A Day in the Life: Transecting the Rainforest
By Katie Lee, Sustainable Development Project Social Media Correspondent in Peru
Today seems like any other day in the rainforest. We are out on our afternoon transect. Transect is part of our daily routine where we walk along a specific path and record observations of whatever species we’re studying (ex. plants, butterflies).
Transecting can be strenuous some days with the altitude and uphill hikes, and I always come back looking like I’ve had a roll in the mud. We never quite know what we’re going to see, but I try to be as vigilant as possible so I don’t miss any observations. Today, we carry our data sheets with us to keep track of birds we spot.
Our group leader, Jack, twirls a butterfly net in his right hand as he marches along the specified trail for today’s transect. When you’re in the rainforest, you never know exactly what you might stumble across. Any noise could just be a small rodent, or it could be a monkey or tapir.
Jack holds up his hand and we stop abruptly. He is concentrating on the loud rustling of leaves just to the right of our path. During a previous transect this month, some volunteers had seen woolly monkeys just a few hundred meters into the reserve, very close to the spot we were now. Is that what we were hearing this time?
The rustling stops and everyone is silent. I stand still like a statue for what seems like 5 minutes. We carefully (and quietly) weave our way through the brush towards the source of the rustling, when we come upon a small clearing. The rustling sound returns.
This time, it’s coming from above us and it sounds closer. A lot closer. Raising my eyes towards the direction of the noise, I spot a single woolly monkey clinging onto a thick moss covered vine.
My heart starts to race. This is the first time I’ve seen a monkey in the wild. I don’t know how they normally behave. This specific monkey seems like a baby, maybe a few months old, but he has the group’s full attention.
He can feel our eyes on him and as if putting on a show, jumps up and down in eager bursts, shaking the connecting tree and rattling its leaves, in an effort to warn us to move out of his territory.
Looking up into the towering canopy, I now notice that is filled by an entire troop of these majestic monkeys. Jack tells us to make a quick count of how many we see and any markings that might be distinctive. Hopefully we’ll compare these notes to the previous spotting to see if it’s the same troop. After a few minutes of standoff, the monkeys feel that we are not a threat, and carry on with their normal behavior.
They start talking to one another in little hoots and hollers. The sound is loud, a lot louder than I expected from this little creatures. Some are grooming. The baby we initially spotted starts hopping from a few different branches.
It’s amazing to watch their dexterity. Their keen sense of balance and understanding of the space around them is unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. After about an hour of monitoring, we head on our way.
This is how it is in the rainforest. You may have a plan for the day, which gets completely uprooted when you stumble upon something unexpected. I have to roll with the punches, go with the flow. It’s all about taking the environment as it is, preparing for the forest to surprise you.
We get back to the lodge to record and compare our notes. The group of woollys appears to be different than the one previous spotted, which is an exciting observation. We’ve also noted a few trends in their behavior, such as during the dry season, when there is less fruit in the primary untouched forest, troops of monkeys actually come to this habitats to feed in.
Just 30 years ago, monkeys were unheard of in this stretch of forest. In fact, it wasn’t even a forest at all. It was a cleared patch of land that was being used as a cattle ranch. But the government absorbed it into a larger national park area, and it was allowed to go natural.
Today’s findings shows us that if you leave the forest long enough to regenerate, it can actually allow for even sensitive species to come back. In the past month alone, woolly and spider monkeys have been spotted, and we’ve also noticed a few puma and jaguar prints. Also interestingly, tapir, ocelot, and caimans have all been specifically sighted in the completely cleared and regenerating forest.
The research we do here is something I am proud of, because it is being used to understand the native species, which is then used to justify the expansion of protected areas or protected species. Yes, each day can feel like the same, but each day is also a step closer to helping animals like the woolly monkeys regain their foothold in the forest.