn back and come later. They did go later and when they too had no luck, Vino and I went back for a second time. We waited till 6:30 pm but in vain. I reminded them not to be disheartened, Anna and I couldn’t find them for 3 consecutive days when I first arrived. We all I’m sure, silently prayed that wouldn’t happen.

23rd March 2017, Thursday: There you are!

The day started with a rain and seemed cloudy. I wondered if that is the reason we couldn’t find AMY yesterday. Could they perhaps be in the swamp? At Nadine’s suggestion, we were planning to also search some trails going into the forest this time in case waiting around in the plantation at checkpoints wasn’t yielding much. Lea and Michele went in the morning. Meanwhile Vino and I instructed Leo on riding the second bike, not that he needed to much input.

There was still no news of AMY. Leo and I reached the plantation at around 1:30 and I enquired to Michele’s whereabouts via walkie-talkie to be greeted with “We found them, near the clearing!”. It is this weird feeling- relief, when it washes over you. And it is weird in scenarios when YOU aren’t even the one who achieved and succeeded at finding them. It’s a testament to our dynamics as a team and our commonality regardless of country of origin, culture and ideologies.

Lea and Michele had found them around an hour ago. So after transfering the tablet and relaying basic information, they left. AMY left soon too and we followed them into the forest, slowly progressing toward the hill. It had rained and the individuals were wet and difficult to distinguish. It definitely didn’t help that they were also avoiding coming to the ground- because it was wet or because they saw a new human in an orange t-shirt. We followed them closely and I identified individuals as time passed and the fur of the macaques dried up and they started being less wary of us (I wonder if they missed our presence- we haven’t tailed them for 6 days). I also gave Leo tid-bits of information about each individual attributing personality to them (some would consider that animal-behaviour faux-pas, I would too but anthropomorphising a little makes it easier to remember them) and filling him in on vocalisations and how to recognise them, when you are lucky enough for them to call of course. Biru’s swell has grown considerably larger than before an she is now being courted by the beta-male Oliver…A LOT. I pointed out Casimodo, Phoenix with his spiralling tail, Anakin obviously puckered at us unnecessarily and the juvenile jumped around to investigate being cautious enough to not come too close. We slowly moved forward so we could be more in the centre of the group and also so we could see the females.

AMY was climbing higher and we were climbing up mossy rocks and clambering through gaps in fallen trees, holding on to exposed roots. But it was at least much cooler in the forest thanks to the rain. Leo just finished 6 months doing work with marine birds on mostly remote islands off the coast of Victoria, Australia which was actually quite cold so he had some adjusting to do of course- to the weather and the terrain. But he seemed to be okay. Vino arrived at around 3 but AMY started moving further down soon after we had given her our co-ordinates. Well, good for us and Vino I thought. A lot of soil had come loose so climbing down was easy but I’d take that to climbing uphill in a heartbeat. Vino arrived and we hoped AMY would be fine with 3 people. We decided not to cowd them too much so we stayed away from each other and also them. They stopped moving for a while and we finally had some respite after their constant movement before. Also, even though we were only away for a week, I already felt like I had lost my energy and was sweating like a pig. Didn’t help that the post-rain sun was shining harder and the humidity thanks to all the evaporation from all this greenery was apalling. AMY started moving again, going in the same direction Leo and I had just come from. We reached a clearing on a slope, a place from where you could see a lot of the trees below and then it hit us.

It had been going on for a while now. The lost calls. At first we thought it must be Pippi or Brienne or even Chewbacca, they get lost quite often. But we saw that all of the females seemed to be emitting the call, even GOLDIE- the alpha female. Emma, the old female who we had just witnessed tearing up a nest and devouring the ants seemed to be making an effort to call. What was happening? And now their zig-zagging and going back and forth made sense. Perhaps they were looking for someone. I was relieved to find that Putih and Chewbacca both had their infants. I had not seen quite a few juveniles, but it is always difficult to spot and recgnise juveniles. Could it be Gollum, Goldie’s kid that was missing. I hadn’t seen her and it might explain why all the females seem invested perhaps; it wasn’t the same when Febe lost her baby (but we did miss what happened at night- maybe they called out the same way). The calls were haunting and loud and so many of them were calling. The males were grunting while juveniles screeched and played. The forest was filled with these sounds, a novelty even for Vino and me as we have never heard so many of them making so many sounds. They started moving around half an hour later after they had seemingly exhausted this area for their seach. It was 5:15 and a look at the GPS said that we had basically retraced our steps. And now we assumed we were taing the route AMY had taken this morning before we foud them. They stopped and we realised that they had stopped calling. So either they found whoever they were looking for or gave up.

