Entry #3: Group C in the Big Fig

Written by L. Millington

When you study arboreal primates you learn to deal with the fact that almost everything they do will be at least 20 m off the ground in dense forest canopy. This means that most of our time is not necessarily viewing the monkeys but dancing around on the forest floor until we finally locate the tiniest of windows in the understory affording us equally tiny glimpses in to the lives of the monkeys above. As you can imagine, the arboreal lifestyle of our study species doesn’t leave us with too many chances to get up close and personal with them, so when we had the opportunity to watch them feed in a large fig tree from the canopy walkway (one of the most amazing places at Tiputini) we were truly lucky. We had followed group C all day…

Quick sidenote about Group C : Group C is one of our favourite groups as they are a small group with only 13 individuals (some of our other groups have over 25!) and tend to stick together most of the time. This group has 2 adult males (the big guy Chromeo – easy to identify by a broken finger on his right hand – and a smaller adult male Clash, who likes to go off gallivanting on his own, or on occasion might even be found hanging out with members from neighboring groups, making him a tricky one to follow despite being fitted with a working radiocollar) and one subadult male, Cuzco, who has the face of an adult male (which are cuter than the females) but is still very skinny around the waist, and not quite a full adult. We have 4 adult females with dependent infants and juveniles (Gwen, like Clash, dons a radiocollar and is the mother of a juvenile male named Gdubs; Cora has a subadult female Celeste and a juvenile boy called Colugo; Coco has a large juvenile female, Chloe, and an infant Conrad – although the smallest of the infants in this group, he may be the most go-getting group member; Chai has an infant female called Chalupa – probably the cutest kid in this group and seriously independent for a creature the size of my left foot, sometimes leading her mother through the canopy from 5m in front! We also have a lone female called Cali, who is a bit transient and not always found with the group, however, when she is she is often found hanging out with the boys (Clash, Chromeo, and even Cuzco).

…So, now that I’ve introduced group C, back to the fig tree…

Towards the end of the day the group had led us to a large fig tree which just so happens to be right next to the canopy walkway. It was around 5:30 PM and was going to get dark soon, and they were all hapily feeding away (they make little chirping noises when they’re feeding in a good tree) 25 – 30 m off the ground. We all knew that the group was unlikely to leave the tree before sundown, so we decided to ascend 25 m up to the first platform of the canopy walkway in order to get a better view. And my goodness did we get a better view! We stayed near the top of the stairs as we didn’t want to scare them out of the tree (they are habituated to our presence 20-30m below them, but 3 humans suddenly appearing at eye level might be a little too much to handle). We sat and watched them forage for another 15 minutes and then as the sun was setting to the west we watched each monkey leave the tree, one by one. We got to see them from less than 10m away, at eye-level. They all took the same path, which they don’t always do, and we watched all 13 monkeys (Cali wasn’t with us that day) file out of the tree. With our unprecedented view we were able to notice identifying features on them that we had never seen before, like missing patches of fur and small scars. Our vantage point was one of a kind and was probably my favourite monkey moment from my 4 months at TBS.

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