Animal chatter

Check out the newest page on the Wildlife Aid Education website – Animal Chatter:

click here

animal chat

It’s full of interesting animal facts from our regular contributors (myself included!) and opportunities for you to be a guest contributor too!

So find out the difference between couscous and cuscus and learn all about the tiny Indonesian tarsier. Look out ¬†for badger fur and learn how to identify it. Ever wanted to know how to draw animals? There’s loads on there and it’s being added to all the time!

Check it out ūüôā


Saving Harry

Ok so I know hedgehogs aren’t monkeys but they’re JUST as important!

In the 1950s there were 30 million hedgehogs in the UK.

Now there are 1 million.

By 2025 there will be possible urban extinction.

We can’t let that happen! What can you do about it? Well you can do something very simple and very quick. Help save Harry

Take a look at the wonderfully animated story of Harry. Then, if you like it and the theme music, you can buy the song (buy it here).




Gosh time flies doesn’t it!

So as you probably noticed this blog just tailed off in to nowhere last summer! Well don’t worry – I did make it out to the monkeys and I made it back too! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to update the blog from the field site though as the signal just wasn’t strong enough. I had so much I wanted to tell you all and thought I’d write all about it when I got back but… well.. suddenly it’s May and I haven’t! Oh dear! ūüôā

But some exciting things have been happening. I’m delighted to be involved with the fantastic new project – Wildlife Aid Education. It’s a completely free, easy-to-access, curriculum-based teaching and learning resource for teachers, parents and children, provided by The Wildlife Aid Foundation. Check it out here¬†and watch this space for more info in the not too distant future!



I also had the pleasure about a month ago of being asked to visit a local primary school and talk about my work with the monkeys. I was asked by one of the mum’s ¬†to come and speak to the year 6 classes, as they were in the midst of a project all about Rainforests. She thought some first hand tales of the rainforest might inspire them. I jumped at the chance!

So just before the end of last term I headed down with my laptop in tow and talked to a load of  ten Рeleven year olds all about what I do.


I had such fun and the children were amazing. So well behaved, articulate, enthusiastic and interested. They patiently listened to my tales of monkeys and forests, and gruesome details about the spiky plants, painful insect bites and  toilet and shower facilities out there (or lack of!!) .


They came up with some brilliant questions – including the obvious ones about what the most DANGEROUS animal I’d come in to contact in the forest was! ūüôā But also some really insightful questions and comments about conservation and wildlife. ¬†It’s thoroughly restored my faith in the younger generation.


I talked to them about how I got in to this wildlife malarkey and how they can start doing things locally if that is what they are interested in.  A few of them came up to me afterwards and said they wanted to work in conservation and wildlife so I hope I was able to inspire them. They wrote a very sweet overview of the session in their newsletter too.

Newsletter 03-04-14_002

I’m looking forward ¬†to doing more of this – it’s so lovely to talk about what I do to such an interested and enthusiastic audience. So watch this space!




Here we go again!

Gosh it’s been a while since I’ve been on here. Sorry! Life got a little bit crazy over the past year – in both bad and some very good ways! And now I find myself back in Indonesia, and heading back to the monkeys once more! It’s 2am and I’m about to check out of my hotel and head to the airport to start my journey from Jakarta to Buton.

I’ve spent the past week, as usual, sorting out my research permits and various letters required to work on the island. It seems things haven’t improved and in fact if anything the system is getting slower! It is the fasting month which doesn’t help matters but even so!

It’s a complicated process which, after years of doing it, am only just starting to get to grips with. Here’s a helpful diagram from the ministery of research and technology which should clear things up though…. (!?!)



I’ve spent most of my time waiting in offices while a multitude of staff seem to spend a long time doing absolutely nothing, oh apart from watching tv…



I’m sure removal of the tv’s would speed up the process! Or maybe not… There’s always a reason why a simple, standard letter needs to take several days to produce; the man that
needs to sign it (and of course there is only one person in the whole of that government office that can sign the thing) is at a meeting, or there’s a tiny typo in another letter so they have to ‘confirm’ things first, or they just seem to like to make you wait. I’ve been very grateful for my kindle this week!


The offices are dark, dank and cluttered and frankly it’s no wonder things take a while! They start work at 9, break from 12 – 1, and then finish at 3! Nice!





