O n e    D a y    A t    C a m p    4 1

The alarm clock sounds. It’s four o’clock in the morning. I get out of my tent, trying not to wake up everybody else in camp with the noise the zipper of my tent makes. Everybody else sleeps in hammocks, but I never got used to them. The morning air is cool, and the sky is still dark and full of stars. I wrap myself in my blanket and lay in my hammock, and wait. Soon I go back to sleep, but this time it is a very light sleep, and somehow my ears remain wide awake. At 4:30, I wake up again; this time it’s not my alarm clock, but the howler monkeys. I listen to them, but they seem to me more than a kilometer away, and I know I won’t be able to get to them before they stop howling. I lay awake for a while; at 4: 40 another troop of monkeys starts howling. This group is much closer. Quickly I jump out of my hammock, put on my rubber boots, grab my bag and flashlight, and run into the forest. I walk very fast, hoping that the monkeys will continue howling. As I approach them, I slow down a little, so that I don’t make too much noise that might scare them. This time, I remain on the trail, getting as close as I can to the troop, to determine in which direction they are, as well as their approximate distance from the trail. After a minute or two of howling, the monkeys go back to sleep, but other troops are calling. I go back to camp, and back to sleep.

I wake up again at 6 or 6:30 and have breakfast with everybody else. Then I take my rubber gloves and plastic bags and go back to the spot where I located the monkey troop. As I approach the spot I can already feel the smell. The monkeys are probably gone by now, but what interests me remains. Sniffing around, I walk off the trail, some 20 or 30 meters into the forest and finally I find it: the dung! I feel happy, because it is not every day that I am able to locate a monkey troop at dawn. When it rains, for example, most howlers do not howl, or the rain washes away the dung. And I need a lot of dung to set up all my experiments with seeds and dung beetles. I put on the gloves, and collect every single piece of dung, and all the seeds. I go back to camp, with my day’s harvest, and weigh it. Then I take out all the seeds and keep the "clean” dung in a plastic bag to prevent it from drying out.

Ellen’s Interview/Journals One Day At Camp 41—    1     2