Wednesday, October 27


Some breaking news for once. Whenever I get some fascinating new primate news coming my way, there's always an associated paper, and I always feel the need to read the paper before I say anything about the findings. It turns out that the papers can take a while to read, usually because I am compelled to look back into the references, and well, time just tends to go by.

This time, I have decided not to read the paper, and merely relay the basic facts. Someone discovered a new species of monkey. That's sort of a big deal.

A new species of monkey with unusual upturned nostrils has been discovered in north eastern Myanmar.

Scientists surveying in the area initially identified the so-called snub-nosed monkey from skin and skulls obtained from local hunters. A small population was found separated from the habitat of other species of snub-nosed monkeys by the Mekong and Salween rivers. The total population has been estimated at just 260-330 individuals.

Note: the picture, taken from the BBC story, is a computer reconstruction, not an actual photo.

Perhaps next, I will discuss the once newsworthy item of chimpanzee behavioral genetics. Its bound to happen eventually, given that the study is everything I ever wanted in the world, but maybe I should pick it up sooner rather than later?

Friday, October 22

Nowhere to Run

Seven months of daily exposure hasn't been enough to acclimate me to the surprise of a female baboon screaming from the bottom of her lungs. Aged Afrikaans nature lovers who have been walking among these trees for close to half a century still think some human is trapping or hunting the baboons when they hear a run of the mill female scream.  Sometimes I think that a few of my colleagues have their limbic systems under control in this respect, but then again, who is to say they are just more stoic than I?

As always, I wasn't present for the beginning of this turgid affair, or, if I was, the spark was subtle enough to escape my perception. Noticing things is hard when you're surrounded by sixty baboons for hours on end, and there are all these juveniles bouncing around the slopes and rooftops of a rural school.

As previously alluded, there were screams. Yet, these screams sounded like nothing I'd heard before, even from these baboons. Perhaps the oddest part was that the screams just kept going. I ignored them at first, as I had tended to do once the novelty of female baboon at their worst wore off. But then four or more different voices chime in, and they just keep going, it becomes something one I, for one, cannot restrain myself from seeking out. It helps if a few wahoo's are thrown into the mix, for a little extra primal flair, though often the most interesting fights are those that the males have no part in, and seemingly want no part in.

The cacophony became too much, and I strode in the direction of the conflict, neither jogging nor running. Still the wailing continued. I rounded the corner of the building and spotted the mess. A few dekameters from where I now stood, Mariam hung from a roof top ledge, alternately hanging onto the gutter by her nails with one arm, and clasping her infant to her for good measure. Above her, roaring and shaking their coats in exhileration were both Aaron and Damian.

The two males, volumes infalted by hairs standing on end, both leaned over the edge of the building and swatted at Mariam. Its never clear to me when the males really mean it when it comes to those swipes. I've seen Aaron press a female out onto a thin tree branch, three stories in height, and then let her go free without a visible scratch, and then I've seen him chase a female till she was so exhausted and torn up, she could only croak out her complaints. He bounded along behind her showing no sign of giving her a break from whatever heretical transgression she perpetratesd against his authority.

Anyhow, I'd never seen two males take aim at the same female (two males between which the tension grows ever more palpable). What would the low-ranking mother of an infant do to rouse the ire of two separate male authorities? What could a low-ranking mother do, for that matter. If only I'd seen the beginning, or rather, if only baboonists had a good method for knowing when something was about to begin.

Mariam continued to howl, perhaps in pain, perhaps in terror, maybe just as an instinct which might attract some defenders or push away her attackers. Her wailing continued for quite a while after I came to the scene. The only change was abrupt, and played out quite lucky for her.

At seemingly great personal risk to herself and her baby, Mariam let herself hang by one arm and slowly, surprisingly calmly, reached out her other arm towards the pipe into which the gutter emptied. It ran down the wall of the building, and was a bit more than a meter from where she clung. Once she'd reached as far as she could, she let go with her other arm, and almost gracefully swung over to the pipe.

Speedily, she shimmied down the pipe with the infant and bolted. Taking a few moments to realize what had just transpired, literally under their noses, Aaron and Damian looked around for means of pursuit. One of them followed down the pipe, the other bounded along the roof out of sight, to find another route. Don't ask me which did which.

I tried to follow Mariam, then one of the males, but when they're moving at full tilt through semi-urbanized areas, its like trying to keep up with Spiderman in a chase scene. The climax had passed, anyhow, Mariam had won herself a reprieve from the torments of the males for a brief time. That's to say nothing of the guff she'd get from the females throughout the rest of the day, though.

My paper log has returned. Now if I could find a minute to read it.