I’m Sophie, a Wildlife Conservation undergraduate on a placement year from the UK. For the last six months I’ve been working at the PPP as a primate research assistant, focusing on the samango monkeys living at Lajuma.
As a primate assistant, you get to know your monkeys pretty intimately. My main job has been to collect behavioural data on full-day follows, sticking with the troops from dawn until dusk. Spending a whole day out with the habituated monkeys means you get to see a wide variety of behaviour, almost always including something very weird. I’ve seen a samango try to eat a chameleon, seen a juvenile get licked by a bushbuck, and seen a crowned eagle swoop in and try to carry a monkey off. At the end of every follow day, there’s always been something ridiculous or unbelievable that has happened to tell everyone about in the office or over dinner.
Some of the samangos have ear tags or wonky tails which you can identify them by. Within my first week I already had a favourite samango (Polo, an adult female with a little hole in her ear who I got to name!). Learning to recognise an animal from just a little tear or scar has been a really useful skill, which allows you to get to know the individuals even better. The day in November when Blue-White had the first baby samango of the season was amazing, and over the last few months I’ve watched the new generation grow up and develop.
Follow days can be very long, and spending up to 14 hours a day out in the bush is a challenge in itself. Learning to navigate, using GPSs and dodging acacias has been a big part of my time out here. But there can’t be many places more spectacular than Lajuma to get lost in. The Soutpansberg Mountains are stunning, with magnificent mistbelt forest and winding crystal-clear streams. Following the samangos leads you into patches of the bush no one else ever visits, giving you the chance to come across the most elusive wildlife. Whilst working at the PPP I’ve seen leopards, black mambas, a honey badger, genets, bush babies, dassies, several different kinds of mongoose, bushbuck and red duikers. It’s been a privilege to get to know a landscape so well and to explore it independently.
I’ve loved working with the team out here, where staff and volunteers alike are knowledgeable, passionate and funny. Coming back from a monkey follow, I always know I can count on someone to either laugh hysterically or sympathize with me about how a samango pooped on my head. I’m going to miss the sunny days, swimming in waterfalls, but most of all the bush banter in our little camp in the mountains.