Winter Woes

Magical forest scenery

As a primatologist we are in a rare and privileged position of working with a species of monkey who spend some of their year in the snow.  Most primates prefer the tropics.

Many may consider this a mix blessing, studying monkeys on a pristine, white, untouched canvas is almost magical.  But on the other side of the coin monkeys tend to spend all of their time outdoors.  This means as a scientist collecting data in all weathers and at an altitude of approximately 2000m that literally means all weathers, come rain, sleet, snow, hail and sun.  10 hour days standing in a foot of snow is a tough business and the days when the road is blocked and you have to clamberthe hillside for 2 hours up to reach the beginning of the home range, and the real search, fairly take the wind out of your sails.

Big bushy coats are all on show with the freezing conditions


Then of course there is the macaques point of view.  Us researchers have it easy by comparison.  They do not have the luxury of a warm apartment for the night.  There is no choice but to battle on in the bad weather.  Survival is the key.

Usually in bad weather this involves riding out the unfavourable climatic conditions as long as possible or as long as the rumbling stomachs will allow.  Then there is a quick decent from the shelter of the canopy for a mad feeding frenzy.  In the rain this is tough enough but when your supermarket is covered by 2 feet of snow everything becomes that much harder.

Individuals sun themselves in the morning sun to heat up before their hunger gets too much


After sitting through the night and morning huddled shivering in a tree the activity i would like to do least would be digging with my bare hands through ice-cold snow for acorns, grass and anything else my frost bitten fingers dig up.  It really is a scramble to eat anything that can be found as quickly as possible in the bad weather ranging from worms, lichen, berries, grass, acorns to pine needles up in the canopy where the freshest shoots reside.

Danni showing her infant ever acorn counts


I have now been involved in three winters with the macaques and realise the kind of researcher required for such gruelling conditions and thankfully we have them but this is nothing compared to the truly  tough macaques who battle on day and night whatever conditions they face. 

My hair is frozen here after a long hard climb


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