The Chan Chich Trails


View from the top of one of the knolls (i.e., former Mayan structure) surrounding the compound

Day by day I’ve been exploring the trails around Chan Chich Lodge, and during each excursion I find some kind of surprise. I tend to tag along Seth’s bird outings not only to learn about the birds fluttering about, but also to increase the chances of spotting some type of wildlife mammal.  Certain trails are better for finding the animals that I hope to see (such as a Margay or a White-nosed Coati), but I have diversified my search in order to avoid discriminating against all the other stunning wildlife at Chan Chich and to take into consideration my birder companion’s interests.

Climbing to the top of the grassy mounds (concealing Mayan structures) that surround the central hotel area is one option that offers an elevated perspective of the lodge and allows for a less constricted view of the trees that attract Brown-hooded Parrots, White-collared Seedeaters, and Tropical Kingbirds. Most of the knolls have a bench at the top, which I believe serve more as a scenic embellishment than a respite from the twenty stair-step “hike.” At one of the mounds there is a wooden platform on the edge of the hill that provides a private outlook towards the forest canopy. I found this outlook at sunset, which made the discovery all the more memorable, and I will not reveal its precise location to encourage visitors to find it on their own. Continue reading

Notes from the Garden: Building a house or a vegetable cage?

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Measuring the length of our new monkey-protected area in the organic farm at Cardamom County

Building a 15 meter x 20 meter vegetable cage is no small feat. The last estimate we had was that it would cost about 4 lakhs, which is apparently the cost of a small house. A lakh is a unit in the South Asian numbering system equivalent to 100,000. So, is 400,000 rupees worth it for a vegetable cage? I think spending energy to get a smarter design would be more worth it.

With the help of Raxa Collective’s head engineer, it is very likely we will be able to lower that cost significantly. As I talked about in my post about quantifying farm-to-table, I think that with a combination of lowering the cost and then taking advantage of the monkey-protected area as vigorously as possible with efficient use of the space, it will be worth it. There are elements of farm-to-table that are not quantifiable but can be seen in the overall conservation story of supporting smart land-use practices.

At the end of the day, at least the food here is locally sourced mostly from the Cumbum vegetable market in Tamil Nadu. This market is only about 25 km away and the farmers in that market are relatively close. This is far better then the way most food is sourced in the United States.

In the United States, eating local is a challenge. Most agriculture in the states is for corn and soybeans, rather than vegetables. And “local” is difficult when the local environment has few green spaces left, let alone farmland. So even though we don’t have “monkey-challenges” to growing our food locally in the states, we have monocultures and rapid suburbanization keeping us farther and farther away from fresh food.  Continue reading

Bonnet Macaques and Humanity

Anyone who has been to Thekkady is familiar with their extroverted nature. They screech and cackle, chase and fight each other in the most public spaces possible, and love to make themselves a nuisance. Bonnet Macaques are ubiquitous, quite probably because of how outgoing and shameless they are – and they seem to like their families big.

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Lion-Tailed Macaque

Around Cardamom County, we’re used to seeing bonnet macaques, those overly friendly little grayish-brown rascals that scurry about causing the cute kinds of mischief that might be typical of a cartoon character. More recently, we’ve been visited almost daily by small troops of nilgiri langurs, endangered primates with a little less personality and a bit more intimidation factor. Having grown relatively familiar with these two species, I’d thought I’d seen all the monkeys that the Periyar had to offer. How naïve of me…

Allow me to introduce to you, the lion-tailed macaque.

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Territorial Tensions

Every day since my arrival at Cardamom County, I’ve either seen or woken up to the sounds of monkeys scurrying across my roof, launching themselves from their tree branches onto my tiled terrace, and looking curiously into my room as if there were giant bananas inside. As it turns out, they can’t really see inside unless the lights are on, so it might have been their own fuzzy reflections they were so intrigued by – the narcissists. Whatever the case may be, something is different in the woods these days, Continue reading

Post-Estuarial Paddling +

In “Kayak Surfing with a Friend,” I described the surfing in words and included a short video. Here is some longer and better footage of the experience, this time including Pierre (brown hair), me (black hair), and Bismar (green shirt). We have concluded, after experimentation with the paddles and waves, that this activity would be a great post-estuary kayak experience if the tide is right. Since I had mentioned this to Bismar (a Morgan’s Rock guide) he decided to join Pierre and me after completing his estuary tour with some guests, so that he could see for himself.

