All posts by jessteekaae

I am a primate enthusiast studying my MSc in Primate Conservation in Oxford, England. I found out the other day the average person moves house 8 times in their life time. I guess I am the outlier, I can't remember the last time my life was still. Yet I would rather be exhausted, covered in monkey poo (which happens rather frequently) and sweating from places I was unaware existed and being bitten to death by insects whilst doing something I love than earning a fortune in a mundane existence. Of course, I am always open if someone wants to pay me to be a primatologist :P My interests are primatology, behavioural ecology, human-animal interactions, animal psychology, welfare and ethics. My favourite authors are Wallace (my hero), Darwin, Herzog, Beckoff, Fouts, de Waal and Dawkins.

Becoming the dreaded post graduate statistic

Hello! Long time no see.

I made this blog in 2014 whilst studying my MSc in Primate Conservation, and whilst travelling to Mexico each year to help at a struggling primate sanctuary. It’s been 4 years since then and I’m finally ready to get back into blogging. I’ve decided that I need to be brutally honest about my journey since graduating from Oxford Brookes, because quite honestly it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride. I think it’s important for those considering higher education in order to work in the field of conservation to really understand the risks involved. If like me you don’t have the luxury of having the “bank of mum and dad” and you’re only option is to take out a bank loan (which I can assure you is NOT the same as a student loan), then you should seriously consider the financial burden you’ll face whilst looking for work in one of the most competitive (and class bias) industries in the world. I wanted to highlight my experiences here to give a less “university prospectus” perspective of becoming an MSc graduate.

What happens if you join the postgraduate cliche of working for minimum wage in a field totally unrelated to which you studied? Will that level of debt and time investment be worth it?

THE GOOD NEWS IS THERE IS A HAPPY ENDING! I am now working as a full time Zoo Keeper and part time Zoo Registrar. I  mainly work with the Tamarin section of the zoo looking after callitrichids, sloths, and a few reptile species. I also work with farm animals and spend a couple days a week (if I’m lucky!) in the office as the zoo’s registrar-assisting with the zoos wider conservation objectives such as inputting all our animal data onto ZIMS (Zoo Information Management Systems) and organising import and export of animals for breeding programs. I love my job more than anything, but it has been a long time coming.

Jes with zoo sheltland pony “Smudge”. “He’s a bit of an arsehole, he bit my face the second after this photo was taken…but I love him.”


My experience:

AFTER GRADUATING FROM MY MSC I WAS NIAVE.  I strongly believed that in six months I would land my dream primate job. I’d soon be immersed in the conservation sector using all the important knowledge and skills I had painstakingly learned (and paid for in the form of a hefty career development bank loan). My dream was very very short lived. In two years I applied to over 300 animal jobs and was rejected from all of them.  I attended panel interviews, group interviews, and even drove >100 miles the week after passing my driving test to go to a three day interview-which I never heard back from. The most common reason for my rejection (if I was lucky enough to get feedback) was that I was too over qualified, closely followed by I was too inexperienced. My experience was not specific enough (wrong species of primate), too specific (not enough variety of species), didn’t count because it was too short or because it wasn’t paid. I don’t think there is a reason in the book that I haven’t been given. It was so frustrating to learn that someone who had interned for a year got the job over me. I would have loved to have that level of experience, if I could have afforded to do so. Zoos rarely offer accommodation, transport or meals to their volunteer interns, so only the privileged (or more privileged than me) could take advantage of such work placements. I mean seriously, this does nothing to ensure the most suitable person for the job gets it. it simply rules out the working classes from joining (and benefiting) the field of conservation even if they are the most suitable candidate. They really could have groundbreaking ideas that will never be realised because they will never be heard.

All of this was made so much harder by the letters that kept arriving from the bank. They knew I had graduated and they now expected monthly repayments upwards of £250. That on top of average rental prices in the South put my monthly outgoings greater than the average monthly salary. Yet I couldn’t find full time work in any sector that would take me, let alone the one I wanted to be working in. If the conservation industry thought I was over qualified, my local cleaners and supermarkets definitely thought so (though I never actually got a letter of rejection from them, I just got ignored). I turned to the job centre and was laughed at (no, really, LAUGHED AT). As I sat waiting for my “adviser” to read through my application he did a double take at the screen, looked up at me, back at the screen, then said “you don’t seriously have this many qualifications?”. When I nodded he called over a colleague so they could also take a look. They both laughed and told me I was the most qualified person they had ever had in there. Cheers buddy, that really made me begging for the £70 a week less painful.

