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On the first day of 2011, I’m looking back at last year: I made the decision to start this blog and simultaneously do my best to educate others and myself in primatology from the perspective of an undergraduate student. I think I’ve done a pretty solid job of this and I hope I can do more this upcoming year.

Instead of looking back, I’m going to look ahead. This year, my main goal is to work on presenting better quality articles–explained in a way that both trained anthropologists/primatologists and non-trained folk can understand and get something out of what I write.

I’ll be looking more into ecological models of behavior, as I’ll be taking a course in the subject and I’ll do my best to write some articles for a primatological perspective. I’m hoping we’ll go over things such as Wrangham’s model of female-bonded social groups, but it all depends on how the professor (who is also an anthropologist) decides to take the course.

I’ll also be taking courses in medical anthropology and environmental health, so expect a little bit more of a human primate perspective. I’ve been interested in medical anthropology since I’ve taken my first anthropology course, so I’ll be really excited to finally be able to learn about this a little more. Over the past few years, I’ve really been debating heavily between primatology and medical anthropology, so a personal goal for myself this year is to decide which I’d like to learn a little more about.

This does not mean I believe I can only pick one exclusively; if I decide to go for medical anthropology, I’d like to take an environmental health perspective and examine the relationship between humans and other animals and maybe use it for conservation purposes. For example, in some areas, spider monkeys are used to treat rheumatism and gorillas are consumed by pregnant women to ensure a healthy child. By receiving more training, perhaps I can use both a medical anthropology and primatology background together as a sort of “cultural broker” to avoid destroying the native culture but also having conservation interests in mind as well.

That said, I intend to look at folk medicine and other aspects of anthropology a little closer this year as well. Hopefully, I’ll be hosting Four Stone Hearth again in the near future!

As far as other personal goals aside from deciding what I’d like to go to graduate school for–I’m also going to do my best to stay as happy as possible with what I’m given; I live a good life and I know I can appreciate it some more. Additionally, I intend to use this year off to do some amazing things and maybe get some traveling in. I’ll be graduating in May of this year, and while I’m not ready to be done (I’m hoping to take a statistics course and maybe another course or two on the side), I am going to do things to bolster my resume. I’d like to get a 4.0 GPA this semester, but I’d be happy if it was above a 3.5 too.

With these things in mind, here are the five most popular posts from the blog this year. I’m hoping I can continue making quality posts like these in the future!:

5. “Oil, Blood and Fire.” — This article was written about a lesser known oil spill that’s been going on for years now in the Niger Delta and affects many species beyond just primates, though, the Niger Delta red colobus monkey is at risk because of the effects from this ecological catastrophe.

4. Monkeys on my Mind. — This was written shortly before I left for Costa Rica and experienced field work for myself. Although I’m not sure if field work is for me, I’d definitely like to give it another go before ruling it out completely. Perhaps, instead of Central America, next time I’d like to try somewhere in Asia as I’ve always really loved Asian culture and it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

3. Captive Breeding. — This was based on a paper I’d written for my Primate Conservation course and I think it’s one of the better papers I’ve written. That said, I’m pleased it was such a well-received article because I think it is a very critical aspect of primate conservation–captive breeding is a necessary component right now, but we also need to examine the ultimate causes in addition to this potentially proximate solution.

2. Monkey Day 2010: 10 days and counting. — I was really happy about how many people responded so favorably to Monkey Day! I was able to get some really good articles and took my first jump into Four Stone Hearth with the follow-up to this request.

1. Feminism and Primatology: A Female Primate’s Work is Never Done. — This was the most popular article this last year and I was really happy to write about it. I think feminism is a critical perspective for primatology and this is one of the sciences that really embraces its female scientists. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up on this, but I think this is my favorite article I’ve written, and I’m glad so many others agree.

I hope your 2011 will be rewarding and thank you for continuing to read This is Serious Monkey Business for another year!

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Dear great apes, lesser apes, monkeys, prosimians–one and all–Monkey Day 2010 is upon is in 10 more days. In order to celebrate this fantastic holiday, This is Serious Monkey Business will be going all out for this. Here are some of the details of what I plan on doing for Monkey Day 2010–all are welcome!