They seem to favour the retro form of interior design with an abundance of fabric flowers too…


They’re also full of incomprehensible notices in bad English (if they’re going to bother to translate them why not do it properly?!)


So you can see while several hours a day spent sitting and waiting in these places might start to wear a little!

The traffic has been even worse than usual this year too, and because it’s the fasting month traffic jams start earlier than usual. So I’ve taken to using ojek’s (motorbike taxis) to get around rather than normal taxis. It’s infinitely quicker, cheaper and just a weeney bit scarier!





My final port of call here was immigration, and I was actually pleasantly surprised. They’ve updated things a bit, have a proper queueing system and fewer tv’s!





So after having my fingerprints taken (the fingerprint scanner did work – after a few tries!) and another photo taken I’m done for now.


The visa and home affairs letter won’t be ready until next week (again, why it should take so long I don’t know – I actually saw the completed home affairs letter in the guys hand! But apparent I can’t collect it until Tuesday!) so I’m not waiting any longer! I’m going to start my journey and get the letters sent on before I lose my mind here!

So I leave clutching my police and research permits and hoping I get away without the others until they arrive!


So it’s goodbye Jakarta – for now!




Monkeys on the rampage!

I don’t know if you saw the news today but apparently a mob of monkeys went on the rampage through a village in South Sulawesi. They broke in to houses and attacked people; 7 people are injured, one critically. Locals claim they came from a local forest and are unsure why they attacked. This isn’t on the island I work on, though it is on the mainland and I know that in this area forest patches are small and the monkeys are under threat. Who knows why they raided the village but it’s quite probable it was for food and an angry, hungry monkey isn’t one I’d want to face! I feel sorry for the vilagers but you can’t really blame the monkeys though… I only hope this doesn’t impact too negatively on their protection and conservation in this area now. Here’s the news article


This is a chance for me to just say a big big thank you to everyone for their support this year! The monkeys¬† and I are very grateful ūüôā I hope you have a wonderful new year and 2013!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys¬† (note these monkeys are not affiliated to the Buton monkeys ūüėČ ) prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Every one assumes that monkeys or apes coming in to farmers’ fields and taking crops is automatically a bad thing.. but my research in Indonesia has thrown up some interesting perspectives on crop raiding from local farmers and it looks like it’s happening in other parts of the world too.

On the island of Buton farmers often tell me that they are happy when the monkeys raid their cashew crops – why? Because it means they don’t have to climb up the trees to harvest the nuts themselves. When the monkeys raid the trees they only take the fruit. The nut is held in a little capsule beneath the fruit so when the monkeys remove the fruit to eat it they discard the nut in it’s case. It then falls to the ground and can be collected by the farmers. All the farmers need to do is keep the area beneath the trees clear from too many shrubs and weeds and then they can simply scoop up the nuts, saving hours. The nuts are protected so are not damaged in the process. It’s a win-win situation! Monkeys get food, farmers get free labour!

Read more about the Buton macaques in one of my posts from when I was out in Indonesia this summer¬† here:¬† “Nuts to the monkeys”

Some work over in Guinea-Bissau has shown a similar pattern with Chimps. In a similar way to the Buton macaque, the chimps only raid the fruit, leaving the nut for the farmers to harvest, in fact reportedly the chimps actually pile the nuts – which makes it even easier still!

Just goes to show how humans and wildlife can co-exist in even the most unlikely of scenarios!

The full article is here:

¬†Kimberley J. Hockings and Claudia Sousa (2012). Differential utilization of cashew‚ÄĒa low-conflict crop‚ÄĒby sympatric humans and chimpanzees. Oryx, 46

What do these:

and these have in common?

Well that is what my students found out today!

It’s getting towards the end of semester. Exams are coming up, coursework’s been handed in and people are knackered! My students had an in -class exam today, followed by a lecture so I thought for the group-work bit of the class I’d do something a little more fun.

The tragedy of the commons is a key bit of theory my students need to know, but it can be a little bit dry and the original paper is one you really have to wade through. In summary what it¬† is basically talking about is situations where you have a resource (e.g. a lake full of fish) that people have access to. One researcher, Hardin proposed in 1968 that in such situations people will always use the resource for short term gains, NOT long term sustainability. By this I mean they will take as many fish as they can now, rather than leaving some in the lake to reproduce for next year. He proposed that users of these types of “open access resources” (i.e. resources anyone can access), tend not to establish rules about how to use the resource and as such it will end up being depleted – this is the tragedy of the commons.

In contrast another group of researchers, Ostrom et al, in 1999, proposed that in situations like this the resource is never truly open access and that in fact there will be rules and regulations about who can use the resource and how. It recognises that one person’s actions will impact on other people’s. So in the lake example – you might have¬† a village of fishermen and it may be that only the older men are permitted to fish, and only in certain months. These resources are in effect communally owned which is why the rules exist.

So in order to get my students thinking about this, and to have some fun, we did a little bit of group work. They were divided into groups of 4 or 5. Each group represents a village of fishermen. Each village has a lake within which are enough fish for 4 per person (or smarties in this case!). If they go fishing and catch only 1 fish their family will starve. If they catch 2 their family will have enough food to survive until next year. I however they take 3 or 4 fish they can sell the surplus for money.

In the first round no one is allowed to communicate, so each “fisherman or woman” is acting indepently. The fishing season opens and in year one they are allowed to take 0 – 4 fish – it’s up to them how many they choose.

At the end of the first year of fishing we see how many fish (smarties!) are left in the lake. The fish then reproduce – so if there were 4 left they each reproduce resulting in 8 (hence the big bag of smarties!). Then the second year of fishing begins and once again they can take as many fish as they want to (up to 4).

This continues year by year until there are no fish in the lake.

Now the first time around, remember no one is allowed to talk to each other, so they’re all acting for themselves. What they very quickly find out is that the fish run out! In today’s example¬† – one group only had 2 years fishing before the lake was left with no fish, the other groups only got 3 years. Meanwhile some fishermen had starved and others had grown fat on the profit of excess fish sales. This is an example of the tragedy of the commons – people tend to act more selfishly which results in not only depletion of the resource but also social inequalities.

So in the next round they are now allowed to communicate and decide as a community how they want to operate the fishing and what people will be allowed to take. So the fishing starts again – back at year 1, but this time it takes a bit longer as everyone discusses how many fish to take….

After year 1 the fish reproduce again and we move to year 2 etc. Interestingly this time around everyone takes only 2 fish. So no one starves, and no one benefits from extra money from selling fish. As a result they can continue to fish well into year 5, 6, 7, etc (until I run out of smarties!) because the lake is now sustainable. They are taking enough fish to feed themselves but not so much that the populations is depleted. And of course there are no social inequalities – everyone is getting the same.

So as a result all the villages keep on fishing, every year – well until the very last year.. when they know it’s the end and all dive in for the smarties!

So this demonstrates Ostrom et al’s idea of common property resources. Everyone has access to the resource but they all have a stake in wanting that resource to be maintained. They’ve all seen the consequences of acting selfishly (they all starved after 3 years), so rules come in to play – only 2 fish can be taken by each person.

Now this was a bit of fun for the students, a chance to have a bit of a less intense class (and have some chocolate) but it does very nicely demonstrate the principles of these theories. So what? Well let’s have a think about this and how it might impact on us – the most obvious example that springs to mind is the North Sea Fisheries. There we have a potential open access resource which, aside from close to national coastlines, is basically a big free for all. One country takes all it can of one species, whilst others try to get more for their own country etc and what do we end up with? Massively depleted fish stocks. Now of course in national waters there are quotas and rules introduced (just like in round 2 of the exercise) which help to control fish stocks and try to maintain them…

This can be applied to a whole variety of conservation scenarios (and economic ones) and is a really important thing to consider when trying to manage resources and local people. The assumption that people will act altruistically when given the chance is generally wrong – most people tend to go for looking after themselves and their family in the here and now.

Anyway – something to think about and the students certainly seemed to enjoy it!

Bushmeat Trade – again!

Once again I was teaching my class about the bushmeat trade today. To follow on from the lecture about the bushmeat trade two weeks ago we had a groupwork session on it today. This is another great session as it’s a bit different and a bit of fun but really gets students thinking about the real-life issues that face people dealing with the bushmeat issue. In small groups they have to work together on a scenario. They have to agree how they will deal with the opening up of a new logging consession a fictional government want to open up. Each person represents a different stakeholder e.g. villagers, traders, the logging company, conservationists and the government. They have to work together to think about all the potential issues and conflicts and then come up with workable solutions to try to minimise the conflict for all stakeholders. I get them to draw up their plans on big sheets of paper. Once again it always stimulates lots of discussion and this year was no excpetion. They came up with some pretty interesting options too.

Finding solutions to the bushmeat trade problem is critical. Although habitat destruction is often hailed as the biggest threat to wildlife, hunting of wildlife for meat has become the most significant, immediate threat to wildlife conservation around the world. There have already been local extinctions of species in West Africa and parts of Asia. Many people view this as a crisis, particularly as hunting is now occurring in regions where it wasn’t previously widespread, mainly due to increased commercial logging. Logging opens up forests through the creation of roads and transport links which enable hunters to get their catches to markets from areas they weren’t previously able to reach. It isn’t just wildlife that suffers, it also threatens the livelihod of indigenous populations who traditionally relied on small-scale hunting and gathering for food. Commercial hunting is on a much larger scale and takes this resource away from these people. In addition there’s increasing evidence that the sipread of certain diseases such as Ebola and foot and mouth disease are linked to bushsmeat consumption. It’s therefore critical that conservation and development groups can come up with solutions to this problem. Many organisations, including WWF and the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force are working on this.
This is why I get my students to think about this and to think about it in terms of the real-life conflicts it produces. Here’s what they came up with:

I had the pleasure of teaching one of my favourite classes today. I teach an undergraduate module called “Human Resource Ecology”.¬† It’s all about humans and how they interact with the environment and looks at issues of how humans subsist and where conflicts arise. Today’s session was a lecture about the Bushmeat trade followed by a seminar on human-wildlife conflict.

The lecture is always interesting – it throws up some really interesting questions about the sustainability of bushmeat for communities that rely upon it. It also reminds the students that it’s not all about remote populations of hunter-gatherers but that actually bushmeat can form a major part of the economy in many Central and West-african countries.

People often forget that bushmeat hunting and trade brings not only food to hunter-gathering communities but also can bring money too. In fact studies have shown it can account for up to 90% of household income in parts of Cameroon. It’s not just the local communities that benefit though, taxi drivers who transport the meat to markets and market traders also benefit. Bushmeat is a luxury food item in many parts of Africa so it can be a lucrative trade.

However it’s pretty much impossible for bushmeat to be sustainable and if you care about wildlife conservation, which I do, then it’s very hard to defend. People have to eat but the majority of the bushmeat trade revolves around hunters and urban dwellers who do not rely on bushmeat as a food source and have plenty of other options. Bushmeat can only support a maximum of 1 person per square km of tropical forest. In most places population densities are far higher than that now so it’s only a matter of time until bushmeat supplies i.e. wild animal species, are hunted to extinction. This is a topic I’ll be exploring with my students in more detail in a couple of weeks time and it always stimulates excellent debate as it’s such an emotive issue. If you want to find out more – check out the UK Bushmeat Working Group.


The seminar part of today’s class was the really fun bit (at least in my humble opinion – and the students seem to enjoy it too…).¬† I get them to think about a specific issue of human-wildlife conflict – that of carnivores and people and we do a bit of a role play debate. The issue is the re-introduction of wolves to Scotland and the students are split into groups of the 3 main stakeholders – the NGO/charity who want to reintroduce the wolves, the local sheep farmers living in the area, and the local community. We then stage a “community meeting” where the NGO have to present their proposal to the local farmers and community. It’s such fun and really gets students thinking about the issues. Today was no exception. A fab group of students really got in to their roles – discussing the pro’s and con’s of such a scheme and how it might impact on local communities and livelihoods.¬† It’s a great way to get everyone engaged, sharing ideas and thinking about all the issues that surround these sorts of situations.



It’s not such a crazy idea either. The idea of reintroducing wolves to Scotland has been raised a number of times (you can read more here). It’s been argued that introducing wolves to Scotland again (where they’ve been extinct since the 1700’s) would help to control Red Deer numbers. Red Deer are very destructive to the native pine forests and currently expensive culling programmes are used to control them – wolves, it’s proposed, could do this job for free. Naturally though there are serious concerns from local farmers who are woried that their sheep would become prey for the wolves, and from local people who feel the safety of their children and pets would be at risk. Reintroduction of wolves is a long way off becoming reality, but other species reintroductions have taken place already – such as wild boar and beaver in parts of the UK so it’s certainly something that could happen and it will be extremely interesting to see how it develops.

What do you think about it?




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