LOOKING FOR WORK AND FACING REJECTION AFTER REJECTION  was soul crushing. My dream job was quickly becoming a pipe dream, and I was left to face the crippling debt whilst working part time in a cafe for minimum wage. I didn’t last long in the cafe as my boss was an absolute nightmare and the final straw was when she started offering me alcohol at 10am and all of a sudden the cause of her erratic behaviour became startling clear.

I didn’t completely waste my time in the years following graduation though;  I left the cafe to work as a Volunteer Coordinator for The Real Junk Food Project Brighton where I felt like I was at least instilling social and environmental change for my local community. It was a start. But unfortunately as a start up enterprise the wages came in the form of funding and that was hard to come by. So once I had learned as much as I could from the project (I had all but given up on a career with animals by this point), I decided to pursue my creative interests instead. I became a self employed wildlife artist (you can see my work here). My little business bloomed and I was finally able to support myself, albeit not repaying my bank loan (my income was enough but it was modest at best). I had thankfully sought the help of StepChange, a debt advise charity that helped me arrange a £1 a month repayment plan given my dire financial situation. Scary thing is there was even a month when they couldn’t even take that. Although I was finally in a much better situation, I still desperately missed working with animals and couldn’t help but regret doing my MSc. I had actually secured more interviews by omitting my MSc from my job applications than I did by including it. It seemed to be a barrier to the jobs that I was going for.

FINALLY I CAUGHT A BREAK two years later, when my local zoo was hiring. I had worked there before as a casual zoo keeper before completing my final year of my under grad in Animal Science. Maybe my interview was a little less intense because I knew them, or perhaps by that point I was so accustomed to rejection I felt I had nothing to loose. I wasn’t shocked when I was asked “but how long will you be here?” It would seem my qualifications and experience abroad screams “I could be anywhere so this is just a gap filler”…which couldn’t be further from the truth. All I was trying to do by completing my MSc was to prove to myself that I could do it and prove to employers that I was dedicated to conservation and animal care. Ironic I know.

Either way I was offered the job and I have been grateful for it every day since. Even when my days are long and things don’t go to plan-which can often be the way when working with animals, I have at least one moment a day when I think to myself “I love my job”. Working with new world monkeys is a privilege. I get so much joy from learning about their individual idiosyncrasies, their preferences, their social behaviours, and watching the infants develop.

“AJ” , male Pygmy marmoset (Cebuella pygmaea). “AJ is my favourite animal at the zoo (along with Diamond the retired llama), because he is a creepy little weirdo who pulls funny faces and sneaks up on you.”


Mother “Florencia” with babies “Pumpkin” and “Spice”. Cotton top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus). Critically endangered.


Working with our close relatives means you get to accessorise with your uniform when you’ve got a cold.


I’M NOT SAYING MY MSC WASN’T WORTH IT. It has helped me in countless ways and the skills and knowledge I gained from it are put into play each and every day in my current job. I’m also not saying that everyone will have the same post graduate experience as me. Many of my fellow class mates gained work in the conservation sector within months of graduating. They work all over the world for grass roots initiatives, NGO’s, eco tourism, and many are involved in pivotal primate conservation research. One thing I would say though is that many of those people had prior connections. They knew professionals in those industries before enrolling on their masters. It is definitely as much about who you know as it is about what you know. My current employers being a case in point. As a working class girl from Brighton (where the most exciting animal is a seagull) I needed to spend more time networking at uni than burying myself in my own project. I missed opportunities by not attending trips because I couldn’t afford them, and I found it difficult to speak to our guest lecturers in a class of over 40 students all contending to have their name remembered. I’m not a loud person and I find it difficult to stand out from the crowd. Nine times out of ten I’d rather go home and read literature on the subject than vie for the attention of my professors at the pub (which I also could rarely afford). In the long run this shy non-competitive side of me did me no favours.

So if you are considering a post grad in the conservation sciences consider this:

Can you afford the long term debt?

Can you mentally take repeated rejection by competing for work in a highly competitive field?

Is the job you really want dependent on a MSc and will it pay your loan repayments?

