This internship keeps getting cooler. Today, we had a troop of wild howlers hanging around the sanctuary, and our babies actually got into the trees and interacted with them! We call this troop R2D2, and all of their names have something to do with Star Wars. The dominant male’s name is Yoda, and the other male is Vader.
It’s interesting because no matter where a howler troop is, you will almost always find the dominant male in the center of the group. Stevie, our blind howler, was playing with Mace, a baby in the troop. It was adorable. Rugby is still a little shy with other howlers, but she is getting there. Watching the wild howlers and capuchins is unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s one thing to see them in photographs and to learn about their behavior in a textbook, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. I really enjoy just sitting peacefully and watching.
Another cool thing we are doing is documenting howler behavior. The species has been neglected in this area, and so the research we are doing is extremely important. Every day we do several behavioral follows, either focusing on one baby or both. For about forty-five minutes, we document their every behavior, which can be anything from a vocalization to foraging. This is called an ethogram, and it takes a while to get the hang of. We are also identifying all of the individuals in each troop to try to get a population count. As of right now, it is not known how many howlers live in Panama, further adding to the importance of our research.
My favorite part of the internship so far has been interacting with the monkeys. The babies are frustrating at times, and it sometimes feels like babysitting spoiled toddlers. We try to keep them in the trees and off the ground as much as possible, to mimic a normal upbringing and get them used to a typical howler lifestyle (wild howlers spend almost no time on the ground). Sometimes, however, the babies do not want to get into a tree and just want to cuddle. Sometimes they will bite and run away, resulting in a wild monkey chase. However, watching them in the trees and playing with them is so rewarding, and they have the ability to make anyone’s heart melt, no matter how hard they bite.