In a tropical forest in Southern India, a conflict between monkeys and the humans that live alongside them has been ongoing for decades. These monkeys risk electrocution, poisoning, auto accidents, and attacks by street dogs simply living their daily lives; yet the humans living mere meters away remain unaware. In order to understand the lives of these complex social creatures and develop ways to conserve one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, researchers have been studying monkey behavior in a town called Thenmala since 2019. I am asking for your support to continue one of the longest studies of bonnet macaques in India, and the longest running study of this species in the wild.
I am a researcher and editor with a background in ecology. I am raising funds on behalf of Dr. Malgorzata Arlet (Poland) who works in collaboration with Professor Mewa Singh (India) and Professor Lynne Isbell (USA). I am a project associate as a fundraiser and grant writer.
All proceeds of this fundraiser go directly to the Thenmala Macaque Project, which focuses on the behavior and conservation of bonnet macaques living in and around the Thenmala Ecotourism Center in Kerala, India. Please scroll to the end for information on how this money will be spent and how money will be transferred from this fundraiser to the Principal Investigator.* No raffles, sweepstakes, giveaways, or returns on investment are offered in exchange for any donations made to this GoFundMe.
Who are these monkeys?
Bonnet macaques are a species of monkey that weigh around 9-14 pounds in adulthood, eat fruits, nuts, and insects, and live 20-25 years in the wild. They are highly social, living in communities called ‘troops’ of around 30 members, where they collectively raise their young, form bonds and hierarchies, and even form coalitions to fight for who leads the troop. They form matrilineal societies, meaning the highest ranking female leads the troop, and it is common for the daughter or granddaughter of a matriarch to take charge when the matriarch dies. Bonnet macaques have been seen adopting infants whose mothers have died, and there is evidence that mothers may grieve for lost infants and close relatives.
Even though their troops are matrilineal, males in the troop form coalitions and a power structure of their own, which determines who their mating partners will be, who leads the defense of the troop, and which males are allowed to become a part of the troop. When males born in a troop mature, they find a new troop to live with, whereas females stay with their troop their entire lives.
What is the conflict?
Human-monkey conflict is widespread in India. As the human population grows, so does its need for resources and space. This results in a loss of habitat for monkeys as it is transformed to meet the demands of people. Moreover, increased human population results in higher vehicular traffic and infrastructure such as power lines. In Thenmala, there are numerous accidents where monkeys were fatally hit by vehicles or electrocuted, both of which occur while the monkeys navigate their range using roads and electric wires. There are also deaths due to choking on plastic and suspected poisonings either due to human negligence or intent. From February 2020 to October 2021 alone, 30 of the 47 infants born in the two troops the research team study died, most due to human-monkey conflict. Five infants were orphaned, and only one, named ‘Thor’, continues to survive in the absence of his mother.
Muscan is an infant whose left hand is paralyzed, likely due to electrocution. Injuries like this make it more difficult for the infant to hold onto their mother or move, affecting their chances of survival.
In addition to fatalities, some individuals lose limbs or tails from electrocution, which often results in a struggle for that individual to survive. The presence of humans in macaque habitats can also result in a dietary shift, as monkeys are forced to forage for human food, which may result in poorer health. This foraging can cause resentment in the humans living in these settlements, and intentional poisonings have been observed in other macaque species at other sites.
Noyong is an infant with an infection in their right hand. Aside from limiting mobility, the infection poses a serious risk to Noyong's life. The cause of Noyong's injury is unknown, but infections after electrocution injuries are common.
Bonnet macaques are considered ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning that unless locals find ways to coexist with these monkeys, they are at risk of becoming endangered and one day extinct. Studying a species that is not yet endangered allows this research group to understand the reasons for their decline and how best to conserve them before it is too late to reverse the damage caused.
Why is this location so important?
The Thenmala Ecotourism Center is the first ecotourism center in India. The role of ecotourism centers is to allow visitors to experience rare or endangered ecosystems and learn about the importance of conserving these areas in a way that is safe for both wildlife and visitors. Thenmala Ecotourism Center provides guided tours across walkways that prevent damage to the ecosystem and provide protection from the multiple species of venomous snakes and other dangerous wildlife. They also offer classes, activities, and events that teach visitors about the unique animal and plant life found in the region, as well as how they can help preserve such a rare and unique environment.
Built near an existing town and reservoir, this site has historically been a location of conflict between humans and monkeys. While the ecotourism center aims to mitigate this conflict, it persists, mainly to the detriment of the monkeys. By studying bonnet macaques in this setting, the research group is able to not only study mother-infant interactions in the context of human-monkey conflict but also support the mission of the Thenmala Ecotourism Center by providing insight into how effective their conservation efforts are and develop new conservation methods.
What does the research team want to do?
One of the most important bonds formed in bonnet macaques is between a mother and her infant. While this bond is strongest during the first few weeks of life, it persists for 6-10 months until the infant is weaned. This relationship is where infants learn to forage, avoid threats, form social bonds, and heavily influences the social circles the infants will be a part of as adults. While the primary aim of the project has been to study maternal care and personality development of infants, an increase in human-animal conflict in recent years has led the research team to focus on conservation.
Through the money raised from this fundraiser, the researchers aim to construct canopy bridges across high-traffic areas and power lines that will allow monkeys to move from one place to another with little risk. Additionally, they will conduct educational workshops for residents in collaboration with the local Forest Department to raise awareness about the importance of conserving this vulnerable species.
Lastly, these funds allow the researchers to continue behavioral data collection on mothers and infants to better understand the role of human stressors on the reproduction of female monkeys and the mortality of their infants. Long-term studies such as this allow them to answer many more questions than any individual study can. With years of data from an ongoing study, they can look at large-scale and long-term patterns, which provide insights into new conservation measures and how to deploy current conservation efforts most effectively.
What does your money do?
This fundraiser goal will:
- Fund 2 research assistants and a project manager to continue their research for six months.**
- Provide the materials, labor, and installation for ten canopy bridges, which will be installed strategically to minimize accidents due to electrocution and vehicle collisions.
- Support four community workshops to educate residents and visitors about the importance of conservation efforts to protect bonnet macaques.
Any funds received over the goal will be strategically applied to maximize the benefits of research and conservation efforts:
- $1,052 will fund the research team for an additional month
- $80 will fund one additional canopy bridge
- $50 will fund one additional community workshop
If donors significantly exceed the fundraiser goal, the research team plans to hire additional researchers and expand the scope of their experiment to additional troops.***
* Proceeds from this fundraiser will be transferred from an account owned by me created specifically for the purpose in the United States (in USD) to a Polish account (in PLN) owned by Dr. Malgorzata Arlet. Funds will be transferred either in a lump sum once the goal is reached or in installments based on the needs of the project.
** Compensation for the team’s field researchers is above the average monthly wage in the region, twice the minimum wage in the state, and significantly more than Master’s students in nearby universities are paid on scholarship to perform similar research.
*** Several nearby troops have already been identified as candidates for future research, and one troop already has all members identified in preparation. If the fundraising goal is significantly exceeded, I will update donors here on the research team’s specific plans.
**** Trained research assistants took all photos featured at a safe distance from the monkeys in accordance with standard ethical requirements for primate research in the field and all applicable requirements put forth by local governments and affiliated universities. All photos are property of the Thenmala Macaque Project.