Never underestimate the importance of networking

Never ever give up. At the end of the day, no one can take your degree away from you and if you really are determined then the wait will be worth it in the end.


Jes with “Diamond” the llama.


Why you don’t really want a pet monkey

Each year I travel to Mexico and take up residence at Ecoparque el Fenix Monkey Sanctuary to study spider monkey behaviour and help out in any way I can. This year was a year all about enrichment, to improve space use, locomotion, and to promote species-typical social behaviour. Yet I always find that when publishing a blog, tweet or facebook update about my work I am always met with the same remarks:

“How cute!! I really want one!”

“Bring me back a monkey!”

These are the typical things I hear whenever I am working with my study group. Don’t get me wrong, I know they are immeasurably cute, and of course I love working with them so closely. They each have their own personality and I am often manipulated into performing what ever act they want from me such as grooming them or chasing them like a monkey ook-ook vocalizations a plenty. Baby Carmen will often lay on her back whilst on my lap, head tilted backwards, arms outstretched above her head in an almost provocative manner, and if that doesn’t work then she will grab my fingers and run them through her fur herself! Obviously, I oblige, to then realise I have lowered myself below her in the social scale…I am now her monkey bitch. Excellent.

So why are these cute adorable monkeys not pets? And how can I be so against the primate pet trade when I myself get to form close relationships to them, which is mostly why people want them in the first place,  Well, there is plenty of literature, newspaper articles, and online campaigns detailing why it is poor welfare to have a monkey pet, so instead I figured I would give a simple break down of how a pet monkey will negatively inflict upon YOUR welfare instead. And I am whole heartedly talking from experience.

THEY BITE. Hard. Not only can you contract a plethora of zoonotic diseases from monkeys (the perks of being one of our closest genetic relatives), it really does hurt. A lot. Trust me (below is MY leg).


On the plus side you will be able to get out your monkey scar at parties. except you won’t have any time to go to any parties.

THEY HAVE A TAIL. Wait what? You didn’t think that would be a problem? Well think again. You might find your toddler hard to catch when they have done something naughty but you wont (thankfully) find him swinging from your washing line, defecating on the laundry, hanging from the light bulbs and leaping from the top book shelves across the room to evade capture. They also really like to hide things, in high up places, where you can’t reach them. And even if you do manage to climb up there to retrieve said item, the monkey will dart off with it again in a split second (only once you are in the most questionable position of course).

YOU ARE ITS MOTHER. That’s for life by the way. Monkeys can be very protective over their mother and can bite your partner, your children, or your house guests if they get too close to you. A dog might bark at your new partner but a monkey will be faster and can often give no warning. It’s not a cute trait and the feeling of it being a ‘special bond’ will be very very short lived.

monkey puzzle

Oh, and they don’t sleep the same hours as we do by the way, they like to be up early and will cry incessantly when you don’t give them enough attention, when they are hungry, when they are bored- which they will be a lot because lets face it you’re no monkey play mate. You’re days of relaxing at the weekends, evening (or any time at all really) are over, and don’t even try to start reading a book-unless you’re not interested in knowing the ending, or the middle, or past the first chapter.

THEY ARE VERY SMART. Smarter than you that’s for darn sure. I have been manipulated more times than I can count by my study monkeys, not forgetting the time my research assistant and I were locked in our own cage (my “observation booth” to sound more professional) by a monkey who learned that if she stood on the handle it would move and trap us inside.


It also takes a hell of a lot to work out how to get the monkey back in his cage, how to give medicine undetected, how to ensure they are only eating things which are GOOD for them, and how to sneak away when the monkey is apparently sleeping. You will not pee alone, rest alone, or eat alone ever again.

THEY ARE VERY SOCIABLE. Remember playing “piggy in the middle” at school? Monkeys are extremely sociable and they need to be stimulated-by YOU! Joy oh joy you’ve always wanted to play with a monkey friend, but yet this one just wants to pull out your hair (see knob-end example below), steal your reading glasses, empty your cupboards, hide your possessions, destroy your ornaments (pfff what ornaments?) and play ‘catch me if you can’…you can’t.


*Additional note: No one should copy the likes of Justin Bieber (aka knob-end), and that alone should be a reason NOT to get a pet monkey.

