Monday, August 24, 2009

Bukit Timah

I've been doing research with Dr. Michael Gumert at Nanyang Technological University. He does research with long-tailed macaques, and he's been focusing on a group of monkeys at Bukit Timah, a nature reserve relatively close to our apartment. I've been going out there and getting to know the monkeys. As soon as I can identify all of the adults, who already have names, I'm going to start photographing and naming the juveniles, and after they're all identified, I can start collecting data. It'll take a while, but I'm not complaining, because I like to hang out with the monkeys.

The first time I went to Bukit Timah, Bryan came along, and we hiked up to the Bukit Timah summit, which is the highest point in Singapore. It was a fun hike, but there isn't a view from the top because there are so many trees.

The group of long-tailed macaques that we're focusing on includes about 50 monkeys, with about 25 adults. They have a range that is near the edge of the nature reserve- they're often seen hanging out by the visitor center, in the parking lot, at the apartments near the entrance to the nature reserve, and along the roads by there, as well as in a park adjacent to the nature reserve. Because they hang out on the outskirts, they're pretty habituated to human presence, and will get pretty close to humans. Although there are fines for feeding the monkeys, people do it anyway. Feeding the monkeys is bad for a couple of reasons- it makes them dependent on humans for food, and it can make them aggressive toward humans when they don't feed them, or when they are holding food. Plus most of the food that we eat isn't healthy for monkeys, and they are prone to some of the same health problems as humans- heart disease, tooth decay, etc. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox about feeding the monkeys, but it really is bad.

I've had a chance to get to know the monkeys a little bit, and it's been fun. One day, I saw a group of males climb a fence into the backyard of a condo, where some sheets were hanging out to dry. They pulled the clean white sheets off the line and dragged them around the dirty yard, and one of the adults wrapped a sheet around himself and sat on the fence looking pretty cozy. A few minutes later, a lady came out the back door and took a bewildered look at her formerly clean laundry and shouted "NAUGHTY MONKEYS!" before dragging it all back inside to start over.

The monkey sitting on the post is one of the adult females. Her name is Annette. I thought I'd post a photo of her so Annette W. could see her little monkey friend : ) Annette the person might like to know that Annette the monkey is very popular among the male monkeys, haha.

I love watching the juveniles romp around, tackling each other and screeching and pulling each other's tails. They look so much like little kids playing on a playground, it's uncanny. One day I was sitting on a log watching a group of young males. One male was hanging from a branch and a group of five was sitting at the bottom of the tree, tackling each other and chattering. They kept pushing a smaller one, and eventually he ran up to the tree, yanked the tail of the one hanging from the branch and pulled him out of the tree. The one that had been pulled out of the tree started chasing the other one, and pretty soon there was a little pile-up of monkeys rolling around on the grass. It made me think of recess in elementary school.

Some days it's hard to find the monkeys and I wander up and down the path that runs along the side of the nature reserve. Even when I don't find them, there's always something cool to look at- a monitor lizard effortlessly climbing a tree, some colorful flowers on the side of the path, or an abandoned building foundation being overgrown by weeds (not exciting for everyone, but if you know about my love of all things abandoned, you'll probably understand my enthusiasm). Of course, it's always best when I find the monkeys, especially when I see the moms cradling their little babies. The babies have a black natal coat and a long bald spot that goes down the middle of their heads and looks like a little reverse mohawk (you can kind of see it in the photos above). They look like adorable little old men. They spend most of their time clinging to their mothers' undersides, but every once in a while, they get brave and start to wander off. The momma monkeys never let them get far, and will tug them back by their tails if they get too adventurous. Infants are a prized commodity in macaque societies, and mothers without infants often try to get access to other mothers' infants- to touch them and hold them. In one of Dr. Gumert's previous research projects, he found that females without infants will often groom mothers in order to get access to their infants. It's kind of like a trade- some grooming in exchange for a little bit of contact with the infant. The picture above is Catherine sitting on a truck holding her infant. She holds her left hand awkwardly because she broke it once and it never healed properly.

I'm sure more monkey tales will be coming soon, and more high-quality photos will also be coming up, when I borrow Dr. Gumert's high tech camera. Mine is still full of sand from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, hence the somewhat grainy photos.

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