Monkey Day 2010: be there or get ready for the shit flinging. (Image from MonkeyDay.com)

Monkey Day Blog Carnival: I’ll be hosting a one-day (annual?) blog carnival specifically about primates, be it: conservation, behavior, photography, anthropology (cultural, archaeology, and linguistics are totally welcomed!), zoology, psychology, short stories, personal stories related to primates–whatever you are willing to send in will be on here.

Guest Blogging/Battle of the Primate Blogs?: So this one depends heavily on my fellow bloggers–for those interested, I was thinking of having a guest blogger every day for a week up until the event. Each day, an individual could have a post about a primate conservation issue (be it an organization, issue concerning conservation, whatever) where they fundraise for primate conservation and the winner gets to choose which charity organization to donate the raised funds towards. Unfortunately, I’m on a very tight schedule as finals are rapidly approaching so I will definitely need some help on this one if others are interested.

I’m totally open to other ideas from any other interested people out there, but if you’re definitely interested, you’re welcome to post on this entry or you can e-mail me directly at macacaque@gmail.com about any ideas.

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Gratitude: Part 1.

Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it, everyone’s hashing of their thankfulness. A lot of people do it on that day, but I like to do it a few days later on my birthday, November 30th (If you want to be cool and do something for me for my birthday, go through the ASP website if you do your holiday shopping on Amazon.com, use the link provided on their website. A portion of the proceeds go toward primate conservation.) I can’t really put something like this on Facebook or Twitter, and nor do I really want to. So, instead, I’ll put it up here.

I do it on my birthday because I think it puts it into perspective that a year has gone by and I like to make sure I become a little wiser and more grateful for my life.

This past year, I’ve had an acquaintance (a brilliant young man who would have been a fine foreign language educator), a relative (my great-uncle, Terry, who I remember as a really sweet and caring man), and my significant other’s cousin (an amazing individual with unbelievable aviation talents) pass away. It’s been sad and the end of October and November have been kind of shitty–but above all else, I feel grateful to be alive and to have known those people which inspire me to make me want to do something meaningful with my life–be it in animal law, anthropology research, or whatever, I just want it to have some positive effect in the world.

I’ve been struggling with some of my classes, but even so, I’m still grateful to be taking them because they are helping me to think outside my normal line of thought and enlighten me to the world–even if I’m going to be kicking and screaming the entire way. So, as much as I hate them, I am grateful for having the ability and the experience of having them.

I’m grateful to be a white, middle-class woman at a R1, Big 10 university where my potential goes as far as I’m willing to carry it. I’m at a university where I’m privileged to be able to have a National Primate Research Center, a primate library, a fantastic anthropology department, and even more phenomenal peers to help me educate myself and learn about the world around me. I have an outstanding advisor that teaches me every class about something new and exciting and reinvigorates my passion for being a compassionate individual. I have a mentor grad student in the department who was the one that really gave my life a purpose and sparked excitement for the first real time I can recall, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

I’m grateful to have support from fellow bloggers; specifically, a few worth mentioning who’ve been extremely supportive and passing on my links and encouraging me to get better are: AlbinoMouse, A Primate of Modern Aspect, DNApes, and time travelling. One, of very special mention, though, is The Prancing Papio, who I like to consider like my fairy blogfather and one of the greatest new friends I’ve made over the past year while educating me and reminding me in so many ways of why being a primatologist is really the best thing I’ve found in my academic career and why I want to continue doing this for the rest of my life; not to mention being a real great ape in passing on my writings to Four Stone Hearth and other places.

I’m grateful to have a really great family–I don’t think they really understand what I want to do and that’s OK. They’re all generally supportive and some have taken interest in what it is I want to study. My dad, in particular has been really great about supporting me in primatology, especially when I decided to try my hand at field research. I’m grateful for my friends who have been really awesome about putting up with my primate adoration–especially over Facebook whenever I see they put pictures up about primates at zoos they visit and I word vomit all over about it.

