a year with the macaques of Ko Ram Island begins

I started this post 3 days ago, but the internet connection was hopelessly slowww. Bought a broadband subscription now so it actually loads pages that are not just in html 😀 So anyway…

Sawadeekaa (: Writing from my beach house (yup.) somewhere in Prachuab Khiri Khan, Thailand. I say “somewhere” because the house has no real address, there’s an address for administrative purposes but from what I gather it’s just an address to the general area. We were buying some furniture and appliances from Home Pro a couple of days ago, and had to draw a map for the home delivery guy. Must be standard practice because they had a form with a dedicated space for map drawing!  #experiencinglocalculture

I’m going to be here for the next year or so, on my quest for Permanent Head Damage, fully immersed in finding out how baby monkeys become masters at cracking shelled seafoods with nothing but humble stones and their god-given intelligence and dexterity, thus keeping family traditions alive, and restoring honour to the name of long-tailed macaques, who have for too long languished in the shadows of charismatic chimpanzees and capuchins and been maligned by people who destroy their habitats then fault them for being the brilliant and adaptable beings that they are. By now it should be apparent that I have just downed a cup of coffee, and am not a regular coffee drinker.

This is Kaimook, which means pearl, showing you one of the ways in which macaques use tools. This is what we’ve called “axe hammering”, where the macaque chips open oysters that grow on rocks, usually with the point of a smaller tool. Think of it like a person using a chisel or a pickaxe. This form of stone-tool use requires much more precision and control of the tool than, *ahem* what capuchins and chimpanzees do – placing a nut on an anvil and using a big stone to smash it. Macaques do that too with shellfish that aren’t attached to rocks, but this widespread use of axing is so far unique to macaques. This is actually really amazing, and these macaques will provide valuable information for scientists trying to understand how early human tool technology evolved from crude pounding tools to precisely flaked stone axes and spearheads. AREN’T THEY JUST GREAT 😀


Since i’ve been here my days have started anywhere between 5 – 630am (explaining the new coffee-drinking habit) to catch a boat out to the island where the magical monkeys live. The island is officially called Ko Ram Island, and a Ko Ram is Thai for “serow”, a now endangered ungulate that was present on the island until the locals ate them all (is what the park head says). In tourist brochures the island is often touted as “monkey island”, and there are boat services that take tourists out to the island to feed monkeys (more on this in a future post). Here is a view of the island from the mainland, it’s the big one with the sun rising gloriously from behind it.


There are about 60 monkeys on our side of the island, and I am in the process of recognising each one. My advisor has given them all Thai names, and so  I get to learn a few more Thai words at the same time. The adults are pretty easy, as they’ve all grown into their different face and body shapes, and sport facial hair of varying shaggyness, but the juveniles are as usual, the most difficult because they’re small and run circles around you. After 6 days of observation I’m at about 40%, pretty confident that i’ll get there soon! I’ve also been trying out my sampling protocols, and collecting preliminary data to see what needs to be tweaked and refined.

Gotta go code the video data that i’ve collected today, and hopefully will find the time and inspiration to journal the challenges and rewards of field research (: ta.





2 responses to “a year with the macaques of Ko Ram Island begins

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Islands’ Monkeys: Tioman vs. Sentosa – News Watch

  2. Pingback: Thai monkeys’ stone tool use threatened by humans | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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