THEY POOP (EVERYWHERE).  I personally LOVE poop, the digestive system amazes me…and as an avid animal poop lover who better to trust when I say this than me? : Monkey poop is the most fowl smelling weirdly textured unpleasant substance you can have the misfortune to be in contact with. And you will be in contact with it a lot. In your hair, on your clothes, down your bra, in your bed, in your kitchen, and never (weirdly enough) in the toilet, or in the nappy which you can’t manage for the life of you to get him to wear. I have never tried to put a nappy on a monkey, but I have tried to assist in re-dressing a rump bandage (pretty much the same thing but a medical requirement NOT because the monkey was being toilet trained), Yeh well, needless to say I got covered in shit, so did the monkey, and so did the bandage (on the outside) and subsequently the house got smeared in shit too.


ERM, OK SO WHEN ARE THEY CUTE? When they are sleeping. But you’ll probably be asleep then too.


CONCLUSION. So as much as it is not fair to keep one of the most socially adaptive species on the planet as a pet, it’s not that fair on the human-owner either. Quite simply put, get a cat or a dog instead. Everyone LOVES  a good cat or dog selfy, photobomb or funny you-tube clip, plus the cat/dog will enjoy it a lot more too.

photobomb dog

Primate photo of the week: The Indochinese Silvered Langur

Suborder: Haplorrhini

Infraorder: Simiiformes

Family: Cercopithecidae

Genus: Trachypithecus

Species: Trachypithecus germaini

 This weeks primate photo is dedicated to Brenda de Groot, who has been dedicating her time to understanding their behaviour and working closely with children in Cambodia providing conservation education. Her incredible drawing skills are being beautifully applied to spread the key messages of primate conservation at grass-roots level.

Here is a sneak-peak of Brendas langur artwork:


You should visit Brendas blog here:

Is conservation a wholly Westernised ideology? … Anthozoology explored with Primates.


As a scientist who values the individual needs of animals as highly as species survival, I thought I would explore the concept of conservation through an anthrozoological perspective- I am 100% playing devils advocate here and want to make clear that these views are an exploration of the psychological concepts (concepts driven by media and the modern world) behind conservation, to see if conservation is as moral and selfless as it is often perceived to be- I am not stating all these opinions as my own, but I do interject when I feel it’s necessary. Some aspects of my findings did concern me and shed some light on the moral complexities of conservation efforts. Should conservation be put on the proverbial pedestal? I will let you decide. (Jess).


What are the concepts behind a Western view of “the wild”?

The human-animal bond has been intensely documented, scrutinized, and debated  throughout history. Early domestication and co-evolution of humans and wolves at an estimated 15, 000 years ago has resulted in an array of physiological and emotional inter-species connections (Dorado et al. 2009; Driscoll & Macdonald 2010), yet wolves today are symbolic, almost totemic animals, not wanted for close human proximity (a role explicit now to the domestic dog) (Rowlands 2008; Trevs et al. 2013). In tern, Western societies such as Europe and the USA hold high value to a petishim culture. The USA alone see an approximated annual expenditure of $61.4 billion on companion animal products-from luxury cat food to designer doggy-wear (Henderson 2013), and Westernized children’s books entail anthropomorphic animal characters, promoting inter-species companionship and moral undertones (Johnson 1996), often creating a Disneyland-like fantasy of the ‘wilderness’.

E. O. Wilson famously wrote of the ‘Biophilia’ concept in his book of the same name, describing the innate drive for humans to connect to nature (Wilson 1984). The “cute response”, a term coined by Konrad Lorenz, depicts an innate maternal instinct to care for organisms with human-like infantile morphology (Serpell 2002; Herzog 2010); and Meg Olmert detailed the physiological effects of inter-species connectivity through her studies of oxytocin and the therapeutic properties of companion animals (Olmert 2010). Yet this egalitarian biocentric state of philosophy has only recently been adopted by the West. The influence of Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes between the 12th and 16th century promoted the belief that animals were mere automatons without thought or self-awareness (Serpell 1992; Daston & Mitman 2007). Carl Linnaeus’s 17th century taxonomy of organisms drew likeness from Aristotle’s ‘Scala Natura’ , the classification of humans above all other taxonomic classes (Linnaeus 1802). Thus biological taxonomy enhanced the anthropocentric view stance of the West, a view reflective of the Judeo-Christian ideology of ‘the time’ (Salih 2007). It was the Darwinian revolution of the 1800s that set aside species differences, creating a uniformity known as biological evolution (Darwin 1859;1871;1872). Advancements in scientific species classification in the recent neo-Darwinian era of DNA analysis has identified the chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, as our closest genetic kin (Won & Hay 2005). That coupled with space exploration and satellite imagery has further enhanced a global perspective and concern for the health of the planet (Szerszynski & Toogood 2000).


