Rachel Narasimhan

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b2ap3_thumbnail_6-1-Narasimhan.JPGThis is my last week at the sanctuary! It is extremely bittersweet. I have gotten to know some really amazing people and monkeys. My body has adjusted to living in this harsh environment. I can now hike up and down the mountain twice in one day. My first week here, I could hardly do one trip. The heat no longer feels suffocating, but the bugs are still just as annoying. I am looking forward to air conditioning and seeing my family, but I truly have enjoyed my time here.

I would love to do more field research in the future. This experience showed me that I am not only capable of doing it, but that I love it and I’m good at it. In the beginning it seemed as if I was going to fail miserably, but a short four weeks later, I am a hiking, jungle-loving machine. This experience also showed me how much I want to work with animals. I loved creating enrichment activities for them, observing their behavior and caring for them. I can’t wait for the day when I can do it every day and call it a career. I feel so blessed to have had this amazing experience. I want to thank everyone at the sanctuary, including the monkeys, who made me feel so at home and for teaching me so much.

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-28-Narasimhan.jpgBack at the sanctuary, things are getting busy. Everyday, tons of data is being collected, whether it be behavioral data from our baby howlers or population estimates from transects. When we perform transects, we are walking along set pathways through the jungle and recording every mammal that we see, and precisely where we see them. 

The pathways are through two different ecosystems: the primary forest corridor and then through the teak plantation. The corridors connect fragmented forests and allow animals to move between them, preventing isolation. The teak areas are being harvested and have been cut in a way that can sometimes prevent animals from using them.

Using this data, we can see what animals are using the two different environments and how often. Because teak plantations can be devastating to local populations, this teak plantation was cut in a way that left the understory, and it can still be used by animals. In addition to simply comparing the two environments, we are also using this data to compare to other teak plantations where the understory has been completely removed.

The hypothesis is that the plantation where we are collecting data will demonstrate more biodiversity and will prove to be more sustainable than other teak plantations. Conservation and sustainability are the reason for all of our work at Aloutta, and I’m enjoying learning about how to make the world a better place, one step at a time.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-25-Narasimhan.JPGEverything is going very well here at the sanctuary. We had a couple of visitors this week, all Panamanian businessmen and their families. They were very interested to hear about the work we are doing here with the monkeys and our research. All of their businesses are devoted to sustainability and conservation, and they are not alone. Throughout Central America, these ideas are beginning to trend in areas such as agriculture and the building of infrastructure. It was extremely interesting to learn about all the things their businesses are doing and the possibilities of a more sustainable world. It would really be amazing if more and more businesses adopted these policies. 

I wrote about some of the research we are doing on different types of teak plantations and which are the most sustainable. Hopefully, when our research is done, it will be used to make more responsible decisions about how teak plantations are made. This is just one example of the type of work that is being done, and all around the world it is really making an impact. I love learning about the different ways we can help make our home a better place for us right now and for future generations.

 

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Today we visited the indigenous village of Ngöbe and the people there. To get there, we took a two-hour truck ride up the mountain. We got to tour an organic coffee farm run by the local people. Sustainability is beginning to trend in businesses all throughout Panama, even in the remotest of villages. 

The members of this village live a simple life, but it is far from boring. The women wear a beautifully colored traditional dress called the Ngwä. For lunch, we ate a traditional meal of a salad with a homemade dressing, rice and plantains. It was delicious. While we ate, there were several children playing and chattering in the local language nearby. 

We asked to play soccer with them, but they were extremely shy. It seemed they don’t receive many visitors from outside the village, and didn’t know how to respond. All the same, the people were very welcoming and smiled patiently when we spoke our broken Spanish. I loved learning about and seeing their culture. It is uninterrupted by technology and the outside world, but full of life and meaning. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-21-Narasimhan-2_20150522-144111_1.jpgThis 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.

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