I spider Capuchinabag.


Prefacing this post with this: no animals were harmed in any way in the making of this post. I was actually extremely impressed with the professionalism, respect, and humane treatment of the monkeys for the entirety of this experience. All darted individuals were very healthy upon inspection and successfully and safely returned to their groups. 
Many things have happened thus far that I never expected to experience in my lifetime. It’s a little surreal to stand in the middle of a tropical rainforest and actually participate hands-on in a monkey darting, especially when your entire biology career is contained to one class sophomore year of high school.
Darting, while one of the most physically exhausting activities due to the hours of tracking and miles of walking, is also one of the fastest ways to overcome fears of giant golden orb weavers (spiders the size of your hand). I’ll never forget the moments immediately following our first successful “hit.” Grace and I had left first this morning out of our darting team of ten. We were to go to the 50 hectare plot (an area where every single plant is documented and routinely monitored so scientists can research tree population fluctuations) and find “Top,” one of the Capuchin groups. We were told to follow them all day, but not to expect anything since Meg wanted to give Grace a few more days of uninterrupted data collection and keep the monkeys from recognizing our faces and associating them with darting. But, just one hour later we spot Meg and Bob (the darter) slowly walking through the forest underneath part of the Top group. Meg called us over and we started helping spot adults from the group and following those individuals so Bob could know who to target. 
After about twenty minutes, I see Bob raise his darting rifle. Bob does not even raise his rifle unless he knows he has a guaranteed perfect shot. I looked back to see the monkey, heard a soft pop, and then Bob goes, “I got her.” An adult female, Olga, was trailing behind the group and was happily eating in a tree with her back facing us. Within a few seconds Olga started stumbling in the treetops. Usually, there is just enough time between the hit and the drugs taking full effect for the team to run underneath and catch the monkey in sheets before they fall to the ground. In this case, Olga had been climbing up a particularly viney section of forest, and the undergrowth was extremely dense. She started stumbling lower. The next thing I knew, Meg was right behind me holding sheets and then we were running towards Olga. Running towards Olga meant I basically just barged through the forest with no regard for spider webs, trees, plants, or other obstacles and just smashed my way through. I ended up losing my camera lens cap in the process and was thoroughly covered with spider webs and a small population of poisonous spiders. But there was no time to panic about this. When we were about fifteen feet from Olga, we looked up and saw her falling from the tree. The next seconds happened in slow motion. She starts falling and there was no way we would reach her, but thankfully there was a patch of Liana vines right underneath her that broke her fall. Basically picture a lot of leafy greens and pretty much the thing you would pray would be beneath you if you were falling forty feet from a rainforest tree. Sweet little Olga was completely unharmed from the fall, and as we retrieved her, we noticed that Bob had hit her perfectly. The spot you aim for when darting Capuchin monkeys is essentially their butt. If you’re off by just a little, the force of the hit could actually break their leg bone.
Olga was taken in the sheet (pink and with cartoons because that’s scientific and professional) to a clearer area, which would become her home for the next several hours. Meg had dropped her bag in the chaos, so I went stumbling back through the forest to try to find it. Mostly that just meant more poisonous spiders to the face.
Bob currently works for the Cincinnati Zoo as the Director of Animal Collections. He has been darting animals for 25 years, 15 of which he has known and worked with Meg. Meg did her PhD and post-doc research on BCI, so Bob has also been traipsing through the jungles on this island for 15 years. He began his darting career after Hurricane Andrew when a primate center was damaged and over three thousand (THREE THOUSAND) monkeys escaped from the facility and just roamed freely in Florida. He literally just learned on the fly and darted macaques and hamadryas baboons out of people’s houses or off building tops in the city. From what I’ve witnessed, his 25 years of experience means that he’s perfect and one of the few humans capable of darting Capuchins. According to Bob, those are the hardest animals to successfully dart because of how high they are in the trees and how small of animals they are. BCI, with its giant hills, terrifying ecology, massive humidity and heat, and dense forests makes it particularly difficult. 
Olga’s weighing.
Bob brought a small team with him from the zoo. Dan, the Director of Education, came along and was given the job of Gun Boy. Basically, he was just forced to carry the second gun in case Bob had gun failure (which hasn’t ever happened in 25 years). Megan and Michell are two Keepers who finished undergrad a couple of years ago.
The post-darting panic then ensued. It’s actually the most perfect example of organized chaos that I’ve ever seen. Olga was laid out on a pile of spread newspaper while her vitals (temp, pulse, etc) and body measurements were taken. Megan and Michell then got the thrilling task of combing her for parasites (thankfully, clean). Meg fit the GPS collar on her and made adjustments to keep it secure. In all, the process was significantly shorter than I expected. At the end, we got to hold Olga. When she was handed to me, she promptly started peeing. Grace immediately whipped into action and collected a urine sample, some of it coming from my boots. Then we noticed a giant pile of her poop, so we collected that too, and Meg was kind enough to wipe some on my hand. 
 