            Western ideals shape conservation within developing countries. The West is an economic super-power with ability to dictate which species, geographic regions, and people are permitted to develop and which must be ‘conserved’ (Brockington 2004). A consumerist culture of popular science magazines such as the National Geographic, conservation celebrities such as Jane Goodall and the late Dian Fossey and respected nature television presenters such as David Attenborough and the late Steve Irwin, propel conservation and wildlife issues into the media’s front line (Brockington 2008). All such celebrities are perceived by viewers as trust worthy charismatic figures working for the good of the planet (Brockington 2008; Boykoff & Olson 2013). David Attenborough’s soothing and enthusiastic documentary demeanour won him the title of ‘most trusted man in Britain’ during 2006 (Brockes 2006). In contrast, the death of Steve Irwin to a sting ray in the same year resulted in localized purging of the species, anthropomorphized as the murderer of a wildlife icon (BBC 2006). The aforementioned examples clearly illustrate the powerful and influential role that conservation celebrities play in forming public perceptions of wildlife in the modern West, regardless of the ‘consumers’ distance from nature (Bradshaw et al. 2007). 


            Western consumerist culture is  a significant driver behind the power and effectiveness of conservation organizations. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dominate the media using flagship species to represent conservation messages ( Smith et al. 2010, 2012). Examples include the WWF panda and the Born Free lion, hugely influential organizations in the implementation of third-world conservation initiatives, funded almost explicitly from the West. Large charismatic species are selected to represent conservation causes, thus promoting speciesism for those advertised symbolically as ‘saving the planet’ (Simberloff 1998; Clucas et al. 2008). Yet flag ship species needn’t be crucial to biodiversity and many are perceived negatively by those in habitat countries (Home et al. 2009). I mean, since when has an attractive white woman straddling a lion really represented the complexities of grass-roots conservation?




The progression of world-wild virtual connectivity facilitated by the internet further promotes Westernized wildlife ideals. NGOs, governments and large corporations invite the public to engage in the virtual conservation ‘community’ through popular websites such as Twitter and Facebook (Igoe et al. 2010). Westernized alienation from nature and wild life is briefly alleviated through financial contribution to conservation, as one emotionally engages with the visual appeal of the ‘wild’ as represented by charismatic mega fauna and utopian scenery (Adorno 1972). Furthermore, epochal film-makers such as Disney seduce the audience by  portraying a romanticized wilderness and deep emotional friendships between humans and wildlife (King 1996), thus manipulating the biophilia hypothesis. Nature  documentaries such as the BBC and National Geographic present a stereotyped effigy of nature including the ‘red in tooth and claw’ image of wildlife through the action and suspense of pack animals hunting in magnified glory (Davies 1998). Such that many Western tourists consider these media portrayals as common place in wildlife parks and wish to view ‘action scenes’ at close proximity (Ivakhiv 2008).

            In all, wildlife conservation is perversely capitalistic in its very  nature, from the large corporations involved in financial investment such as the World Bank to  mass media and NGOs, which manipulate consumers by selling iconic ‘wild life’ imagery (Brockington 2008; Igoe et al. 2010). Therefore, one may find it hard to argue against the statement that ‘common views of wildlife in conservation reflect westernised ideals of wild animals’, for this has historically been the case. Westernized perceptions of wildlife from which they are significantly separated from, are valued as ‘true nature’ and worthy of protection (Nelson 2003). From the preservationist era stemming from the colonial ‘Garden of Eden Hypothesis’ within the mid-nineteen century (Nelson 2003), to the modern day: It is the Western portrayal of wild animals which tourists wish to see, conservationists wish to protect and the public wish to befriend. The ‘wish’ to befriend does not impose any negative force upon their livelihoods or truly represent the complexities of biodiversity conservation (Clucas et al. 2008).