Serious Monkey (or, well, in this case--Ape) Business between some Homo sapien and a Gorilla gorilla infant. Think: SeriousMonkeyBusiness and her loved ones.

From a Mauss-ian perspective, the people I’ve listed have given me the gift of love, emotional support, and above all else–tolerance. I’m not quite sure my reciprocation is up to snuff with returning, but I like to think I help enrich their lives and help them become better people, so maybe that’s the addition to the gift I can give in return.

I intend to make this a two-part series, but the second part will have to be a little later–it’s the end of the semester and there’s work to be done. Next part will be more monkey business–I promise, but this time around, I wanted to give some credit where it was due. (And pimp off the ASP’s work.)

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With much regret, I will be leaving Costa Rica earlier than expected due to personal reasons. Unfortunately, this means I will not be able to perform my original research project I had intended to do on the mantled howler monkey, or Alouatta palliata.

Fortunately, in my time here in Costa Rica and at La Suerte Biological Field Station, I’ve learned how to start to become a real primatologist. I’ve learned to perform map and compass readings, data collection techniques for plant phenology, feeding ecology, and other methods necessary for primatologists. I’ve met people that are wonderful and I was extremely lucky to have an excellent professor and teaching assistant for the course.

I’m still in love with primatology, as well! A lot of girls (my class had only girls) so far have confessed they have no interest in primatology after this–and good on them; I wish them luck for everything else and I hope they find something that works better for them.

I’ll confess this: I’m not against field work; I’d like to do it again, in fact. However, I don’t think Latin America is the area for me. Instead, I think I’d like to work in Asia. Specifically, China or Japan. I’m not against Africa either. I will also admit that it was extremely difficult for me to actually just see what I was looking at, so maybe next time I’ll focus on a species that’s more terrestrial.

Since I’m not going to be performing a research project in the field, I will probably be doing something in a zoo. I’m all right with this since I can apply what I’ve learned from La Suerte into a project, but I am a little worried for what it calls for. If anyone has any experience for protocols for these sorts of things, or even just experience, I’d really love to hear it.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. I’d be lying if I said it was easy or it wasn’t hard; it sucked to be so hot that you would sweat through your clothes, to be literally in nowhere, to be divebombed by beetles, mosquitoes, cicadas, and other bugs while you were trying to take a shower or go to the bathroom, or (lucky me) waking up with a dead bat in your bed. And I realize, for a field station–mine is incredibly well-provisioned with working toilets and other “luxuries” which are rampant in the U.S., but there was so much more in all that too–I’ll never get an experience like that where I can just walk outside and get an alarm call by mantled howler monkeys, take a few steps in and see bowl-shaped fungi that had a little miniature ecosystem within itself, to see birds that I could only see in zoos back at home.

It was amazing and rewarding; there’s no place even remotely as a natural beauty as Costa Rica–but there’s no place like home either.

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Monkeys on my Mind.

I leave for Costa Rica in two weeks. Excitement and nervousness are an understatement at this point as I’m still trying to scrounge up last minute things–hiking boots, thick socks, laundry stuff–nit-picky, last minute things that are all important. Another thing I’ve been trying to do is get a phone; from what I understand, all calls I receive at the field site will have to be emergencies and that will absolutely not fly with my family, so I’ve also been tasked with ordering an international phone for a month.

Since I’ve figured out a potential idea for a research project, I’ve become more excited than ever to go. In my head, I’ve already been planning out how I’m going to determine my data since what I’ve got in store is all behavioral-based so I’ll need to potentially create my own scoring sheet. Not to mention, running around in the jungle will probably make me extremely physically fit considering I haven’t really had to scale Bascom Hill this year.  But, I think the most exciting for me, is being able to do this with people that are interested in the subject and want to be there. I don’t have a lot of people I can get excited about primates with (I’m sure my significant other and friends all want to punch me in the throat with how much I can go on), so this will be awesome for me.

And since finals ended for me on last Thursday, I’ve also been turning my attention to graduate school applications. I’ve signed up to take the GRE on August 21st and bought myself at least three GRE prep books so far. I’m a little intimidated about working with math again after a huge hiatus, but here’s hoping I can do well. I’m also incredibly nervous about my grades, but that’s another story entirely.

