In addition to my own research here in Singapore, I have the distinct pleasure of being able to be involved with some of the local NGOs. ACRES - Animal Concerns Research & Education Society is a great organization here in Singapore involved with outreach and wildlife rescue.
Meet Suzzie - she’s the victim of an illegal snare trap that caught around her wrist and led to a break in her bone. She’s been recovering for several weeks following multiple surgeries to repair the damage caused by her flailing against the tree she was stuck on. Suzzie takes comfort in her monkey stuffie and enjoys her daily provisioning by the dedicated staff of ACRES Macaque Rescue Team.
Suzzie is full of spirit - this face is her way of showing she is still quite wild and uncomfortable with humans. ACRES hopes to release her back into her group when her arm has fully healed. Unfortunately due to the extensive injuries caused by the snare, Suzzie will return sans a few fingers. Thankfully, macaques are extremely resilient. A number of the wild monkeys here in Singapore are missing feet, hands, and limbs and can move around incredibly well. I have no doubt that Suzzie will adapt and fly through the trees just as soon as she’s healed.
The next in line to be rescued is King Kong. King Kong is a juvenile male who is a released pet. King Kong needs the team’s assistance to remove the chain from around his neck. As he is still very young, as he grows the chain will strangle him. Additionally, he is running around an industrial and residential area alone. As he grows he will become a source of conflict in the area. Hopefully King Kong will be captured soon and rehabilitated by the dedicated team at ACRES. It’s cases like these that give the ACRES team the chance to interact with the community and educate the public about monkeys.
While each rescued individual is a small step towards helping animals - these rescues serve a much larger cause. Rescues, especially of monkeys, become high profile, media-friendly cases that can generate awareness and donations. Most of the expenses that go towards rescuing and rehabilitating these monkeys are covered by generous pro bono work of local veterinarians. So when these cases generate donations - your dollars go towards the much greater cause of increasing education and outreach. If you’d like to donate to the ACRES Macaque Rescue Team - please go here!
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If I’m perfectly honest, ever since filling up my harddrive multiple times with photos and transferring them to my external, my posts are largely driven by which photo library I’m currently connected to. As such, I wanted to share these glamour shots of an adult male Bornean orangutan at the Singapore National Zoo. Okay, scratch that, I actually wanted to talk about a shocking number I learned at the Asia For Animals conference I recently took part in. Apparently the bounty on these magnificent apes (and national treasures of Indonesia) is a mere £70-100 ($115-165). Consider that for a moment, a dead ORANGUTAN, is worth the equivalent of roughly any of the following:
- iPod nano
- monthly membership to a yoga studio or a gym
- most items on this ‘past Oprah’s favorite things' list
- the items on this list (not limited to the sharkini or the dinosaur Christmas lawn ornament)
- admission to a number of amusement parks
- most brand name sneakers these days
Stranger still, a dead orangutan is worth LESS than:
- Beats by Dr. Dre headphones
- most iPhones (or smartphones for that matter)
- pretty much anything from Coach (other than keychains)
- more than one item in SkyMall
That is bonkers! Even crazier still is that a dead orangutan is actually worth MORE than educating a Nepali child for a year (check out this foundation if you want to make a difference on that front). This speaks volumes. Parts of our society monetarily values killing an endangered species more than other parts of society value educating children. Looks like we have some work to do.
Several article detail how the palm oil industry offers these bounties to eliminate the conflict caused by crop-raiding orangutans whose presence in the plantations is problematic.
This highlights a major point that is becoming increasingly apparent in conservation efforts. Beyond the philosophical, cultural, and moral values we attribute to conservation - it is really the monetary or economic values that principally drive the efforts. While of course we cannot ignore those intrinsic cultural or moral values of protecting a species - what will ultimately save them is likely a more pragmatic, money-driven solution. So if a poacher can get £70-100 (a windfall of money in Indonesia) for presenting the head of an orangutan to managers of palm oil companies, those of us vested in conserving them need to up the ante and offer a greater economic incentive to protect them.
