News & Features

Morning Monkeys

By Paul Rosolie

Yesterday I woke up at 5am while the howler monkeys are still booming in the morning. Dawn is by far the best time in the jungle to see mammals. Much of the nightlife is hurrying home just before the sun comes up. It’s still dark as I put on my shoes. I will be walking at a rate of one kilometer per hour for four hours. Walking slow allows you to be quiet, and also allows you to fully scan the complex visual info of the canopy and forest – all to facilitate the best possible chance of actually observing the species present. In the Amazon everything strives to be invisible, but still along the way in the shaded gloom of the forest, I observe a nine banded armadillo heading back to his hole, a tired tapir plodding through a swamp to wherever she’ll spend the day sleeping. I saw red and grey brocket deer.

It’s still dark down where I walk, when the sun hits the treetops. That’s when the morning truly starts. The canopy comes alive with the calls of parrots and toucans, howler monkeys renew their screaming vows to the sun, and the tinamous sound off. There’s a loud crash above my head – spider monkeys! I start counting as each individual leaps across from one tree to another. One female pauses and looks directly down on me. She spreads her legs and arms and shakes branches menacingly. I talk to her and try not to laugh. A male joins beside her and looks at me disinterestedly. The female begins urinating – she’s aiming right for me. The male beside her looks at me, then at the female, then places his hand in her urine stream to gather some, then he puts his hand to his mouth and drinks.  I usually just drink from the river, but to each his own.

A half hour later the sun is up and there are a hundred capuchin and squirrel monkeys around me. It’s a mixed group and I have to run for cover as they throw sticks at me so I’ll leave their feeding area. By the time I get back to camp I’ve seen half a dozen species and hundreds of individuals. That’s a good morning in the jungle!