Everybody poops, it’s true, but for researchers gathering valuable information from monkey droppings, not everyone’s poop is worth its weight in gold. Basic market forces come into play, even in the jungle where the rarer the primate, the more valuable its feces. Accordingly, missed opportunities in the field, such as one in particular with Callimico goeldii (a Goeldi’s marmoset), can haunt a researcher the rest of her days… lamenting that special poo that got away.
The flip side, however, is the elation that comes with an opportunity not yet lost. It is exactly this nervous anticipation that was so perfectly captured by our research assistant, Colleen Fisher, who shared the following from her journal on June 22, 2015:
After three hours of early morning tracking, we finally were rewarded with the first ever Blonde Capuchin poop sample! Doesn’t sound that amazing, but this elusive species stays high in the canopy, sneaking quietly through the trees making tracking difficult, and collecting poop samples near impossible. We were lucky today to catch a group of 4 Blonde Capuchins having a relaxed morning of foraging, with one male deciding his morning task would be to try and open a brazil nut. He sat in a low hanging branch for 2 hours, banging the hefty nut against branches, tirelessly trying to get the fatty nut from inside. All the while, KM (my teammate) and I still beneath, craning our necks, waiting for a dropping. Our patience paid off, and we returned to back to the station with a new sample to test and compare to other species. This is crucial for our Primate Health study here at CICRA to compare the diseases and parasites affecting each species. It was a great morning, and every day I feel so lucky to wake up and get to follow monkeys through the rainforest! What a great life.
Sadly, the sample turned out to be from Cebus apella (brown capuchins), who are more common here than Cebus albifrons (the blonde capuchins). However, all samples are important for our primate health study, and Colleen’s experience underscores both the difficulties and excitement of doing this work in the field. All researchers have stories of mistaken identities and disappointments, but in the end, few would ever consider observing monkeys in the wild a waste of time… no matter what kind of poop lands in their path. – Ben Lybarger