One means of doing just this is to donate to causes such as the Orangutan Foundation International - where they employ forest patrols to protect the species from poachers. Another is to fund community outreach and education programs - or simply donate time by volunteering to conduct this outreach in conjunction with organizations such as this (perhaps during a gap year abroad which is exceedingly common here in Asia). If you can convert would-be poachers to rangers who protect the species by paying them the same £70-100 a year (or more) such that over time they will be guaranteed not only stable employment but a greater overall economic gain - everybody wins! These rangers will also have to benefit the palm oil industry by patrolling boarders and driving out problem orangutans from the palm oil plantations - because as long as the conflict remains the bounty will only go higher - palm oil is certainly not a money-poor industry.
So think about it - next time you lament about the state of the world and how horrible it is that species are going extinct - put your money where your mouth is. Consider how many times you have spent the equivalent of £70-100 on the latest tech gadget, or cumulatively on lattes (I’m certainly guilty of this too!). And consider that donating this amount (or more) once a year could make a real, tangible impact towards protecting one of these incredible animals in the wild. If everyone interested in saving a species such as this asked for $1-5 in donations at holidays or birthdays, or academic conference attendants donated the same amount - we very quickly build a significant financial backing for species conservation in regions where a seemingly small amount of money to westerners makes a much larger financial impact.
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As Amy has previously mentioned, a lot of our work would not be possible without our many assistants, collaborators, peers, and colleagues that offer invaluable help and guidance as we study primate behavior, ecology and evolution. This fall I was assigned a fantastic and super helpful undergraduate lab research assistant to help me out with the isotope work throughout the school year, and I thought it would be fun to interview her here. So everyone - meet Michelle!
Michelle hard at work in the CEST lab weighing out standards
Name: Michelle Mueller
Occupation: Junior Biology and Anthropology undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame
Nicknames: Meesh, Michelle-y, Minion
Hometown: Aurora. IL
Labs: Maclachlan Lab - Looks at the composition of tree species in the Midwest since the 1800s and the impact of climate change on these populations.
Fuentes Lab - Works on the isotope ecology, resource use and diet of macaques in Gibraltar and Singapore.
Michelle started as a Biology major at Notre Dame because she always knew she wanted to work with animals, and became an Anthropology major after taking an Intro to Anthropology course with Dr. Patrick Gaffney. “After the first day of class, I went and declared myself an anthropology major. I love the way it combines my interests in evolution, ecology and primatology with the biological sciences.” And we are happy she did because it led to her working with Dr. Agustín Fuentes and joining our lab and project!
Asked about her experiences in lab, Michelle mentioned that she has been learning a lot about isotope ecology through her work assessing the diet of barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) in Gibraltar and surprisingly has been enjoying reading up on isotope ecology methods, theory, and case studies. “They [isotopes] are actually pretty cool…I didn’t know they had as many uses and applications, and it’s interesting to see what tissues can be used and how many different things we can learn about animals from them.” Michelle also stated that working in the CEST lab has been a positive experience and emphatically said: ”Anne is my favorite lab person, she has really cool goggles that she lets me wear.” (Full Disclosure: I may have prodded her to say that…)
Work prepping samples in the CEST lab involves intense concentration and really good fine motor skills.
Asked about her plans post-graduation, Michelle said that she hopes to go to veterinary school, with her ultimate goal to be an exotic animals/wildlife vet at a major zoo such as the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Her parents are a little hesitant about this line of work because of the dangers involved when working with animals such as large cats and other predators, but Michelle believes that a rewarding career will outweigh the potential risks. She has had some experience with veterinary medicine fieldwork, attending a 2 week course in Belize this past summer (2013) where she was able to work with a zoo vet and learn more about wildlife medicine. While there she was able to see howler monkeys interacting with tourists, as well as heard their calls to each other in the forest at night, an experience she called “very loud and a little scary in the dark.”