They had begun the pre-sleep ritual which involved males grunting, the “trrr-trrr-trrr-huh-huh-huh” call from one of the bigger males while juveniles played and hummed in response to the males call and the females’ hoooo-s. I decided that we should stay at least till 6:30. And it was good decision because while we let our guard down, they moved again. After some panicking because we didn’t see where they went, we found them in the plantation. They hadn’t actually travelled a large distance in the last 5 hours and the plantation was bereft of any ripe fruit as the workers had harvested them yesterday. But AMY decided to hang around the plantation for what seemed like a long time. Especially because we were keen to go back- we had made plans to go try out one of the villagers- Saufi’s resturaunt (He personally invited Michele and Lea when he they met him yesterday). I decided that this time, we stay till at least 7:30. it was growing dark and we were sure AMY wouldn’t travel too much beyond the forest edge.

We got back and had a surprise awaiting us. Nadine had found a helpless stray kitten at the beach and brought it to us. Anna is back from her visa run after a lot of misadventures and immediately decided to save it. She is a bit of a cat-whisperer. After figuring out that he won’t drink milk unless fed through a syringe (sense of survival-zilch), we decided to go have some Nasi Goreng udang (Shrimp fried rice) and Char Kuey Teow with shrimp and cockle and had a relaxing time fuelled with great conversation.

Primate Diaries: On reunions, secrets and rewards (Days 59-61)

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

14th March 2017, Tuesday: The return to AMY

Anna was kind enough to give me the afternoon shift. Michele had her day off today and Vino accompanied Anna in the morning. We are down to one bike again, this time the other bike’s tyre is flat and we are running on low ration of petrol which we hoped would make us through the day. Vino arrived pretty late than we were expecting her. She had had a big adventure in the plantation which then needed the involvement of plantation workers in tractors and ended up with her having a gigantic bruise on her thigh and a kind of exhaustion one associates with these kind of things.

I realised on the way that I have never needed to drive this bike ever before. And when I reached the forest I realised I hadn’t seen AMY in almost 5 days. And that made me so excites, I overshot their location by almost 100 m to climb up and realised they were actually pretty low and close to the plantation. My second bae Franzi, the Heimdall of AMY hasn’t been around and Anna suspects that he has left the group, along with Tim, the peaceful lord of slumber. Goldie had suffered major injuries a few days ago and is still limping. And I saw that the pregnant sister Scarlet too has a gash on her back. Brienne’s swelling has grown to its full size and looks bright red. It would draw attention from afar and it does. She is quite popular at this time while Biru, who has just begun swelling is parading in front of many males without success.

They went out into the plantation soon after Anna had just finished her focal on Goldie’s kid- Gollum. If I were an old man in England from the 1800s-the word I’d use to describe her antics, would be “rapscallion” (also I would regularly use words such as blaggard and urchin to insult people- and I’d be ‘Lord’ something or another-with a big belly, a monocle and a fancy pocket-watch). While at the plantation, Anna decided to do a focal on the now-swelling Pamkin, the other sister of the highest ranking females trio (Goldie>Scarlet>?Pamkin- we think). This gave me the opportunity to watch and get used to AMY and macaques that don’t run away and pucker at me from a distance. I was watching Tiga accidentally unearth a rat from a bark, drawing the attention of his mother-Scarlet, Norbert and Oliver who all came running. But the rat had escaped, and so had Tiga- the confrontation between Scarlet, Norbert and Oliver could get fierce….but they dispersed when they realised there was no rat to be found.

I was watching the juveniles. It is always funny to see them because they are so small that they have to adopt bipedalism when they are on the ground, to be able to look over the grass and go anywhere. I saw Dani leap at something near a smal water stream. They love grasshoppers. He brought it to his mouth and almost bit it. Well, tried to. It was a toad- a small one. And it didn’t seem to be struggling so it probably tasted terrible. Dani let it go and it hopped a bit before he picked it up again. Looked at it (commiting it to memmory so as to not repeat the same mistake?) and let it go. He saw me looking and skipped to a tree. Oil-palm fruits are less risky. I watched as AMY seemed to be making a move to go in. Some juveniles had begun playing with the long-tails on the forest edge. Anna had just completed her focal on Phoenix and decided that it was time for he to return. She had to go drop the other Anna and her friend Tim to Sitiwan so they could return to KL.

