Thursday, January 21, 2010

Of Owl Monkeys, Lobos, Washouts, and Pumas (or Jaguars?)

The baby owl monkey has lived long enough that he's been dubbed "Trino," Spanish for trill. Conveniently, if he turns out to be female, he (or she, I guess), can convert to Trina. I did have Trino for the night last night. My roommate took care of him from 8-12, I took care of him from 12-4. Consequently, we both got about 4 hours of sleep last night, because it's hard to sleep deeply with a wiggly, delicate, hungry baby in your bed. He's physically doing a lot better - he's mobile, his big cut on his side is looking less like his intestines are about to pop through and more like it's skin without fur on it. His knee isn't skinned anymore, and he's pretty perky. He does still bear an unmistakable resemblance to Gollum, though... He's also eating a lot - I fed him a lot of food (still going with powdered milk, warm water, and something honey-like) every hour to hour and a half last night. He's also excreting everything the way he should. Owl monkey pee in my bed ... oh boy! Fortunately, I bought two sets of sheets. He slept in a pouch on my stomach for a little while, but after about an hour, climbed up to my head and nestled in my hair where he spent the rest of the night with interruptions for feedings when he woke me up nursing on my earrings.

The owl monkey wasn't my only excitement yesterday! Karina and I went out on a scouting mission yesterday morning in search of new groups of saddleback tamarins while everyone else was out working on perfecting the trapping techniques. Our loop took us down past Cocha Lobo, a big oxbow lake in the conservation concession. Like most rivers, the Los Amigos River is a meandering river that changes course pretty frequently due to erosion and deposition of sediments. Sometimes it shifts its course to the extent that a whole section of the river is cut off from the river's flow and becomes an oxbow lake. It turns out that Cocha Lobo has a family of river otters (perhaps now more properly called lake otters) living in it, but you usually have to take a boat out to the middle of the lake to see them. Karina and I started walking down the bank towards the dock with the boat in it (the boat was full of water due to the recent rain, and the dock was almost entirely under water!) when we heard a splash! We ran down the rest of the way and there were four otters swimming around right in front of us! We watched them cavorting and displaying for almost a half hour before heading on out.

Now, it turns out that there are a number of oxbow lakes in the vicinity of Cocha Lobo, including Cocha Seca - the dry lake. Apparently this is a misnomer and not only is Cocha Seca wet, it filled to literally overflowing with the recent rain and tore back its old path into the Los Amigos River. So we were walking along this gorgeous trail (they maintain a really fantastic network of trails here that we get to use sometimes when we're not crashing around off trail following small, speedy monkeys) right along the river bank, and all of a sudden it stopped being there. Instead there was a big tree fall and a river between us and the next step on the trail, a good 10 meters away. So after evaluating the situation and deciding we needed to keep going, we scrambled down the bank and got to river level. Of course, the actual river level was essentially quicksand, and I almost lost my boots to the mud several times. Fortunately, the deposition of sand from when Cocha Seca became a river again also involved the deposition of a number of trees and branches, and the bank that had suddenly been torn apart had a number of roots hanging out of it. The two of us, now weighed down by our mud-encrusted boots, balanced precariously on these logs and clutched the roots as we made our way to where Cocha Seca now joined the Los Amigos River. The only way to cross from one bank to the other was a mostly submerged log spanning the distance - suddenly the years of gymnastics all seemed worthwhile! I made it across and helped Karina get across, and then we scaled the other side of equally muddy, sheer bank. I mean, to be fair it was maybe only 10 feet from top to bottom, but it was HARD! Once I have access to a connection quick enough to load pictures, I'll post them. It was a well-documented trek.

Our journey continued, and though we didn't see any other particularly exciting wildlife, we did cross a bunch of other logs across creeks. The most exciting bit was that for a while, we were following big cat prints! I took a picture of them (again, wait for May or so for pictures) and they are awaiting analysis to tell whether they were pumas or jaguars. We think that there's a jaguar who's been through the area close to our cabin a few times - based on my small litterbox cleaning experiences, I'm pretty sure I saw big cat poop on the trail, and camera traps in the vicinity have seen both jaguars and pumas walking around at night. We don't walk alone when it's dark, though, and we're pretty shockingly loud for a cat used to sneaking up on what he's eating, so no one is particularly seriously scared... just a little jumpy!

OK, well, I've got an hour or so before dinner. I'm very sleepy and can't decide if that time would be best used napping, playing volley ball, or transcribing some focal follows of the twins. We've seen some really interesting stuff in the past couple of days in our group. When I got here, they had three resident males, two resident females, and two infants of unknown sex. Before I even got out to see the group, one of the males disappeared - he probably died in a rainstorm as he'd been seen injured the day before. We had our last sighting of the second male four days ago - he's presumed to have transferred to another group as he seems to be about the right age to transfer. The two females were holding strong, but when I was following the other day, the only male left was really agitated, scent marking and chasing and biting and snapping at the youngest female. It seems like he's bound and determined to have it be him, the older female, and the twins. We don't know if the two of them can take care of the twins well enough for them to survive - all of our fingers are very crossed. There's also been an unmarked group wandering around their territory and causing a ruckus. It's been a dramatic couple of days, that's for sure!


  1. Very interesting reading! I'm glad you finally got to see the river otters, and I'm also happy that all the gymnastics classes came in handy. Who'd have thought you'd be using your balance beam talents to cross streams in the Amazon?
    Love you!

  2. Awesome blog, Erin! Keep us updated :)