By Morgan Chaney ’10
Anthropology alum studying capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica
“Morgan, Morgan, Morgan — are you there?” My radio’s staticky transmission cuts the serenity of the forest like a buzzsaw, startling me out of a meditative hike as I search for my troop. It’s been around seven hours since I set out, and fatigue is starting to wear on me in a holistic kind of way: in my muscles, in my mind. “Yes, I’m here,” I respond.
My Colombian roommate on the other end of the radio continues, “It’s the capuchins; they’re in the parking lot here at the station. They’re feeding on the palm trees.”
The parking lot. Figures. “I’ll be right there, Melqui. Thank you; muchas gracias.” As my pace quickens, the Sun continues its slow decline in the mid-afternoon sky. It will be dark in around three hours, and I will need to make the most of this time with the troop.
After staying with them for about two more hours, I return to camp with a spring of hard-won victory in every aching step that I take. I lay out my materials for the next morning in my cabin before my frigid shower. Jolting my senses into vivid resolution, I see capuchins when I close my eyes to wash my hair. Tonight’s dinner will be served with a side of elation.
(See Why Don’t These Monkeys Grow Up? for more about Chaney’s project.)
This week saw more than twice the data I collected over the previous week. My spreadsheet is growing, and I’ve actually begun looking at preliminary results, but I can’t emphasize the preliminary nature of those results enough. Still, it’s nice to crunch some actual data, onerous as they are to collect. The trajectory’s looking good, and it should continue to improve over at least the next week — if not the entire rest of the time that I’m here….
Perhaps the most exciting development this week is what I’m calling the “monkey network.” There are two main components to this network of efficient monkey-detection. The first phase is relatively simple. I have made a clipboard on which people record sightings of capuchin monkeys: the time, place, and date. This clipboard resides at a neighboring camp where many volunteer workers live, and they’ve already been a great help in aiding the development of my knowledge of the monkeys’ ranging behavior. The second phase of the monkey network is a bit more sophisticated. I now carry a radio wherever I go, and when someone sees capuchins, as did my friend Melqui in the story that began this note, they simply get on the radio and tell me. I the hightail it to the location they give me. All in all, I anticipate that this network will cut my search time considerably; I look forward to seeing it in action over the coming weeks.
Read more about Chaney’s fieldwork in Costa Rica at his website: “Learning to Live, or Living to Learn.”