Monkey Tracking Adventures (part 1)

I’m currently in the rainforest in eastern Ecuador with NYU primatologist Anthony Di Fiore and his team, learning how they track monkeys, in order to see where some of the technologies we work with at ITP can be used to make their work easier.  Mostly I’m learning about the work they do on this trip. We’ve written a few other grants, and we hope to secure future funding to develop some of the ideas we’ve been discussing. In the posts that follow, I’ll try to detail my experience here, along with any research notes I have, for further use when I get home.  Anyone with productive input on the research notes, please email me.

9 Jan 2009

Travelin’ in Wet Style

They weren’t kidding when they called it a rainforest.  I think this is the wettest place I have ever been.

We took a small plane for a short hop (45 minutes) from Quito to Coca, then waited while supplies were obtained and loaded for the trip downriver.  As we waited, it rained. Once the boat was loaded (a large canoe with two motors), we rode a couple of hours downriver to a former oil station. There, in the middle of nowhere, we went through security scanning in a tiny hut. It was just like the airport, only in the middle of nowhere.  Then we waited in the rain while the gear was loaded from the boat to a truck.  After that, we got on the truck and rode about 25 km through the forest to a research station.  There we met up with a group of ornithologists and headed another couple hours down the Tiputini river to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, our home for the next ten days. All the way down the river they were birdwatching, and got very excited quite often, at many birds.  All of us got excited when we saw the harpy, though, which is the world’s largest eagle.  Apparently they’re not soaring birds like most eagles, and quite rare, so they’re difficult to find.  Having one fly over the boat was pretty special.

The Station

The Station is pretty civilized for where it’s at. The cabins are comfortable, meals are provided, and there’s an air-conditioned lab for computer work.  Network access is available but it’s a limited bandwidth satellite uplink,  slow when lots of people are on. Water is all cold, but purified, so you can drink out of the faucets, the sinks, the shower — even the toilet, I suppose, if you were so inclined.  I am not. There’s electricity twice a day in the cabins (morning and evening), and all day long in the labs.

A few notes on clothing:  You need more than you think.  You need an outfit for each day at least, long sleeves and long pants.  You will get them thoroughly muddy and soaked through with sweat, and with humidity at close to 100%, they won’t dry fast. You need rubber boots, calf-length, but there are spares in camp.  You need a hat. Really. You need clothes for moving around camp after you shower too. T-shirts, shorts and flip flops seem to be the standard. You don’t tend to get messy or too sweaty in camp, so you can likely re-wear these a few times.

Other useful gear:  Day pack, compass, water bottle, rain jacket or poncho, more Ziploc bags than you can count to keep your small stuff dry, a dry bag to keep your big stuff dry. A camera is handy, though I have to admit, mine feels pretty heavy at the moment. Sunblock does not seem strictly necessary, since you’re under the canopy most of  the time. Bug spray is helpful, but I haven’t used mine yet.  Caladryl or hydrocortizone is useful for the inevitable bug bites, spray or not.  A flashlight.

It gets dark at night here. Really dark. Had no way to find my way back to the cabin without a flashlight, thank goodness Peter had one and guided me.

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