Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fieldwork Anxiety

I'm leaving for Costa Rica to begin my 15 months of dissertation fieldwork in 1 week. And I'm freaking out. There is so much I still need to get done--supplies are still on order, still some field stuff I have to inventory and replace, grants I want to get done and give to my advisor so she can submit them when I'm in the field, and I need to get my apartment packed up and cleaned out and move my stuff. And I'm dealing with the stress of having to leave my boyfriend (and the pets) for all that time, which he's really not happy with. We will see each other in August, he come down to Costa Rica in January, but still, it's a long time to be apart, especially when I'll have very infrequent internet access, and have to share a phone with everyone at the field station.

It really is one of the ironic aspects of my dissertation--I'm studying the relationship between social relationships and stress, and that requires putting putting such strain on my social relationships that it causes tons of stress (and grad school and dissertation work provide enough stress on their own!). It really is such a hard thing about field primatology. Many of the people in my grad program do bioarch, osteology, and forensic arch., so often their fieldwork means going for shorter periods of time. And their research subjects stay put--they know what they are going to accomplish each day, instead of worrying about whether they will find their bones and how long it will be before they will abruptly speed away (the unfortunately thing about spider monkeys, when they decide to go, they GO--and depending on their travel path, its not always possible to follow them. They fly through the trees, but for the human trying to navigate the swamp, it can be impossible to keep up).

All that stress has cause me to up all night worrying, and then during the day its so hard to be productive to get everything done. I love my monkeys, I love the field, I look forward to those magical days in the rainforest watching monkeys and running into other animals (which, granted, are tempered by the miserable days when you can't find the monkeys, its raining nonstop, and you fall in the swamp) but sometimes the sad thing about doing research on what you love is that the joys of it can be eclipsed by all the work and stress and sacrifices that it requires.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Path of the Jaguar

Check out this video about jaguar corridors in Costa Rica!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Devra Kleiman was a great conservation hero

Devra Kleiman, one of the most inspiring conservation heroes EVER, passed away a couple day of ago. Dr. Kleinman was a pioneer in captive animal behavioral research and in conservation biology, and it is largely due to her legacy that a strong relationship exists between the two. She really is the reason that golden lion tamarins are not extinct; they are the only primate species I know of that has improved their conservation status (from critically endangered to endangered). GLT's are not out of the woods yet (or, more accurately, back into the rainforest); they are still endangered. BUT, due to Dr. Kleinman and her colleagues, they are still there, both in captivity and in the wild. And thanks to their efforts, there is now a very effective net of conservation awareness and efforts focused on conserving them.

When Dr. Kleiman first began her work with the National Zoo in the 1970s, golden lion tamarins were not successfully breeding. Unfortunately, no one realized that they did not live in multi-male/multi-female groups in the wild. Dr. Kleinman and her colleagues' research led to the conclusion that they should be housed in pairs, and once that change was put into effect, GLTs became calmer, bonded, and began producing offspring.

From there, Dr. Kleiman and her colleagues performed a series of conservation miracles. They persuaded zoos to work together, in order to forge breeding exchanges to maintain genetic diversity. They then persuaded zoos to hand over ownership to the Brazilian government, and then take select breeding groups down to Brazil, put them through "How to live in the wild" bootcamp, and reintroduce the captive-born families into the wild. These attempts were not without setbacks; in the early years of the program, many captive-borns struggled in the wild, and did not survive for very long. But Kleiman's team kept trying to improve their efforts, and began performing "soft releases" in which the released animals were monitored and supported/protected when necessary. Thanks to these changes, things improved. Captive-borns still struggled with living the wild, but with support, they were able to live long enough to raise offspring, and the wild-born offspring were far more successful than their zoo-born parents. As a result, the population started increasing. Furthermore, a successful local and international conservation awareness campaign ensured that further steps were taken to protect existing forests, plant corridors, and raise local awareness. The golden lion tamarin is one of conservation's big success stories, and its legacy has influenced captive animal husbandry and welfare, reintroduction programs, and field conservation programs.

In short, this woman was a hero, and is a huge inspiration for me. If I achieve half of what she achieved in her lifetime, I will consider my life a huge success. She didn't do it alone; she had a team of colleagues that all actively made the GLT reintroduction and other projects a success. However, she was essentially the person that started the entire process, and kept going and persuading others to collaborate, cooperate, and contribute to making it happen. I hope the fields of primatology, zoo behavioral research, and conservation biology always remember her legacy.

For more information, see:

Kleinman's Washington Post Obituary

NPR's Remembering Devra Kleiman