A Walk in the Territory of Others

By Anna Mazzaro
February 21, 2003

It's about 7:00 am. I'm ready to start my morning walk. I have my water, my binoculars, and I'm ready to go. I decided to walk a new trail today. I start going down the long steep stairs to get to the trail named Donato. Did you know that the trails in BCI's forest have names? The trails are named for people important in the history of BCI- a botanist, the first cook, a field assistant, a museum, a helpful donor, etc. And along each trail is a distance marker every 100 meters: Donato 1, Donato 2, and so on. It's just like at home where the streets have names and numbers, so we know where we are and where we are going.

I start the trail and am walking uphill and down. I get tired, but I continue because I'm determined to see animals in their natural environment.

Not far from the beginning of the trail, I hear noises. I stop and look: three squirrels are feeding. One of the squirrels is trying to steal the seed that another one is eating. I stay still watching what they do. They are pretty animals. They are climbing rodents that are reddish in color and move very fast. They have long tails and have big sharp front teeth. The teeth, which are special incisors, help them gnaw the hard nuts and seeds they eat.

Now I hear noises coming from above. I look and look; it's hard to see well because there are many trees and leaves. Finally, I'm able to see. It's a group of Spider Monkeys! They are having a great time eating fruits from the trees, going from branch to branch, getting what they want. Nobody is bothering them. They are high up in the canopy layer of the forest trees.

As I'm watching the monkeys feeding, I observe a couple of agoutis eating the seeds inside the fruits the monkeys are dropping. It's great to see how animals may help each other in the rain forest, even when they don't know it! Monkeys eat the outer part of the fruit. After, they drop the fruit. Squirrels and agoutis pick up the fruits dropped by the monkeys and gnaw on the inner part where the seeds are. Agoutis, like squirrels, are also rodents. They like to eat fruits from the Dipteryx trees. It's exciting to see the monkeys up on the trees, the squirrels on the low branches, and the agoutis on the forest floor, all of them eating their breakfast of Dipteryx fruits and seeds.

I'm having a great time but I have to go. As I continue, I take a break to drink some water. I feel warm and I'm sweating, but it doesn't matter: I'm enjoying my walk. I can hear the birds, parrots, and other animals up in the canopy.

As I walk on the trail I hear loud, very loud noises in the trees. Looking up, I'm able to see Howler Monkeys. These are big monkeys, black in color, and very, very noisy. I see them feeding from the trees. Some of them are going from one branch to another, eating leaves, while others stay still taking a break. I stand right underneath some of them. I'm looking at them, they are looking at me. They howl, making loud roaring noises like lions. They seem to be talking and sending messages to each other. A couple of the monkeys are looking at me. I know what can happen, that I shouldn't stand underneath, but I don't really care.

Howler Monkeys, like so many other species, are territorial. They don't like other animals to stand in their territory. Some animals throw things, others urinate around their area. Animals do all sort of things to let other animals know that this is their space. My presence was invading their territory, and, of course, I got the message...the monkey pooped on me. I deserved it, I guess. I'm standing in a place that belongs to them. They warned me by howling, but I didn't want to listen to them. So...I got it!

I think I learned my lesson. Next time I will listen to the monkeys and watch them from a respectful distance.

Hasta pronto,

Something to think about...

Imagine you are one of the animals in the story: squirrel, agouti, Howler Monkey or Spider Monkey, which animal would you like to be?


snyder-molino end to lab sign
squirrel in a tree
agouti incisors
dipteryx seedling
howler monkey