Testing the Drunken Monkey Hypothesis in Panama

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Could alcoholism in humans be an evolutionary hangover? Robert Dudley, professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley believes so. His “Drunken Monkey Hypothesis” suggests that fruit-eating primates —such as BCI’s spider monkeys—may be drawn to naturally occurring ethanol in the fruits they consume. Frugivorous primates have been eating fermented fruit for 40 million years. The health benefits of low-level alcohol consumption are consistent with an ancient and potentially adaptive exposure to this common, psychoactive substance.

Christina Campbell, associate professor of Anthropology at California State University Northridge, who has studied behavior, ecology and reproduction of spider monkeys, Ateles groffroyi, since 1996, is back on BCI with graduate student, Victoria Weaver, to test Dudley’s hypothesis. They will measure the ethanol concentration in the sugary fruits of Spondias mombin, a mango relative extremely important in the monkeys’ diet.

Christina and Victoria will be running through the forest chasing spider monkeys to collect fallen fruits and/or urine samples (which will be tested for an ethanol metabolite) until September 2014.

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Kayaking in the Rainforest

By Meret Schueschke

Last week I got the chance to do something I had wanted to do for quite a while: To go kayaking in the rainforest with EcoCircuitos. It was going to be my first real rainforest experience, and I was really looking forward to it, but the real experience exceeded my expectations by far.

After less than an hour we arrived at Gamboa, where we were supposed to start off our kayaking excursion. While our guide and driver got the equipment ready we strolled around, had peeks into the butterfly house and aquarium they have there, and already spotted the first birds.

And then, we started out onto the lake. The cries of howler monkeys greeted us, accompanied by the distant sound of drumming that came from the Embera Village further down the shore. Along with wisps of mist hanging between the trees and the soft dripping of water from the paddles, this sound created a truly unreal experience. One of our little group described it very accurately when he said: “I could almost imagine KingKong coming out of this forest right now”

The next hours were an almost meditative experience. We spotted uncountable amounts of birds: since the kayaks make almost no sound passing through the water, you can get really close to animals as long as you don’t talk too much.

Before too long, the thatched roofs of the Embera village appeared between the trees, and by a stroke of luck we got to witness a short musical performance of the men of the tribe, as they were just receiving a group of visitors when we passed by.

I was  already feeling  like I had completely left the normal world behind, and then, weirdly enough, it got perfect when it started to rain. It had been a hot day so far, and the soft summer rain was so refreshing, and it changed the atmosphere into something almost magical. There was steam rising from the trees around us, the birds and monkeys seemed to wake up, like us being revived by that burst of fresh air the rain brought, and suddenly it was just us, the water, and the rainforest around us, and the real world so far away…

At some point we spied the howler monkeys, high up in a tree, another time we passed a large iguana. Eagles, herons, kingfishers and many more crossed our paths. Fish passed silently beneath us. We were silent, mostly, enjoying the tranquility of this spot we had all to ourselves, each taking in this different world for himself.

The three hours passed far too quickly, and all too soon we had to head back to the shore, and then to the city with all its activity…but the feeling of tranquility I had experienced there on the lake stayed with me for several days, and I am sure I will not forget this special feeling of being out on in this primeval forest so far from everyday life, and yet so close to home.

if you would like to know more about this or other rainforest tours, have a look at our website

Meet “our” Green Iguana

2000-01-02 01.14.03By Meret Schueschke

We have recently acquired a new visitor to our office: A Green Iguana who lives in the trees behind our building and occasionally stops by in front of our window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen Iguanas can be found in the rainforests of Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in parts of South America.  Even though they seem slow at first, they are surprisingly agile and (as I can observe from the office as I write this) very good climbers.  And if they ever happen to fall, they can survive falls from as high as fifteen meters (50 Feet)!Iguanas are quite good swimmers as well (they use their long tails for moving along) and usually live near water.

Counting their long tails, these Lizards can grow to a length of almost two meters (6 feet) and can be up to 5 Kilos in weight.  During the day they move through the branches of the forest, where they forage for fruit and leaves. Usually the Green Iguana is a very peaceful animal who prefers to flee before it has to fight, and it can even cast off its tail to get out of a dangerous situation. If escape is not possible, the Iguana can use its long tail like a whip to defend itself.

We were, of course, wondering whether “our” Iguana is a male or female, but our operations manager Laura could help us out there: The one in front of our window is a male, recognizable by the thick spines on his back and the dewlap under his chin. During the mating season he shakes his head up and down to show off this dewlap and attract females.

In Panama and Costa Rica, the Iguanas have received the nickname “Gallina de Palo” or “Chicken of the Tree”, in reference to the fact that the local cultures have been using these lizards as a popular food source.  These days, Iguanas are not commonly eaten anymore, but they now face another danger: the American pet trade. Apparently, Green Iguanas are hugely popular as pets, and their species has been reduced to the point that they have been added to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix II, which means “their trade must be controlled so as to not harm the species in the future”.

The Green Iguana is a truly fascinating creature and watching it climb a tree is definitely a thing worth seeing.