I’m looking into a lot of Anthropology programs since I don’t think I have the requisites available for Biology programs. I’m starting to create my lists of grad schools I’d like to attend and I’ve got a decent size so far. Right now, I think the front-runners for me are: Central Washington University (M.S. in Primate Behavior!), University of Iowa and Iowa State University tied for second, Ohio State University for third, and somewhere in there that I’m also considering: Southern Illinois University, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and University of Texas-San Antonio. I’m not really sure at this point what I can consider to be a reach or safety, so until I apply and find out, they’re all reaches in my book.

I’m absolutely not guaranteed or entitled to a graduate level education, so here’s hoping that doing this work in Costa Rica, at the research lab here as a technician, and my classes will help me get to the next level in primatology.

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In my Primate Conservation course this week, we talked about Dr. Linda Fedigan’s (2010) article on Ethical Issues Faced by Field Primatologists: Asking the Ethical Questions.  And honestly, it really blew my mind and made me think about how I should be considering things when I conduct my research in Costa Rica.

The one thing I liked most about this and I feel some primatologists forget sometimes: non-human primates and primates typically do not exist in an exclusive vacuum. In many cases, primates (non-human and human primates) exist side-by-side and have common interactions–be it through a shared living space, access to necessary resources (think: open water sources and food resources); their interactions are enough to influence disease ecology, behavioral ecology, and the overall function of the ecosystem in which non-human primates and human primates utilize. If this is already seen as invasive by many (and it is), think of the role a foreign researcher plays in attempting to study in a foreign nation; particularly if they are from an affluent nation going towards a more impoverished one.

And it is on that note that I find Fedigan’s article to be at its best: in Appendix B of her article, she devises an example version of a revised protocol sheet for Animal Care Form for Field Studies,

        “Part C. Local people

         1.) List and briefly describe any national or regional laws in the country where your research will take place that are pertinent to your field study of primates (e.g. laws pertaining to human/animal interactions, hunting, the pet trade, extraction of resources, etc.)
        2.) List and briefly describe any cultural traditions in the country where you propose to work that are pertinent to your field study of primates.
        3.) What measures will you take to observe those laws and local customs?”

The considerations to cultural understanding and awareness are what inspire me and excite me the most as a future primatologist; in order to perform the best research possible, you need to understand the environment you’ll be in to some extent. And since, as I’ve stated before, human primates and non-human primates typically don’t exist in a vacuum, the best thing you can do is to understand and work with the people who you’ll be around. At the risk of sounding callous, I think this was the message to learn from Dian Fossey‘s story.

But there isn’t just the cultural understanding that should come with primatology: it should also serve as an education tool. I don’t necessarily think or believe every researcher should make their site a tourist trap or anything like that. But I do believe it is the role of a researcher to attempt to balance the needs of native people (in so much as hunting for subsistence) and the role of their research as a tool for education and conservation (side note: to some extent, I believe all primatologists are conservationists, even captive ones.) Researchers should be willing to take in natives and educate them; instead of dragging in a team from an affluent country, use locals and educate them so maybe they would be willing to take on a greater responsibility of environmental management and protection for their local resources. Because when all is said and done, and a researcher leaves–the natives will still be there. If you can get them interested in protecting instead of hunting to gain money, and instead, try and gain money for protection and conservation (assuming that the local or national government has the funds for such.)

There’s a lot I like about the Fedigan article and I could easily yap about it for days, but here’s what I’m going to pledge to do when I’m in Costa Rica so I can, to my awareness, perform as ethically as possible:

1.) I will invest time (after my finals are done) to learning about Costa Rican culture. I have done a little legwork and I intend to do more; although I don’t expect to meet any natives aside from any permanent staff at the field station and hotel, I won’t allow myself to be caught off guard. Although, this will be problematic considering I speak very, very limited Spanish. (“Me gusta cerveza!”)

