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Monkey Tracking Adventures (part 2)

10 Jan 2009

Went out to observe wooly monkeys with Tony, Mauricio, Peter.  Attempted to track groups G and Y.  They used radio collar receiver, but had confusing time because, as near as I could tell, the two collars from the two groups kept showing up together.  The receiver is very basic.  There’s a directional antenna, a channel selector, a frequency fine tuning knob, and a gain knob.  The collars send out an analog ping.  The stronger the signal, the louder the ping.  There was some confusion over whether the fine tuning knob tunes from the center of the channel frequency or the end.  Turns out it’s the center, with a 5 Hz adjustment to either side.  Also, the gain knob appears to filter out noise too, but that’s not entirely clear either.  This might be a place we can make a difference, either in building a new receiver, or better yet, finding one with a serial interface that could be attached to the Palm PDAs they use for taking notes. Tony mentioned it’d be nice to have the PDAs automatically location stamp each note with a GPS coordinate too.  That seems possible.  Might even be a pre-existing product to do it.

A note on serial links between devices:  Consider Bluetooth or XBee. Wires between the things would be problematic, and the note taking PDA has to be in hand and in and out of pocket.

Consider alternatives to Palm as well?  I need to see how they’re using them in more detail.

Communication between team members: quite often in the field, a team of two or more will split up to track different members of a monkey group.  They use hoots and whistles to find each other.  They have occasionally used walkie talkies, but they don’t carry too far in the forest.

GPS Failure

The GPS micro-mini is not giving us any useful results.  I have it attached to a Logomatic v2 datalogger, and the logger is working great. The GPS is functioning normally, but not getting a lock.  On both trips out today, it’s never gotten a lock enough to get a position fix, even though it reports seeing 12 satellites.  It manages to get the time pretty consistently, indicating that it’s reliably getting at least one satellite’s signal, just not several. I wonder, would it be possible to make a version of the mini with an external antenna connection? Since the regular Garmin receivers that the team wears on their packs works well, it seems a small patch antenna might do the trick.

Went out in the afternoon with Tony and Margaret. That trip kicked my butt.  I’m not even one to go hiking outside NYC on the weekend — what made me think a ten-day hiking and research trip in the Amazon was a good idea???  I was just not able to keep up, came home soaked in sweat and mud.  Fortunately, they were very patient with me.  Afterward, I took a cold shower, which may have been the best shower I have ever had.  Then I took a nap.  Naps is nice.

Monkey Pee, Monkey Poo

Okay, so ornithologists get excited about seeing different species. Fair enough. Primatologists get excited about pee and poop. Much of what we did today was to walk around looking for poop samples.  Turns out Tony has an ear for it: “Falling poop makes its own unique sound” he said. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear that sound today, but several monkeys dropped the rind of the fruit they were eating on me.

As for pee, I was curious how you get a urine sample from a wild monkey.  I mean, you can’t just ask them to pee in a cup. The answer: you need to have a thing for golden monkey showers.  You wait for them to pee, then syringe it off the leaves you can reach. They pee from 30 meters or so up, and it all rains down on you as you observe them.  Thankfully I was a meter or two out of the path, so no golden monkey showers for me.

There are countless toxins in the forest, and I am doing a pretty good job of encountering most of them.  Today: ant bite, which stings for a few minutes then is gone.  “Bitch moss,” which if it falls on you or you touch it, stings and itches like hell.  Tony and I both encountered that today, and his sting went away, but mine is still with me.  He thinks it’s also ant bites. Whatever it is, not fun.  “Bitch palms,” or spiny palms, trees that are just the right diameter for grabbing, and covered with spines that hurt like a bitch. Goes away after a few minutes, though.  I anticipate meeting more lovely toxins, but I sure hope not.  The stinging on my forearms and forehead is not fun.  Wear a hat and long sleeves, really. And did I mention the diahhrea?  Yeah, that too.

Oh yeah, the monkeys!  We saw lots of woolies today and followed them.  Also saw two cebuses, heard a bunch of howlers (really scary to hear the first time), and a bunch of spider monkeys as well.  It’s worth the hurdles to watch them in the wild.  We watched them eat, play, put on a show to try to scare us away, saw a couple monkey arguments, saw mothers carrying their young on their backs, and so much more. It’s not possible to describe how amazing it is, but I could watch them all day.

Published in environment monkeys networks physical computing research

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