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Anteating Howler Butterflies

While walking to Morgan’s Rock’s lobby yesterday morning, Pierre heard some rustling in the bushes on our right. We looked for the source and were stunned to see an anteater standing on its hind legs, spreading its arms and swaying about like a drunkard but in fact trying to dissuade us from attacking it by trying to appear larger (it was bigger than a very fat house cat, but not by much). I immediately pulled my video camera from my pocket and started filming, and although the anteater had ceased his humorous movements and started climbing a very thin sapling, the footage was incredibly fortunate and very entertaining.


Since the tree he decided to grasp was so young, it started to bend as he climbed higher, reminding me of cartoons where characters are catapulted out of the branches after a certain point. The anteater was less than a meter away and at times looked like a teddy bear, but as a wild animal—and one with claws in full display at that—we refrained from touching him and were satisfied with a video. Eventually, the formicary raider descended the sapling and chose a better escape tree (in a pose reminiscent of the boa’s in a previous post), and we left happy with the sighting of what I thought I’d only be able to see in the summer when foliage was less dense. Continue reading

Unexpected Visitors

This afternoon, just after lunchtime, the staff and guests of Cardamom County were greeted with a thrilling surprise: the unannounced arrival of three Nilgiri Langur,  the haunting, strong and motile black monkey endemic to the Western Ghats. I ran into Gourvjit and the resort’s driver, Baburaj, watching from the parking lot as they jumped from tree to tree, and as we lingered they took the bold step of running and leaping from roof to roof through the resort– over the lobby, over the open-air bar, past porches and rooms and into the back of the property, where they perched in a jack fruit tree. I followed after them, was hissed at by one, and managed to catch this video of another from an appropriate distance.

The thick, shiny black of its fur and the shock of bronze colored hair that haloes its head lend the Nilgiri langur a mysterious and dramatic appearance, especially when bounding through the otherwise calm resort grounds (though I couldn’t help but, at times, think that they looked as if they were each wearing Donald Trump’s tupee). It is by habit a shy, tree-dwelling monkey (in stark comparison to the brazen macaque) and markedly wary of human interaction. Nilgiri langur have been hunted in this area for their flesh, which is considered to have medicinal properties, and for their fur, which is used to cover drums. Baburaj said they have not been on property for two years and that this threesome was likely a reconnaissance team of sorts, so it seems we’re likely not to run into them again outside of the Reserve. But to get so close to them, to watch them interact and find their way in this environment, which is wholly different from their usual station 60m up in the thick of the Periyar, was a truly rare experience. (And they scare the macaque away to boot!)

Spider Monkey Threats

On one of our walks through the forest, Pierre and I found another green-backed spider (see my previous post) that spewed some white droplets at us. Unless we had an unusual double coincidence of interrupting arachnid bowel movements, I now believe that the spiders meant to deter us with the liquid. Whether it was excrement, poison, or liquid silk material remains to be seen.

Later on the trail we reached the main road and were about to pass under a group of huge mango trees when several mangoes thumped loudly onto the ground in front of us after the branches crashed around a bit. We looked warily into the trees to see a group of fleeing spider monkeys, which are very timid and don’t enjoy being anywhere near humans. Through the camera’s zoom, I was able to spot a mother with her baby hanging on her back. She was bouncing up and down, shaking a branch to startle us away. Once her mate arrived next to her, she left, and about half a dozen other monkeys followed her, causing a further bombardment of unripe (hard and dangerous) mangoes to hit the road at our feet.

The hazardous fruit attracts all three Morgan’s Rock species of monkey (howler, white-faced, spider), so it is a good place to watch them enjoy the mangoes while making sure to not stand too close to the trees. With the addition of the muñeco trees that I wrote about in another post, the roads should be great places to spot the tree-bound mammals.