Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bewildering beauty surrounded by bellowing howls

I can hardly believe it's only been three days so far that I've been here on the truly engaging and mesmerizing island of Ometepe, because my first few days here have become entirely unforgettable already.

It was only a few days ago that I somewhat apprehensively boarded my first flight alone, and an international one at that, to begin my journey to Nicaragua. My advice coming out of that experience is to try your best to learn a basic understanding of the language of the places you're traveling to.

I was lucky to already have some understanding of Spanish, because I changed gates at an airport in Panama on my way here and all the signs were in Spanish and the people there spoke it fluently and almost exclusively.

It makes traveling and interacting with the people who live in the area to which you were traveling a little bit easier, although its not necessary. Once I actually made it to the airport in Managua, the capitol of Nicaragua, I was met by my other group members at a hotel nearby the airport where we spent the night, then boarded our ferry ride out to the island.

As we approached the view of the volcano in the distance all of our excitement grew about what the next few weeks would have in store for us. We shared stories of where we all came from, our schools, our majors, and came to the realization that without this experience none of us would have ever met in life.

Going abroad is an excellent way to not only continue your education in a foreign place, but meet new people who you never would have come across otherwise. After being together with these six other girls in my class for the past few days, I'm already incredibly humbled by them and all the aspects of their lives they've shared with me.

When we finally did arrive on the island and at the conservancy, we were all bewildered by how beautiful it all was, but we weren't allowed to revel in it for too long. Our first order of business was to hike up and see if we could get a view of the white faced capuchin monkeys that lived in a nearby forest.

Unfortunately, the capuchins are a little shy, so we didn't get a chance to see them but we did get to see the monkeys we are studying - mantled howler monkeys. I knew by their name they were vocal primates, but there is nothing like hearing that deep, menacing vocalization in person.

Male howler monkeys have an enlarged hyoid bone in their throats that allow them to make that noise, and it is truly inexplicable.

After getting a first glimpse at them our first day there, we woke up the next morning at 4:30 a.m. to walk out to the Coffee Forest, where we are primarily studying howlers, which is about 6 miles from where the conservancy is.

Nicaragua is close to the equator and therefore very warm, so we leave early in the morning to beat the heat as well as observe the howlers at a time of the day where they'll be active. Howler monkeys are sedentary and arboreal (tree dwelling) so it's important to pick a time where there's more observable behavior to study.

Seeing them in their natural habitat is undeniably fascinating, and our first few days we're being taught basic methods of primatological observation and what to look for as we're studying them. With our binoculars, waterproof notebooks and ambition it's been a tiring although entirely rewarding experience watching these incredible primates leap from tree to tree right in front of our own eyes.

So far we've been able to pick our their genders, approximate ages, some identifying features including scars, limb injuries and coat colorings. After our mornings out in the field, we come back for lunch and then lecture is usually sometime shortly after.

Today on our way back to the conservancy, we were able to see a group of howlers that made their way into one of the local mango trees, and as we looked around to see where their bellowing howl was coming from, watched as half eaten mangoes were being pelted from the trees.

It was not only humorous to see but being able to enjoy the fresh mangoes that fell from the tree was another added bonus. They're delicious, thank you howlers!

And as the sun sets another day on the island of Ometepe, I can only hope for more wonder and excitement as we delve into studying these fascinating primates. I've always been attracted to the idea of primatology because non-human primates are like us, and studying them is not only important to their species but provides us important insight about our own humanity. I hope to make more important observations about not only humankind as a whole, but myself as well as I let this wonderful experience further unfold.

#BUAbroad #HuskyUnleashed

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