And this meant that I had to make sure AMY was not to be let out of my sight for the next 2 hours. Considering AMY had been getting ‘lost’ thanks to them going into areas difficult to access, I was a bit intimidated. But, I realised I needed to get over this fear. AMY wouldn’t wait in one area for more than 5 minutes and were soon climbing up at a steady pace. Norbert is becoming more disruptive and mean. He chased Brienne and Pamkin and every other juvenile in the vicinity. He is fast making me disillusioned with his behaviour, and despite his earlier his furry charms, he is no longer my bae.

We had reached pretty high up at this point. The only respite was the scarcity of the spiny Bertam. The area had smooth boulders and large mossy rocks. It was difficult to climb and there was no place to sit without being precariously perched on some fallen tree branch, overlooking an abyss. Okay, I was trying to be dramatic- it wasn’t too bad. If they climbed anymore, they’d be right at the top of this hill. And at this stage-it seemed like they might. We climbed a bit more and then I saw he classic signs of sleep-site arrival. Grooming, juveniles playing, low hoots and hmmms. The light was fading fast and I didn’t know how long it would take for me to get out considering how high up I was.

By the time I got out at 7:10, it was already pretty dark in the forest though still not too bad in the plantation. I walked till checkpoint 0. Michele was here with the bike but wanted to conserve the little petrol we did have. Luckily, it turns out- we had enough to get home.

15th March

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Vino and both had the day off. We still spent the afternoon in the reserve and plantation though. But the problem was sorted and we were ready to give Michele a break after her almost 10 hour day (Anna is used to 12 hour shifts). Plus it would make Vino and I (especially me) like we too were doing something useful.

16th March 2017, Thursday: No sweat

I slept in a little bit- Vino had volunteered to do the morning shift. The skies were still dark although it was around 8:15. I went out to the kitchen and saw how overcast the sky was. A strong wind had picked up. This was ominous. And even though I’d love a respite from the sweltering, sticky heat from the past few days, it usually puts a dampener (get it?-‘damp’ener) in Anna and Vino’s and the monkeys’ movements. The rain hit not soon after. It was quite heavy and Miezer-one of our cats shot into our hut as soon as I was about to close it. While he made himself comfortable, I too decided to enjoy my warm dry nook.

We are still operating with a single bike. Vino got back quite early so we could pump some air in the tyres. Don’t want our sole bike dying out on us. I wolfed down some Nasi-Goreng I had made and left asap. I got to the plantation after having answered some questions of curious villagers about myself along the way (mainly because they assume I’m Indian-Malaysian and talk to me in Malay, to be met with confusion and “ummm, sorry-do you speak English?”). AMY was at least a little farther inside the plantation. Anna and Vino had had around 2 hours of idly sitting around thanks to the rain so Anna was desperately trying to make up for it with her focals. The urgency is evident, especially with Putih, whose infant Pummelluff might soon be independent and then Anna won’t be able to do her ‘mother-infant’ focals, a behavioural assay to test how protective and physically connected the mother and infant are, depending on the age of the infant and whether they are in the forest or the plantation.

After having been missing for almost 10 day, the Heimdall-Franzi is back, though Tim is still gone. Anna said she also saw him catch and eat a rat just yesterday. As we were speaking, we saw the long-tails arrive. They too are mostly habituated to us by now. And the ones who do screech and alarm call seem confused by the fact that the pig-tails, after realising that the ‘threat’ is us, come back down and calmy resume their activities. AMY had had their fill at the plantation and was gearing up to head inside. I spotted Norbert. He is following Brienne around like a love-sick puppy,though that is hardly how innocent his motives are. She is in full-swell, her behind is red and glistening. His closeness means no sneaky-mating and he gets all the matings- increasing his chances of fathering her baby. Anna had already entered the forest, I followed soon after and decided to hang out with Jane and Biru- who are both swelling, and watch their adventures with the other males- Casimodo, Phoenix and Anakin. After being right in the middle of a brawl involving Anakin, Casimodo and Phoenix, I finally decided that I might as well watch from a safe distance. Anna was doing a focal on Brienne who was grooming her juvenile Brandi while Norbert waited patiently underneath. He seemed so forlorn and bored, turns out he was just sleepy. It cannot be easy being the alpha male and ensuring no one mates with the female in full-swell and you yourself can’t mate with her all the time anyway (high energy-costs, ejaculation is especially costly).