Michelle is hoping to receive an NSF Research Experience Undergraduate grant this summer to work in either animal medicine or veterinary research as a way of preparing, along with her current courses and lab work, for her future career in the veterinary sciences. Recently, as previously detailed in this blog, she was able to chat on Facebook with one of her personal heroes (and mine), primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall who gave some great advice about young scientists hoping to study and work with wildlife.
As I previously mentioned, Michelle has been a great help in the lab and it has been fun having her around to help her learn more about primate behavior, diet, and isotope ecology. She has been a pleasure to teach all of the methods, has learned everything quickly, and is incredibly good-natured as she always will chat about our favorite TV shows while we work and let’s me refer to her as my minion instead of research assistant (which makes everything sound much more nefarious if you ask me). She’ll be helping me out soon with a couple posts about our methods and what we do every day in the lab, so look to hear more from Michelle on the blog soon!
"Isotopes are awesome!" - Michelle (okay maybe she didn’t actually say that but I told her to pose as though that’s what she was saying)
Fun Facts about Michelle:
Google doodle celebrating what would have been Dian Fossey’s 82nd birthday
Happy Birthday to one of the pioneers in field primatology and one of “Leakey’s Angels” Dian Fossey! Dian was one of the first to study wild mountain gorillas and her work, along with that of Birute Galdikas and Jane Goodall was the foundation for much of primate fieldwork today. Until the end of her life, which was tragically cut short, Dian was passionate about conservation and led a crusade against poaching of wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda and the neighboring DRC.
Learn more about her work and the continued conservation and research of wild mountain gorillas here.
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I think this photo I took at Angkor Wat is really representative of the reality of the human-wildlife interface. We humans are an increasing presence here on the the planet. We now flock en mass to a place that was until recently an abandoned space. The lone macaque joining the crowds shows the persistence of wild things alongside us, albeit, often in the margins.
I had the great pleasure of opening the workshop on Human-Wildlife Conflict at the Asia For Animals Conference 2014 held here in Singapore. My talk given on behalf of Dr. Agustin Fuentes was titled: Human & Other Animals In The Anthropocene: Conflict, Complexity & Sustainability
We had a great afternoon discussion led with Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel and Karthi Martelli. highlighting conflicts and drivers within urban settings. Not surprising, the issue of macaque-human conflict was a main topic of discussion. The primary differences in approaching conflict mitigation emerged as nuances between the cultures, government, and degree of development in the cities in which these conflicts occur.
More later - I have much catching up to do here! Tracking some monkins tomorrow with Karthi - hope to get some glamour shots of my boys up soon!
So. Tired. Six 14-hour+ days of non-stop tracking and trapping and all 6 monkeys (all majestic adult males) are collared, praise Hanuman! Plus we had some by-catch of another 4 monkins - 3 little boys and another big guy. A big thanks to the entire team - more on this excursion later. For now some lovely sights from today.
1) A full moon for luck
2) A beautiful kingfisher
3) St. Francis of MacRitchie, collared monkey #3
4) WE ARE DONE
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Too exhausted to post anything of substance about trapping and collaring just yet. 2 more collars on MacRitchie monkeys - fingers crossed for another 2 willing participants tomorrow. In the meantime, these kids were being delightful on the boardwalk while we waited for our volunteers to recover from their work-related nap post-fashion change.
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Some snaps from this week. I’m afraid I jinxed myself with my first-day-of-trapping post. So far we are 4 days in with 2 monkeys collared and 4 to go in the next 4 days - ahhhhhhh!
Photo 1: The Sharpie number on my arm was the message I left for myself and totally forgot about - the time we released our second collared monkey.
Photo 2: Dr. Agustín Fuentes waits with our first group of monkeys pre-release. This is moments before he and I nearly got struck by some epic lightning that rolled in.
Photo 3: Finally, the local equestrian club was kind enough to scout around for monkeys at one of our target sites! Hooray for new friends!
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