South of the Nariva Swamp, after a rough drive from the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road, can be found Bush Bush Forest Reserve. Expecting there to soon be a primate rehabilitation project, Sinead Stewart has chosen to write her final Masters of Science research paper on the ‘Density of the Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculas insulanus) in the Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary, Trinidad, WI’. The aim is, “To calculate density of this species and compare it to other sites in Trinidad and the neotropics.” Her findings should help clarify some of the behaviours, and also the status, of the species, thereby helping to inform future conservation decisions.
Guided by Dr. Luke V. Rostant, Lecturer in Ecology, The University of The West Indies, Sinead has been regularly striking out into the bush, making what would become a total of thirteen excursions between the end of August to the beginning of November, 2018. Tough logistics are exacerbated by her living on the opposite side of the island, in Port of Spain, and needing to arrive into the bush at dawn. “Monkeys move early so the earlier the better. We actually found that when we start the walk before seven, we got more sightings.” The 2018 rainy season—which had only recently caused heavy flooding across Trinbago—added further complications.
The method of her research involves following the firetrails maintained by the Forestry Division of the Environmental Management Authority, keeping her eyes and ears sharp for evidence of the somewhat elusive monkeys. Upon monkey-sighting, Global Positioning Satellite data is noted, and the perpendicular distance of the sighting from the trail is recorded using a handheld rangefinder. The hikes can take roughly three hours, with about seven kilometres of walking. On rainy days, the firetrails are prone to flooding or turning into sticky mud which can steal boots.
Sinead took the initiative of recruiting her own support team, including her friends and fellow ecology students, Anupa Puran and Bria De Costa with her on a few of her excursions.
Her completed paper will be presented in December, 2018.