Anna had finished with Brienne and decided to do Curli now after I pointed him out, grooming Mina. They were calmly grooming until the long-tails decided to fight close to them. Their ‘groming-reverie’ was broken and they left, Anna at their heels. I was at the back of the group, usually a great place to spot sneaky copulations. We were soon going uphill. There weren’t a lot of rest stops, AMY had had two hours of idle morning time too andwere pumped up with all just oil-palm juice I guess. Higher and higher we went. The only good thing was that it was much cooler today and the sun was still hidden behind clouds. We reached an area where I haven’t been before, after having climbed a whole bunch of moss-covered and now slippery rocks and clearing away some Bertam. I realised that AMY was now going down on the other side. Anna was looking for her focal Casimodo who had suddenly disappeared and I was about to follow her when I looked to my right and halted. It was a clearing through all the canopy, and we were at a height. And what lay in front of me was a beautiful, unobscured view…of the ocean. Could this be? Were we at Anna’s “Beautiful viewing point”? Turns out we were, or at least I was. Right about now, I wished for the sun to be out, but meh! I was finally here, so it didn’t matter- it was still quite pretty. I went further down and found Anna. Sadly Casimodo had not taken the scenic route so Anna wasn’t able to see her “beautiful view”. She;s here doing a PhD. She’ll have more opportunities.

It was about 5:20 when the hoos and hmms started. A sign that the macacques were ready for bed. “So early?”, Anna and I wondered out loud. At about 6, Anna saw Goldie and decided to do a focal on her before she climbed up a tree to sleep. Anna climbed down with Goldie and I decided to wait to see whther I too would need to climb down. When Anna didn’t come up by 6:40 I went down, the trail to go back was closer from her location anyway. It turns out they had climbed quite a long way back down. I recorded one last mounting and one event of harassment (Pamkin attacked and chased Brienne) at 6:52. I was close to 7 when we left but thanks to Anna, we were back in the plantation by 7:05- a feat that I still can’t possibly achieve on my own.

Primate Diaries: Days-are you still counting? (55-58)

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.

10th March 2017, Friday: Stalking
Since Vino and I had managed to find and follow VOLDEMORT to their sleeping site, it only made sense if we could go hang out with them today. Of course, we can’t do it for the whole day but it’s important to have as much time with them as possible so they get used to us Orange-Oompa-loompas (Vino’s brilliant description of us).

Thus, Vino and I reached the sleeping site, a little late but at least we didn’t have to scramble through spiny shrubbery and Bertam in the dark. We reached the place where Voldemort had lunged at us but couldn’t hear anything. However, we had expected this. It would be likely that they went a little further around the hill. And as we predicted, we started to hear them better and even see them because of the lack of Bertum. This also meant that they could see us. The males were barking and support-shaking at each other, a morning ritual similar to AMY’s. I think it acts to reiterate or reconfiure social heirarchies- or is like exercising at the gym, one or the other, or even both (It’s all conjecture, might as well go all out). But upon seeing us, the males started directing the puckering and branch-shakes at us. That is till they realised they were quite high up (They usually climb onto high branches of strong trees for the morning ritual) and decided to go about their business. 2 individuals relatively close to us, seemingly male were mounting- a sign of peace-making amongst males- usually sub-ordinate mounts the dominant ones.

But only the males were here, the sound of the juevniles and females seemed to now be coming from further down. Well, it is good if they go down and into the plantation, we thought. We saw a swelling female on a tree and she semed to be going down. So we decided to follow her. Easy enough to say and do when you are not surrounded by thick entangles Bertum and bushes. This was an area we have never had to use. And that itself was exciting. As for the ‘chase’, it seemed not as exciting when all you were doing was trying your level best to catch a glimpse of a few individuals while they hoo-d and humm-ed all around you. In a way, we had aticipated this level of difficulty. The group is not used to us and we are unwelcome. VOLDEMORT has no reason to hang out with us. But the unnerving bit is that though you can’t see them, you know they can see you and they are watching you closely.

They were going further down and to the right. But since we were going downhill, our view of WHERE they were going was obscured by the trees. It could be one of thwo places now- further around the hill to get out onto the other plantation OR….’The Swamp’ at cehckpoint 3. We decided that it would be best if we got out of the forest to assess where they were going. Of course, getting out took some time and effort. We were always surrounded by pig-tail sounds though so it was all good.