Then sweet Olga was put in a literal potato sack and hung from a low branch for about three more hours until the tranquilizer had worn off and she was sufficiently alert to climb and rejoin her group. 
Meanwhile, Grace and I were sent off into the forest to track Top for the rest of the day. They teased us by spending a nice hour resting and feeding in a flat section of the plot not far away from where Olga was. Then, we came to the edge of a cliff and the monkeys crossed a ravine high in the trees, totally ignorant to the physical torture they would now put us through. So we followed them. Down the ravine, into a giant hole in the island and miles away. Farther than Grace had ever seen them go. I again had some of my worst fears realized when, not once, but twice, the vines that I planned to rely upon for support and the future of my life, ended up being snakes (still not poisonous I think, but this hasn’t been confirmed). Finally by about 3 pm, Grace and I determined that no way would anyone be able to find us and it was too late to dart a new monkey and wait the requisite time for them to be able to climb again, so we marched back to the labs. 
On the way, we had the wonderful fortune of seeing a fledgling owl and its mama. This day was probably the best day for wildlife. We saw about ten peccaries (basically little warthogs) whose smell precedes them. We saw a group of coatis, an anteater, bullet ants, a sloth, mating neon beetles, toucans (threecans actually), howlers, lizards, toads, falcons, and several other unidentifiable birds. We finished the day with rum and coke at Dan and Bob’s little apartment house on the island listening to zoo stories of escaping red pandas, lions rescued from junkyards, and humans being dragged behind rampaging armadillos. 
 
The next day, we set off with the same plan and the same high hopes for a successful monkey darting. We got slightly distracted leaving the labs though, when I discovered that the thing I had been seeing for a couple of days that I thought was a small rat was actually an infant agouti (spelling finally correct…after six blogs). There are two baby babies living right near our room and are the most precious of creatures. 
Again, we found Top rather quickly and called Meg and Bob and Dan to our location. Dan and I stayed back to not scare the monkeys away too quickly (they were already clearly jittery in comparison to the previous day). I occupied our time by impressing him with my ability to identify fruits the monkeys were eating based on the sounds of them falling to the ground and various other plant identifications. Honestly, we exhausted my four plant library of knowledge in under sixty seconds, but it was enough to impress him before we got distracted by the sighting of a snake catching and then eating a lizard. 
We then moved off to find the monkey and darting group again and within a matter of seconds, Dan managed to get hopelessly separated from us. I spent about 45 minutes retracing our steps and marching back through the forest to find him. Although unsuccessful, I did learn that my jungle navigational skills are quite impeccable. Just using a compass, I was able to basically cross exactly the way I came, to the accuracy of climbing over the exact same termite infested treefall. Up until today, termites were one of the few insects I had no real fear of in the jungle. Then, upon Alan telling me of how horrible it was to accidentally hit his head on a termite nest and get ferociously stung, and then upon me hearing the noise of feasting termites, they’ve joined the remainder of jungle creatures of being a menace to the human race. Grace and I spent the next eight hours praying we wouldn’t have to go out on a recon mission for Dan in the evening because honestly I don’t think my legs would have allowed it.
A coati.
While Top proved impossible for Bob to reach the rest of the day, and basically ran from us at every opportunity, we did get to see Olga. She has successfully rejoined her group and while slightly more wary of us now, she’s acting completely normal and feeding and flying through the trees like a good little Capuchin does. 

A rodent skull. Probably agouti.
A tarantula skin, complete with fangs.

Today also proved to be very successful. The most successful event was when Lucia saved me from sitting on a bullet ant, which would have marked the end of my biological career. The second success was that Bob darted a male spider monkey (7.9 kilos) within twenty minutes of marching into the forest. Grace and I were following the Capuchins and messengering radio antenna all over the jungle, so we didn’t get to see the male. We followed the spider monkeys for the next couple of hours, but they were feeding on spondius trees, meaning they were extremely high up in the canopy. Thankfully, they crossed to another trail and swung through lower trees. Bob darted one of the few females without a tiny infant on her back, but upon inspection we discovered that she’s pregnant. 
Mama and baby.
Like the Capuchin, this spider monkey appears to be very healthy. We took her measurements and vitals and a blood sample, then Meg fit a GPS tracking collar on her. We let her lay on the sheets for a couple of hours, but when she was getting a little too alert to be contained easily on the ground, we put her in the sack of potatoes bag. This proved mildly difficult since her tail is 76 cm long and she’s got a decent grip on her and grabbed everything but the bag. She also had managed to get a nice helping of her poop onto her tail and was kindly teasing Dan’s face with that specimen. But into the bag she went, and out of it she safely came a couple of hours later to rejoin her family.

Each day of darting so far we’ve walked at least 12 miles up and down hills, through the forest, into and out of ravines. I think I may never walk again, but getting to see the process and observe the monkeys up close is totally worth it.

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