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Jonny Miller: Atlantic Rainforest Capuchins

I’m a conservation scientist from the UK. I originally worked in biomedical sciences on clinical medicine trials before changing my career towards my passion for primates and conservation.

Name: Dr. Jonny Miller

Species: Tufted Capuchin (Cebus libidinosus paraguayanus)

Location: Atlantic Forests, Paraguay

Twitter: @JonnyTropics

Bio: I’m a conservation scientist from the UK. I originally worked in biomedical sciences on clinical medicine trials before changing my career towards my passion for primates and conservation.

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NatureSpy is a non-profit organisation that aims to research and protect wildlife whilst engaging local communities, primarily using camera traps. NatureSpy supports Discover Conservation. Find out more...

Research Site:

Laguna Blanca Nature Reserve in Paraguay, South America, which includes habitats as diverse as subtropical rainforest and cactus-dotted, grassy savannas. I work in a subtropical moist fragment of the Atlantic Forest, which supports an amazing volume and diversity of life that includes mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and plants.

Here it is mainly very dense with low vegetation but it opens up in places into lush, high-canopy areas perfect for observing capuchins in the trees. Unfortunately, due to agriculture and cattle ranching, just 7% of the Atlantic forest remains – and largely in small, vulnerable fragments like the area I work in.

Target Species:

The Paraguayan tufted capuchin (Cebus libidinosus paraguayanus), a subspecies of capuchin that has never been studied in the wild before. Their natural behavior and their habitat and dietary preferences have never been reported. Nor does anyone really have a good idea of how many there are, but due to the fragmentation of the Atlantic Forest it is expected to be low. It is crucial for their wellbeing therefore to understand how they live, how they are being affected by deforestation, and what we can do to ensure that there continues to be enough of the appropriate habitat to maintain a healthy population.

The population I work with is non-habituated so the capuchins are still quite wary of observers. They are remarkably inquisitive though – at the moment they tend to spend more time studying us than vice versa!

ABOVE : Difficult subjects! One of Jonny’s tufted capuchin photographs, they have so far proved very difficult to capture!
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NatureSpy is a non-profit organisation that aims to research and protect wildlife whilst engaging local communities, primarily using camera traps. NatureSpy supports Discover Conservation. Find out more...
"Just 7% of the Atlantic forest remains – and largely in small, vulnerable fragments like the area I work in."

Highlights:

Firstly, the natural beauty of the forest makes it a real pleasure to work in. The indigenous culture is fascinating too, and we’ve really been welcomed to the area by the local people.

Together, these create a real sense of adventure. Most of all though, are the fascination and excitement I feel every time I get to watch the capuchins in action.

Challenges:

There are a lot of very dangerous animals in the forest, including deadly vipers. However, these tend to be elusive. It’s the smaller creatures that are more challenging – the mosquitoes are a constant irritation, and a bite from any one of various types of large ant can be extremely painful. Macheteing through the forest can be monotonous and tiring, but the sense of adventure returns when I remind myself where I am.

TOP : Jonny Miller and colleagues in the field, Paraguay. BOTTOM: The Atlantic Rainforest at sunset.
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Top Tips for research in this environment:

1) Invest in a camel pack – it makes keeping hydrated in the jungle much more convenient.

2) Unless you’re wading through water, wear non-waterproof boots in humid forests – the rain is a lot better than the heat and sweat that comes from wearing waterproof boots!

3) Before you leave for the fieldwork, find out as much as possible about the challenges of working in that particular environment. For example, talk to other fieldworkers and to the staff of specialist travel stores.

4) Sometimes you don’t always get the data you wanted – remember that every disappointment in research has a lesson in it for the next time.

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