Participative research and monitoring of woolly monkeys
Maikuchiga’s flagship program is the investigation and monitoring of the wild woolly monkey population in Mocagua’s traditional territory, in which all the hunters of the community participate. As one of them explained to a visitor recently, “I’ve always been a hunter and still am; I’m Tikuna. What has changed is that before, when I found the woollies you would hear, “BAM, BAM, BAM” [pantomimes aiming with shotgun]. Now it’s “one, two, three… and we don’t use them up!”
Each month a small team spends 7 consecutive days deep in the forest looking for woolly monkey troops. When they encounter one they stay with it as long as possible, recording their use of space, the foods they are eating, demographic data (troop size, # of males and females in each age category), and photographing the adult males, with the tactical objective of recognizing them and their troops. Twice a year the entire team of hunters spreads out across a 50 km2 area looking for woollies and collectively constructing a spatial and temporal “snapshot” of the population.
What we have found is that the overall population of the woollies seems robust and possibly increasing, with as many as 13 very large troops (30-60 individuals), many youngsters, and some very young mothers relative to published reports. Despite 13 years of not being hunted, though, they have not begun to reoccupy the zone within a radius of 10+ km from the community. Maikuchiga, Mocagua, and Amacayacu National Park are actively debating the management implications of this observation for this part of the forest and whether it is appropriate to wait-and-see…?, or to begin a proactive program of reintroducing woollies (using individuals that have been confiscated and rehabilitated) to this area of local extinction as a mechanism of ecological restoration.
Rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned animals
It has been illegal since 1973 in Colombia to have wildlife pets or to trade in wildlife parts. Nevertheless there continues to be an active black market in orphaned animals, a small proportion of which are confiscated by government officials. Maikuchiga has, since 2006, been authorized by Corpoamazonía (the regional governmental agency responsible for natural resources) to receive, care for, and rehabilitate confiscated animals, especially primates. Our goal: for these individuals “to get a life!”
This is a multi-disciplinary challenge that we meet with veterinary care, good nutrition, love, freedom, biological information, and a forest whose humans appreciate and protect their fauna.
Maikuchiga works with local schools in environmental education activities with an emphasis on giving kids direct and fun experiences with their natural world. Every year we invite 5th graders from the neighboring communities to come learn about monkeys from the monkeys. Some of the other special programs we have organized in Mocagua have been:
- Workshops with grandparents to teach the kids traditional weaving skills and to recognize, harvest, and prepare the necessary fibers, to learn what other organisms are associated with these plants, where they grow, and how long it takes them to regenerate.
- Original theater productions about the natural world that the kids have put on for the community and even taken “on the road”.
- Exploring territory, reading maps, measuring stuff – like the depth of the Amazon River and its seasonal changes, the height of the forest canopy, temperature, rainfall, how many different kinds of fish there are in different kinds of habitats, …
The general themes we work with are:
- How do you know what you know?
- What’s fair? What’s sustainable? How do you reach agreements?
- Emotional intelligence, biophilia, good-heartedness.
With the hunter/woolly monkey monitors, who act as guides or “environmental interpreters”, we have developed an activity for small groups of ecotourists interested in seeing wildlife, understanding forest patterns, and contributing to community-based conservation.
Omé Maín (the woolly monkey path) winds through várzea (Amazonian flooded forest), where forest and river systems merge. During low water months it’s easy and interesting walking; in high water months it’s a delightful canoe trail among huge trees that thrive with submerged roots for half the year and where many fruits are consumed and dispersed by fishes (including piranhas). Midway, there is an oxbow lake and a low-canopy platform near the Maikuchiga Biological Station, with spectacular photo op’s.
There are small, excellent family restaurants and lodging in the village, where it’s possible to interact spontaneously with friendly kids and community members. Camungos (horned screamers) nest and raise their young and the world’s largest freshwater fish, the pirarucú carry on among the giant water lilies in the lagoon in the heart of the village.
Most of the community members make their livings directly or indirectly from tourist services. Each family benefits directly and tangibly from those who visit Maikuchiga, because “the monkeys” provide each child with school supplies at the beginning of the year. Our tourist earnings also fund Maikuchiga’s rehabilitation program and monitoring program.
AVIANCA and LATAM airlines provide daily flights from Bogotá to Leticia. There is public boat service that goes upriver from Leticia three times a day, with a stop in Mocagua, where one of our team will meet you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation or ask questions.