Written by Krysten Martin
Photos Courtesy of Krysten Martin and Vivek Manthri
I initially came to Mexico in the 2016 field season for four weeks as a research assistant. I was looking for a place to conduct my senior research project/dissertation and Operation Wallacea sounded like just the place to do it (this type of field work was just what I was looking to do!). I was interested in both the spider monkeys in Mexico and the lemurs in Madagascar, but I decided to do the spider monkey project because it seemed a bit more interesting in terms of what research I could do and was closer to home. I decided to first come as a research assistant to get a feel for the location, as well as the monkey project, before solidifying my decision to do my dissertation there, and it was honestly one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. I did three incredible weeks in the jungle working with birds, mammals, herpetofauna, bats, habitat assessment and of course, the monkeys. I saw a red-capped manakin, ornate hawk eagle, blue-crowned motmots (my personal favorite!), toucans, brocket deer, lots of herps, and both spider and howler monkeys. I then spent a week at the marine site in Akumal getting my PADI Open Water dive certification where I also got to see green sea turtles! With a phenomenal experience such as that, I couldn’t wait to come back to do a dissertation there.
And so, now I’m back in Calakmul for six weeks in the forest to conduct my dissertation on spider monkeys looking at how ranging, subgroup patterns, habitat use, and rates of aggression in female spider monkeys have changed in response to fruit production. When studies began on the monkeys in 2013, there was a lot of fruit available to the monkeys, but in 2015-2016 there was a severe drought where little to no fruit was available, which heavily affected the patterns and behavior of the monkeys. Now, in 2017, the rains have returned and a lot of fruit is available, providing me an interesting opportunity to model how—if my predictions are correct—the spider monkey patterns and behavior will be similar to how they were before the years of drought.
So far I’ve had a wonderful time (as I expected I would!)—I absolutely love being here in Mexico. I love getting to see the spider monkeys here every day and chasing after them through the forest; although it’s tiring, it’s completely worth it. I’ve seen even more than just spider monkeys—howler monkeys, coatis, agouti, white-tailed deer, a speckled racer, jaguar tracks, puma tracks, and more! While the chachalacas are an unwelcome wake-up call, I still love those spunky birds, and just being able to sit and listen to the sounds of the jungle at any time of the day or see unexcavated ruins as I complete my surveys is an incredible experience that I just don’t get every day back in California. I am so glad to have found out about Operation Wallacea, and the people I’ve met here have been amazing—coming from all over the globe to be here and work to conserve the biodiversity of this reserve. This experience has been like no other and while I’m sitting here writing this, listening to the rain falling and feeling the cool breeze rustling through the trees all around me, I am sad to think I only have two weeks left in this beautiful place. However, I’m glad to have had this experience and one quote in particular comes to mind: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened