I am currently sitting in a cramped yet cosy net café in the distant island of Bacan in Maluku, 345 miles South East of my usual dwelling in North Sulawesi. So, what is it that I am doing here? A fantastic team of 6 and I have lugged ourselves across from all corners of the globe for a research expedition to explore some of the questions surrounding the island and it’s furry inhabitants….
Nestled in the Southern realms of Bacan is Gunung Sibela Nature Reserve, thought to be home to an apparently large population of under-studied macaques believed to be Macaca nigra, yaki. It is still not completely certain of the origin of these monkeys and no research has been conducted on them for over 15 years. Bacan is not part of their native range, but some stories suggest they were brought over in 1867, with one legend that a sultan introduced the monkeys in exchange for sago and have since done their thing and spread around the island, growing in numbers with perhaps fewer threats than their Sulawesi counterparts. We aim in this short period of time to gain some insight into the abundance of these monkeys through a series of line transects to record our encounters of the macaques at different sites, whilst also exploring the social side of their human neighbours, interviewing the villagers and painting a picture of the situation here on Bacan.
The trip has been somewhat exhausting so far, as the travelling took it out of me with only a few hours sleep here and there coming back from UK, to Sulawesi and now straight to Bacan, embracing 4 flights and a mega overnight boat trip! Upon arrival we were straight into a crazy day of settling in, meeting officials, searching for maps and other items and getting all the methods and survey plans sorted, ensuring everyone knew what they were to do (more or less!). But now despite my throbbing knee, I am delighted to say we have already had two successful days of transect walking (or stomping, sliding and slipping to be more accurate!); 7am until 5pm in a selection of scrubby disturbed forest and nice juicy primary rainforest, which is stunning! The reserve encompasses a relentless but picturesque mountain reaching 2000m at its peak, so although we are only making it up a fraction of the way of these menacing slopes, it is rather tough, forcing us up and down and back again!! Amongst an impressive plethora of plants, birds and butterflies (and my highlight of a king cobra delightfully devouring another snake!), we have already had several encounters with the macaques which is fantastic, and bringing in lots of data from the transects and village surveys. What a delight to have these cheeky chaps peering down at our ecstatic faces, wondering what on Earth these odd mammals are doing under their trees!
We are lucky enough to have a wonderful group with each member bringing their own speciality to our research efforts and are so far all doing a great job at making this expedition a success.
Huge thanks go again to Chester Zoo for supporting us in this exciting and much needed expedition.
I hope to update you all with progress in the coming days!…
~Harry and the yaki team~