2.) I will do my best when I am in the field to perform strictly to the rules that will be set out for me by my director. I realize this is incredibly vague now, but I’m assuming things like “Don’t scream!” or “Don’t make sudden movements!”

3.) Luckily, I will be working with New World Monkeys (Latin/South American), so the zoonotic disease transmission is lowered, but I’ll attempt to take some masks with me before I go to minimize any potential risk. Fortunately, I have had my TB test performed in the last six months, and assuming it suddenly didn’t creep on me, I won’t be passing that along.

4.) I will be using clean sanitation areas as much as possible to lower any potential zoonotic transmission. Though the risk is cut, I refuse to take chances if I can help it.

5.) Most importantly, I will treat my subjects with as much respect and consideration that allows me to in that specific context of observational research.

It is that last one, I think, that makes or breaks any primatologist: myself to be included.

References
Fedigan, L.  (2010).  Ethical Issues Faced by Field Primatologists: Asking the Relevant Questions.  American Journal of Primatology, 71, 1-18.

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I’ve developed a massive scientific pet peeve. For some, theirs is the term, “missing link” (which I abhor too) or dumbing down or sensationalizing science–to each their own. My personal one, which I’ve been growing for the past few months is the decision of scientific literature and media to explain primate behavior as being “more like us.”

Uh, what?

We can prove evolution happened. We can also put it in reverse too. It’s not just a theory–it’s a fact.  As my lecturer in my Anthro 105 course stated best, “A fact is something no rational individual argues against.” And assuming that most of these scientific writers believe in some course of evolution, it makes no fucking sense that anyone would refer to a primate “becoming like us.”

Instead, it’s more believable that we’re more like our ancestors.  And here’s why:

Last night when I was leaving for my apartment, I saw a beautiful display of altruism: an older gentleman was having some difficulty moving his wheelchair across a  very busy intersection of traffic. A girl, going the complete opposite way and seeming to be in a hurry (she was running and definitely did not have the shoes for it; so I assume she was meant to be somewhere and fast) stopped, turned around, and asked the older gentleman if he needed help. I wasn’t close enough to hear the exchange, but I saw the girl turn and help the older man to the other side and even for a little bit after that.

OK. So I don’t really have enough context to truly be declaring that to be altruism, but I think we can agree it was certainly a kind gesture and good deed; potentially at the expense of the girl if she had to be somewhere with high responsibility (maybe a job interview, actual work, a presentation–who knows). As such, I’m going to consider it altruism despite the lack of background knowledge.

If we establish altruism as the idea of performing an act of benefit to another individual at the potential cost to the actor, primates have been known to perform altruism, with observed rates depending on a given species and particular relationship to the receiving individual (obviously, you’re more likely to help family than most others), but some people disregard altruism towards kin as a nepostic means, which I certainly understand. As such, I’m going to avoid an example of that.

An example of not necessarily nepotistic altruism can be seen with any time an alarm call is given by an actor, warning others of the detection of a predator.  Sometimes, this isn’t even necessarily of their own species, as observed by researchers investigating Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus diana) giving alarm calls that can be interpreted by other primates and even yellow-casqued hornbills (Zuberbühler 2000; Rainey et al. 2004). However, despite this obviously good deed for the other primates and hornbill–it comes at the cost for detection of the Diana monkey by revealing its presence and potentially exposing itself for the predator to detect.

Does it really benefit the Diana monkey for the other primates and hornbill to survive? Maybe, but not directly, although it certainly doesn’t hurt. Perhaps the hornbill is an excellent seed disperser so it propagates further generations of trees in which Diana monkeys prefer to use. Maybe the hornbill provides something for the Diana monkey–regardless, the direct link isn’t there.

Regardless, altruism isn’t just “human,” and nor are monkeys “becoming human.”  It’s just getting in touch with our evolutionary roots.


References
Rainey, H.J., Zuberbühler, K., Slater, P.J.B.  (2004).  Hornbills can distinguish primate alarm calls.  Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 271(1540), 755-759.

Zuberbühler, K.  (2000).  Interspecies semantic communication in two forest primates.  Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 267(1444), 713-718.

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