My normal schedule at the research center looks something like this:
6am: wake up
6:30: run cognitive experiments
7:00: eat breakfast
7:30: leave for rehab of juvenile monkeys
11:00: put monkeys in cage for lunch
12:00: eat a delicious meal
1:30: read, sleep, enter data, research
4:00: run cognitive experiments again
6:00: put monkeys to bed
6:30: eat scrumptious meal
8:00: play Settlers of Catan or watch a movie
10:00: bed time!
And of course, mixed in are the glorious daily tasks of removing poisonous spiders from the common areas, cleaning the toilets, scrubbing monkey poo off the ground, relocating scorpions from the bathrooms and rescuing frogs from the water tanks among others.
When you’re in the jungle, things just bother you less. I can sip tea at night in the kitchen and pick a crawling tick off me, watch a small rat run across the room and notice the cluster of cockroaches headed for the fruit while turning the page of my book. Its just…well…normal. In fact, the other day I watched a group of ants come into the kitchen move methodically through it and then leave all within about 25 minutes. I figured, less to clean now!
I have also been playing A LOT of Settlers of Catan, a game about trading, allies and enemies for anyone who knows it. It’s the only real board game we have here, so its quite popular. Two wood for one sheep! Deal. One of my new secret goals is to become a Settlers of Catan master- errr at least to beat my mortal enemy Jay (a fellow researcher).
And the jungle is hard on the body. Chigger bites adorn my legs, mosquito bites my arms, ant bites cover my feet and oil burns across my hands and forearms from frying so much food. Although there is also a fair amount of relaxing with the monkeys to balance it all out
My cognitive studies are also coming along. I have been able to train 3 of the juvenile monkeys that when they pull a red rope, food will be delivered to them. The goal is then to see if the monkeys can successfully chose the larger quantity of food between two given options (food quantity discrimination). It is so interesting working with different individuals because you can see their different learning styles, just like in humans. For example, the oldest juvenile, Jack, is a prankster and very intelligent. I usually only have to show him something once or twice before he’s mastered it, although he may try and jump on you in between turns. Nina, the female juvenile, is very methodical in her thinking. He is cool, calm and relaxing about the experiment and never seems to get flustered. If she doesn’t understand something, she’ll sit there and look at it and then try a new approach. Because of this, she is very easy to work with. Coco on the other hand, gets flustered quite easily, which then leads to frustration. He is always trying to figure out a way to “cheat” the experiment. Often this involves him walking around to the other side to see if he can more easily access the food source. When he realizes that he cannot, he will role around on his back, grinning, which is a sign of aggression in monkeys. He simply hates to not get his way. Although within the last couple of days, Coco seems to have gained a better understanding of the experiment and is testing quite well. Thankfully!
The results, however, are varied. Some days its easy to collect data, while others it is simply not going to happen for one reason or another. This can be frustrating BUT I have also learned a lot about experimental design, management, monkey training, and general problems with working in the field. For example, during the testing period, I found out that Jack liked to yank the rope too hard, which pulled the food delivery system off its tracks, thus I needed to buy some more heavy duty hardware. Unfortunately we were not going to be making a trip to town for another four days. So that’s four more days lost from collecting data. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes.
Regardless, I’m starting to feel like a real field biologist- struggling and fighting to complete her research in the jungle. Of course some days I just want to curl up in a ball like Amigo, but its coming, slowly but surely. ~B