It’s Raining Monkeys!

Written by J. Mayo

In the four months that I have been working with the woollies here at Tiputini, I have seen seven monkeys fall out of trees. Thankfully all of them have been just fine, getting up and carrying on monkey business as usual. It’s not something I expected to encounter working here though, especially not at this rate. With their prehensile tails, incredible ability to judge distance and branch stability, and mad jumping skills, you would think they would have this arboreal thing down pat, right?

Photo of female woolly leaping through the trees. Photo was taken by Tim Laman from the canopy walkway at TBS. To read about how Tim took this picture follow this link https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/summer-2015/articles/monkey-swinging-through-the-rain-forest

Photo of female woolly leaping through the trees. Photo was taken by Tim Laman from the canopy walkway at TBS. To read about how Tim took this picture click here.

Let’s take a second to think about reasons why woollies might fall out of trees:

  1. Their judgment is wrong.

How many times have you told yourself “I can totally make this jump”, followed by a less-than-graceful faceplant? Okay… well it happens to me all the time. It’s not always easy to judge distance and then apply it accordingly to your physical ability. Plus – sometimes you know you probably can’t make a jump, but you try anyhow because how cool would it be if you DID make that sick jump?

Let’s take for instance the story of Gordon. He is known in woolly world as a fatty bom-bom. I think he might hold the record for the most feeding bouts in a day. Even with his voluptuous figure, Gordon has been observed venturing onto the tiniest, most precarious branches. He’s got the inverse attitude of a dachshund – a big guy who thinks he’s petite. Not surprisingly – I’ve seen him fall twice. Recently out in the field, I heard a tiny crack and a huge crash, turned around to see Gordon on the ground clutching a tiny branch. Poor guy doesn’t seem to have the best judgment.

  1. Branches break all the time.

Here in the rainforest trees are constantly falling. They can rot, become waterlogged, or even toppled over by a wind storm. The same goes for branches. I cannot tell you how many times I have been out in the field following a group of woollies and a huge branch came hurtling down, whizzing just centimeters from my face. Alright, I’m totally exaggerating here, but what I’m saying is branches fall here all the time, trust me on this one. If there are as many unstable branches out there as it seems, it’s not crazy to suggest a woolly is bound to accidentally step on one and come falling down with it.

  1. It is the RAINforest.

It does rain quite a bit here, and rain tends to make things slippery. Navigating down a hill becomes slipping down a muddy slide (I like to call it taking the express route). Similarly, branches become slicker and heavier with water, which could cause some woollies to take the express route too 😦

  1. Escaping Aggressive Encounters

Recently, some of the males in Group C have been acting aggressive towards each other. The aggression has manifested in physical altercations, three of which have ended with a male (or two) falling to the ground.

An interesting event happened once when one of our males, Cuzco, fell to the ground a few meters away from us, and instead of running as fast as he could, he leisurely sauntered by. Two things struck me here, that he didn’t seem to view us humans as much of a threat even on the ground, and that he was so much smaller looking on the ground than in the trees. He looked the size of a chunky house cat.

Fortunately, every monkey I have seen fall has bounced back very quickly. They might take a few seconds getting up off the ground, and then sit in a small tree gathering themselves up for a minute or two. Some individuals even seem to pout or sulk before getting up and rejoining the group in the canopy. Overall though, a woolly falling out of a tree doesn’t appear to be as tragic in reality as it might seem.

The most anxious I have been when a monkey fell out of a tree was when Delilah – an adult female with her still-riding juvenile female daughter, Delfin, fell to the ground about five meters away from me. Delilah immediately got into a tree a few meters off the ground, and began making desperate vocalizations towards Delfin. Delfin finally climbed up to a different tree in what felt like an eternity later, but in reality was only 30 seconds. Delfin also began making desperate vocalizations, and Delilah seemed to be coaxing the little one to come over to her. Delfin refused to move, clutching onto her tiny tree with as much force as she could muster. Delilah finally relented and went to grab her daughter and sprinted up a tree. The two appeared fine for the rest of the day, as well as the following days. I was glad to observe that neither monkey was hurt. I felt shaken up but thankful that I’m traveling through the forest with my feet (mostly) planted firmly to the ground.

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