We finally got out onto the road, not before we both got water in our boots and had to sit down to empty them and wring our socks. It was soon that we realised we couldn’t hear the monkeys anymore-just the garbled calls of long-tails. We walked all the way to the other plantation mostly because we weren’t confident we knew our way about ‘The Swamp’. In vain. We had managed to ‘follow’ them for an hour and 15 minutes. Same as yesterday. But hey, consistency is good. We should count this as success.

We did try to find them back, following the same protocol. Split up, look around, wait, return and repeat. We only needed to spend half a day with VOLDEMORT, which was an optimistic estimation by Anna and wishful thinking on our part. At least we got to see part of the forest we don’t normally see with AMY.

Turns out Michele, doing the afternoon shift had desperately tried to follow AMY but lost them in the swamp at check-point 1. A headache to be dealt with tomorrow. Could it be that both pig-tails were in two different swamps, AMY at 1 and VOLDEMORT at 3?

11-12-13 March 2017: Non-forest days, a summary

Made my visa run, from KL this time so had a good 4 and a haf hour bus ride before I got there. Maybe “volunteering for research on monkeys” wasn’t legit sounding to the emigration lady who hit me with the ominous “We’ll see”.

After having visited Medan in the cover of darkness, it was nice to see it in the light of day albeit fast fading. You”d think I had got enough sleep but oh how wrong you would be. I had a good restful sleep in a big-ish bed and woke up to a nice non-humid Sunday. I explored the vicinity a bit, saw a Sunday morning market and walked to a traditional mansion/museum that was, as it turns out- CLOSED. After contemplating my ethical dilemma in visiting a collection of taxidermied animals by a hunter, I decided against it. Mostly because it was too far away. After a simple lunch, I got back, lay in bed- caught up with my blog-writing and watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire back to back. Successful day I’d call it.

13th March: Checked out early in the morning (4 am train you’all). But this level of paranoia meant I was at the near empty airport quite early. People laugh at my insistence to be 2 and a half if not 3 hours early for an international flight. They haven’t seen the Home Alone movies I believe. Lack of people meant securiy was a breeze. Had to wait for immigration officers to actually arrive. This gave me an opportunity to get a free foot and leg massage from one of those fancy contraptions while I reclined in a plush chair. Needless to say, was first one when the emigration officers did arrive.
Got to KL- finally went to Pasar Seni, the old maret established in 1888 fo meat and fish but is now super-swanky and has clothes, souvenirs, handicrafts etc. An air conditioned bazaar of sorts. Visited an art-gallery, had to maek up for my lack of museum visits these past few months. Got out and went to the real market, and things I wanted to spend money on….food. Some good durian ice-cream and a short trip to 7-Eleven later (Major Australia nostalgia right there), I decided to head back.
This time, I didn’t miss my bus to Sitiawan. Unfortunately my plan to make up for lost sleep was thwarted by the toddler who screamed his heart out and decided he 5 hour bus journey was the perfect time to exercise his developing vocal chords. Just as I felt myself falling into a somewhat restful slumber, the bus seemed to be slowing down. We were stuck in a jam, IN SITIAWAN. We were almost an hour early. No big. I finally got a chance to sample the Pizza Hut where the bus stops while I waited for Anna. And yes, it seems like rip-off especially when you hardly spend anything on local dishes in outdoor cafeterias.
Well, we got back and decided that it seemed like a good night to walk to the beach. Full moon, low tide and luke warm water with a gentle breeze. We should do this more often. We were hoping for bioluminiscent algae (well- dinoflagellates to be precise) but no one seemed excessively disappointed.

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

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an account of my experiences with the Macaca Nemestrina Project in Perak, Malaysia. Since, I don’t have great internet connection, each blog post will be an ccount of 3 days. I will try to explain biology jargon and/or provide links for them. But I’m pressed for time as internet is precious and I use Starbucks’ wifi (shoutout to Starbucks for all the caffeine). Excuse the atrocious spelling and grammar. I’m using a tablet and I miss MS Word pointing out my errors. Photos are more difficult to upload and hope that my words are enough to paint a picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8th March 2017, Wednesday- The trail not taken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9th March 2017, Thursday: The Dark Lord approaches

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

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

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

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

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