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jueves, 2 de enero de 2014

Life as a Monkey-Person by Johanna Wahlbeck (Sweden)

I have now spent more than one month at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca as a volunteer for the primate project and would like to share some of my experiences: Every weekday I get up in the dawn, make breakfast and eat while I watch the sun rise above the beautiful lake. This morning it was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve seen yet with the sky colouring the whole lake pink. When you start a day like that it doesn’t matter what time it is or how tired you are, you’re ready for the day to begin (cheesy but true) and it begins with a walk in the Atlantic forest in the search for monkeys. When I first arrived here I didn’t see the capuchin monkeys for a couple of days but when I finally saw them it was amazing, they were quite close, looking at us, threatening us and feeding. We stayed with them for about 20 minutes before they disappeared in the forest. The second time I saw them was even better, Becca suddenly turned and pointed at something among the trees and there they were travelling towards the road. We hurried the same direction to get a better look at them and when reaching the road we saw them cross from one forest fragment to another. As we were approaching them a juvenile was about to cross and hesitated when seeing us. It was all fuzzy without any tufts and looked at us without making any alarm calls. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. After seeing the monkeys for a while a couple of days goes by without seeing them, even though intense searching is being performed. And when you’re on the edge of getting really frustrated about not knowing where the monkeys are Becca will suddenly point and exclaim “There they are!” and all the hours of searching is rewarded by a quick and exciting sighting that makes it all worth it. The primate project is very new, we only recently were able to identify the monkeys, something that I found really rewarding. I and Anna, a fellow volunteer, looked at all the pictures we had of the monkeys and looked for characteristics in the face and body. Then we named the different individuals after Greek gods and mythical characters. During this time I discovered a favourite monkey of mine, the one named Cupid, name being based on the fact that his face is shaped as a heart (I’m romantic like that). Being here has taught me a lot about work as a biologist and about scientific work. Not only do I now know what it may be like to work as a primatologist, I’ve also had an insight in the fields of ornithology and herpetology. I’ve learnt how to use a GPS in the field and I’ve improved my sense of direction to the level that I now know every trail in the forest by heart. Some body work is also needed when working in the fields. We’ve been using machetes to cut trails in the forest to walk on when looking for the monkeys. This part always makes you feel like Rambo, Lara Croft or some other hard-core fictional character. When I’m not searching for monkeys, or getting in character as Rambo, I am enjoying the company of all the amazing people I am sharing this experience with, swimming in the lake, kayaking, learning Spanish, watching a movie or just hanging out. Some weekends there are parties to go to and a couple of weekends ago Para la Tierra hosted a party to raise money for the Female Empowerment Project. It was so much fun, great atmosphere with loud music and good food, drinks and company. I ate very good empanadas, drank beer and danced until I couldn’t dance anymore. The evenings at the reserve are as magical as the mornings and the sunsets as colourful as the sunrises. The other night I stayed up with two of my friends and fellow interns watching the stars. In fifteen minutes I saw five starfalls. However, I didn’t know what to wish for since I am so fully satisfied and happy with my life here. I couldn’t wish for more and I wish for everyone to feel the same way as I do being here, so come join us as a volunteer and see for yourself what I’m talking about. Love Johanna.

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