Battle in the Canopy

By Emily Jones (student intern)                                                                                

Erica, Emily, and Amanda in the field

The huaperitas: Erica (background), Emily (middle) and Amanda (foreground) on a full-day follow of Group A

The morning had started off ordinarily calm with foraging being the primary interest of the huapos (local name for saki monkeys) as the sun rose over the barranco. I, along with my fellow huaperitas (a title given to the other saki monkey assistant researchers and I), travel down the hillside and into the bajio flood plain, a common hang out locale for this group. The three members of this group are an adult female, adult male, and juvenile and they are munching away on palm fruit above me. A few pieces of slobbery, rejected fruit had just fallen down upon my head when I hear a deep, long growl coming from above me. This vocalization, in itself, is not overly alarming as saki monkeys will occasionally direct these growls toward researchers when they are not accustomed to being followed by bipedal, hairless creatures with clipboards. So, when I gaze upward and don’t see a bald-faced saki staring back at me as I usually do following a nearby growl, I am taken aback.


Saki looking out in the distance and listening for territorial calls

What I find instead is an individual looking outward, into the distance. Before I could follow this adult male’s line of vision, another call I had never heard up until this point was vocalized. It sounded like maniacal laughter from a horror film that sent shivers up my spine. I realized this was something unique and important. What could make a normally very quite, collected, and solitary monkey so loud and upset? Before I could come up with an explanation and within a blink of an eye the group congregated in one small tree and raced off, jumping from tree limb to tree limb emitting growl after maniacal laughter with the occasional trill thrown in. The other huaperitas and I start running after the group to find the answer to our mutual question.

Soon I hear a familiar noise: another saki growl. This time in the distance, maybe fifty meters away. I scan upward and count: one, two, and three. I have all the members here so who is making that vocalization? It must be a different saki monkey group that shares territorial borders with this group. Am I witnessing a territorial dispute? Yes, it appears so. This upset lasts for another forty minutes in which each group vocalizes territorial calls every other minute and frequently charges in an attempt to make the others retreat. In the midst of this dramatic scene a group of noisy capuchins and squirrel monkeys join in and convolute the whole territorial dispute even further. The jungle is absolutely mad today, I think to myself several times throughout this dispute. Finally though, around 10:30, it ends. The jungle becomes calm once again.

Although physical contact between the two groups never occurred, the energy and menacing behavior displayed in that single hour truly opened my eyes. In stark contrast to the cryptic and mostly silent behavior I am accustomed to with this species of primate, I have become aware of how complex their behavior is. This final experience was a wake up call: even on my last day of research, there is always something new to learn about the behavior of primates.


Emily (front), Megan (middle – ACCA volunteer), and Erica (back) having fun on a day off



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