It wasn’t my intention not to update, but over the past two weeks I’ve been busy in training and preparing to start data collection. I’ve passed all the inter-observer reliability tests and safety training, so I’m ready to go! Because neither of those are particularly interesting, I figured I would hold off on updating until I could get to the more exciting things. I swear I haven’t been entirely like the red ruffed as seen above. Lazy lemur.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned an important lesson in “killing your darlings,” and truth be told, it’s worth it. From the ethogram I originally designed to the actual project itself, I’ve cut out a lot of things since coming up with the plan and it’s been for the better. If there is anything I wish for people, it’s that they have someone who’s good at cutting the excess from projects, proposals, and other things like I’ve been lucky enough to have. Originally, I had a two page ethogram–which was cut down to essentially food-related behaviors and then five others. In doing so, it maximizes the time in which I’m able to collect data.
I’ve been learning a lot about lemurs too. For example: red ruffed lemurs possess a sufficient amount of knowledge to distract a researcher and attempt to steal things. They tend to work in teams when they do this. Mongoose lemurs are also particularly good at catching you off-guard as well and will exploit this in order to have a free ride from one tree to the next, with a “human island” in between. For anyone that suggests lemurs are not intelligent, they clearly have never worked with a lemur before. I’m also surprised about how much I’ve come to really like ring-tailed lemurs, as well. It’s not that I thought I would dislike them, but I expected to be more ambivalent. Instead, they have quickly become my favorites and the ones I’m most excited to watch. The ones here are very diverse in personality; there are three that are particularly aggressive and there are also a few you will have to find yourself tracking in between scans just to ensure a healthy distance, lest you desire a small lemur paw touching your tripod chair. (And of course, we don’t want that because it manipulates behavior and data you’re trying to collect.)
The differences between here and La Suerte are particularly notable. Aside from the obvious of living in America still versus Costa Rica and the privileges and drawbacks of both, and that the primates here are still captive (even if semi-free-ranging) compared to wild, there’s a large difference in just walking around the field. For example, in La Suerte, I was most concerned about eating enough to sustain the forest walks, being able to breathe in a smaller forest due to allergies, and just being able to see the primates. Whereas, here, I’m more concerned about faceplanting into a massive spider’s web and attempting to avoid getting destroyed by mosquitoes (I found it more tolerable in Costa Rica, however, I invested in 100% DEET lotion versus the 35% DEET bug spray I use here), ticks, and fire ants. When I worry about potential diseases, I was never worried about malaria (the area in which La Suerte is located has not had a case of malaria in some time, to my knowledge), though I was terrified of having rabies (due to an incident of waking up with a dead bat in my bed). Here, I’m anxious about West Nile virus, encephalitis, and lyme disease.
But there are a lot of similarities too: attempting to avoid stepping on or nearby snakes or other wildlife, humidity and hydration are two major issues every researcher endures, and in the mornings, the red ruffed and mongoose lemurs can be particularly difficult to identify while 15m+ (or ~49+ ft.) in the air.
I don’t think I’d trade anything else in the world for this, though. If anything, this experience has really emboldened me and convinced me this is the field I was meant to be in and makes me voracious to learn more about primates–be it lemurs or any other species. As such, I’ve been doing a lot of work researching graduate schools in my down time. I’ve been contacting professors left and right (so far, I’ve had either positive responses or none at all–a good sign, perhaps?) and I’m doing some of my statements of purpose now so I can get more revisions in and make them better before applying. My goal is to have five programs picked out by the end of the next two weeks so I can contact letter of recommendation writers. So far, I have 3/5 and I’m looking into a few more to close that gap and get moving on.
Field work is different depending on where you go and what you intend to study, but there are some consistencies that are particularly rewarding. In what other career path could I say I watched lemurs run and tackle each other for twenty minutes?