Anyuri, Me, Nena and Lucia
I feel incredibly lucky to have found the most amazing monkey chasers! Anyuri, Nena and Lucia started working with me in early January, and after only a week on the job, which was primarily focused on learning to navigate the trail system on Barro Colorado Island and to tell the difference between adult male, adult female and juvenile capuchin monkeys, were promptly tested with a trial-by-fire: Darting!
Bob came down to Panama again, probably against his better judgment, to help me put radio-collars on the capuchins.
The batteries in all the radio-collars I used for my dissertation research have died and so, to track the movements of my study groups using the automated telemetry system on BCI, I had to replace the collars. Catching monkeys is tricky and tiring at the best of times, but this round of darting easily outstripped all its predecessors in terms of difficulty. Dipteryx, tall canopy trees, had started to fruit, but weren't producing large fruit crops so the monkeys were very hungry and spent all day running from the top of one tall tree to the next. For safety reasons, we can't try to capture the animals when they are high up, or when they are moving, and thus we spent seven days running up and down hills covered in liana tangles after monkey groups, desperately hoping to be in the right place when a capuchin decided to pause for a few seconds. We got lucky five times, averaging out to approximately 15 miles hiked per monkey captured.
Because capturing capuchins is so labor intensive, we tried out two new break-away collars that are designed to fall off by themselves (hopefully AFTER the batteries die), so we don't have to recapture the animals to remove their collars. As you can see, it's a pretty low-tech solution--just a weak point built into the tubular nylon collar material that should eventually rot and fall off.
Several higher-tech break away collars have been designed which allow you to program the collar to fall off after a specified number of days, or to trigger them to fall off remotely using radio-signals. Unfortunately, for the moment, all these mechanisms are too heavy to use with animals as small as the capuchins. So, we crossed our fingers and (although we knew better), hoped that the capuchins wouldn't pull the collars off the second they woke up. . .and as it turned out, it took the first monkey almost a whole 6 hours to get his collar off (please note, that is half the time it took us to catch him)! On the other hand, the other monkey with a break-away collar (Ulpiano) was either weaker, lazier or got a better constructed version, because he is still wearing his, almost three months later.
Rose and I putting a collar on Saladino (named after the first Panamanian Olympic gold medalist)
George and Rose weighing Loretta.
We had a frustrating week of darting. I'd been hoping to get new radio-collars on monkeys in my original six study groups and, perhaps, if we were lucky, add an extra group or two. Field work requires flexiblity though, and by the second day it was clear that these goals needed to be adjusted. In the end, we captured 5 monkeys from three social groups, and felt like we'd succeeded. I get to work with amazing people: even after 7 exhausting, frustrating and somewhat disappointing days they still smile (and speak to me).
L to R: Bob, Nena, Oldemar, Anyuri, George, Carrie, and Lucia
(Actually, they were smiling because I'd just promised them we could go home to rum and cokes!)
(I'm smiling because I finally get to take the heavy backpack off!)