Meeting monkeys as a researcher
by Elizabeth M.C. Coggeshall of Central Washington University
As a visiting researcher I have a lot to learn in a short amount of time. My research is focused around understanding the relationship between parasite load and maternal investment behaviors towards their offspring. So I have a lot of things to do, including behavioral and fecal data collection.
There are approximately 1000 monkeys residing in this forest who form about five massive groups. The large quantity of macaques is a result of over population, which is an effect of forest fragmentation, provisioning, and habituation. A non-over populated group of macaques roughly consists of 50 individuals. So this forest is unique due to its cultural significance, large group size, and unique macaque behaviors!
So many macaques is wonderful, but creates a daunting situation for me. How do I systematically collect good data while getting to know everything?
Here are a few tips I have thought of and have been taught, in my short time here, that can help a researcher (or anyone) acclimate to the monkeys quickly! These tips are self explanatory mostly, but are nice to think about it while you are in the throws of things!
1. Never bring food with you or they will become "too friendly" with you.
2. Sit on the ground! Monkeys who are sitting on the ground are usually relaxed and thus they will become more comfortable with you.
3. Identify and map your groups! Identify groups by sleeping site location, day time location, and by unique looking individuals. Then mark it on a GPS or map so you can confidently follow a group.
a. due to the high quantity of macaques, individual identification is difficult.
4. Always walk around and walk slowly. If you can take the opportunity to not tower over a macaque do so, but let them see you.
5. Stay away from visitors who come with food. When visitors come with food the macaques become a horde and you won't be able to escape if you are too close!
6. Do not smile at the macaque - teeth are a sign of aggression.
7. Walk the forest every time you arrive after a period of being gone and try to locate where everyone is hanging out.
8. Take some time to acclimate to the forest. Going in head strong will just make you come out bamboozled at the end of the day.
9. Finally - write or record every single thing down. It is never a bad idea to have too much data - you can always sift though it and use different parts later.
a. # of people
b. temperature ... etc.
(Photos by E. Coggeshall 2019).