The Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project
Our little Jane Goodall – since she was a child, our daughter Maxine has always loved monkeys; monkey books, monkey T-shirts, stuffed ones and now that she is out with the real ones, it was an exciting opportunity for us to visit her living her dream, at the Lomas de Barbudal Biological Reserve in Costa Rica. And so this past February we came and we visited.
For over 20 years, under the guidance of primatologist Susan L. Perry of UCLA, ongoing field research at the reserve, studying the foraging and social behaviours of the white-faced Capuchin monkeys (Cebus Capuchins) is accomplished.
Travelling a half-hour south from Liberia, Costa Rica, we arrived at The Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project. Past the entrance gate to the field site, the road leading in is bordered with Tamarind trees. Maxine was quick to reach for one of the fruits for us to try, a fruit we had never tasted before. It is long beige brown dry bean-like pod with an edible pulp. This pulps taste is both sweet and sour.
At the field site, we were welcomed, introduced and given time to settle in. Our home for two nights was ‘The Bodega’ – home to the field research assistants, an old converted storehouse, a covered concrete platform, where the students have their individual tents set up. At the other end of the platform are two rooms used as kitchen and storage.
Our tent accommodation had the luxury of a real bed frame and mattress.
View from our quarters.
After sundown, a communal dinner was served under solar lights. Dinner has to wait until all the field assistants have returned from their long day, tired and hungry.
The evening was spent listening to the field assistants monkey tales and stories; they’re so passionate talking about their monkeys that it’s contagious and you can’t help but get excited. Yet other stories are more frightening – like getting bitten on the neck by a scorpion who had been hiding in a bathroom towel, how your whole head will swell up and you can’t feel anything for hours, not to mention the excruciating pain. Then there’s the “lets freak out the parents” talk; talk about the chiggers, cockroaches, snakes, ants, paper wasps, killer bees, ticks, mosquitoes and spiders.
Ever try to sleep with images of bugs running through your head?
No need for an alarm clock. We woke up very early to the terrifying sound of howler monkeys howling, their roars sound satanish (if there is such a word) and are quite scary. We slid out of bed and made sure to shake all our clothes before slipping them on.
As we were getting ready for our day, Maxine started on the morning coffee, always helpful Ginette got herself a mug from the shelf.
“You sure you want this mug mom?” Maxine asked as she points out the giant grasshopperish looking bug in the bottom of the cup. At least it wasn’t a scorpion!
Mandatory field wear — ”las polainas” leather snake guards at the ready.
On a typical field day, you can read about it here, Maxine would normally wake up between 3 and 4am., walk out early, in the dark with her headlamp, to reach the monkeys sleeping sites before they wake up at sunrise. Because today was the last field day before the assistants monthly five-day vacation, we were treated to sleeping in till 5am. For the afternoon, plans were being made for some rest and relaxation at a local swimming hole, and a celebration dinner in the nearby town of Bagaces, as some of the researchers were leaving the project…and so a half day we did.
We walked out at sunrise with our backpacks loaded with snacks, water bottles, binoculars, and cameras ready in search of the Capuchins.
Following a quilt patch network of barb-wired farmers fences, we ducked under and over making our way. Running crookedly through the fields was a ribbon of water in a parched landscape. It is the dry season and it does not rain for several months. We thronged through the brush and vines along the river and stream beds for several hours before locating ‘Flakes group’, a social Capuchin monkey troop composed of 22 individuals from infants to adult males and females.
Maxine and her fellow researchers introduced us to the group, yep they all have names, from Quijote the alpha male, uncle Napoleon, Mehitabel, Bruce Willis, to baby Viola and in between.
We watched as they fed on fruits and insects, breaking branches to get to the ants, foraging in and out of the trees. At this particular time of year, the fruit from the Sloanea tree becomes part of the monkeys diet. The fruit is covered with tiny purple hair, the monkeys rub this fruit against the branches to get the fine hairs off, the hairs are so fine (like shards of fiberglass) that they can stick into your eyeballs if you are not lucky.
We observed them play, rest, groom and move from tree to tree. Sometimes we were the ones being watched. The baby monkeys would come within five feet, dangling by their tails, hanging upside down, always curious, watching us scamper around with our cameras taking photos of them.
Some had baby faces, mean faces, lonely faces, grouchy tired mom faces, bored adolescent faces, you name it — they had it.
When it was time to head back to camp, we parted with the monkeys, fittingly it was weird old uncle Napoleon who climbed a massive Guanacaste tree to see us off.
And that’s enough monkey business!