Perceptions of Primates

            Similarity between primates and humans can be staggering to both the scientific and laymen community. Biologically, primate sociality, cognition and physical appearance are compellingly similar to our own, and highly susceptible to anthropomorphism (Hill 2002). Both Linnaeus and Darwin noted the comparable characteristics of primates and humans, Linnaeus classified apes under man in taxonomic rank, and Darwin correctly named apes our closest kin (Darwin 1871). The works of Jane Goodall during the 1960s struck an emotive cord within the West, with her findings of chimpanzee social dynamics, maternal instincts and warfare (Quammen 2010). Overall, ape-human relatedness was typified by the findings of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, whose work with great apes featured heavily in popular science media whilst evoking a sense of Women’s empowerment (Rani 2013). These women attributed human names to their subjects and spoke freely of their charismatic ‘humanness’ (Goodall 1971; Fossey 1983; Galdikas 1995). Photographic and film imagery of their research enhanced an anthropomorphic appeal, highlighting the close proximity between human and apes; a closeness now keenly sought by consumers (Ross et al. 2011).


 The announcement of Chimpanzees as humans closest genetic kin further captured Western audiences. Popular science books of  human-ape interactions have consistently flooded the consumer market, with seductive titles depicting the emotional and genetic inter-species bond. Literary examples include ‘Next of Kin’, ‘Almost Human’, ‘In the Shadow of Man’ and ‘Reflections of Eden’ all of which portray a romanticized biocentric connectivity with primates (Goodall 1971; Strum 1987; Galdikas 1995; Fouts 1998).  Although kinship generally invokes empathetic human behaviour (Serpell 1999), primates are readily exploited for human entertainment (Nijman et al. 2011). Primate conservation is thus exposed to, and at risk from, a multitude of Western ideals.

Implications for Primate Conservation

            Tourism is an economically powerful industry, second only to oil (Obua & Harding 1997). Ecotourism and Wildlife tourism provide a niche market whereby tourist can experience wildlife. High Western salaries endorse primate tourism (Obua & Harding 1996), promoted as morally sound on the premise that primate-experiences contribute significantly to species conservation and local economies (Muehlenbein et al. 2010).


Close-contact tourism is often proposed as the best way to guarantee the continued existence of great apes and their habitats”

 (Woodford et al. 2002).

            The Mountain Gorilla is an exemplary species for the pro-tourism debate, with the Bwindi population increasing since the implementation of Gorilla tourism in 1997, albeit consensus statistics vary throughout the literature (see McNeilage et al. 2001; 2006; Laudati 2010; Guschanski et al. 2009). Many argue the Mountain gorilla would have faced certain extirpation without the increased protection, gained from tourist revenue. As such, new groups continue to be habituated, following increased tourist demand (though the economic incentives for such a move are beyond the scope of this paper [see Adams & Infield 2003; Laudati 2010]). Primate tourism comes with a double edged blade. Epidemiological disease risks includes physical contact and fomites, breech of designated viewing distances and refrain from admitting illness, (Woodford et al. 2002; Sandbrook & Semple 2006; Nakamura & Nashida 2009; Muehlenbein et al. 2010). Western tourists risk introducing zoonotic pathogens to secluded primate regions, from a multitude of geographic locations (Homsyk 1999).  Close proximity disregards wild ecology, altering natural  behaviour (Treves & Brandon 2005). Habituation risks include inducing stress thus lowering immunity, increasing disease contraction risk and decreasing productivity (Woodford et al. 2002; Fedigan 2010).These were all concerns raised by Dian Fossey herself who was opposed to the idea of gorilla tourism, not that her ‘gorilla tactics’ (pun intended) were a great method for gaining government co-operation mind you but still, I feel it is important for people to understand these risks when partaking in an activity which may compromise gorilla welfare. That being said, would you admit to having a cold if you had just handed over somewhere in the region of £700 to sit with a silverback?

            Another alarm bell for conservation-based eco-tousitm is that clientèle are often unaware as to the importance of biodiversity with emphasis on viewing large charismatic primates over other species (Kerley et al. 2003) . Rise in visitors to Kibale National Park from 1992-1996 resulted in environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity (Obua 1997). Furthermore, tourist perceptions of the park were heavily dependent on viewing chimpanzees (Obua & Harding 1996; Obua 1997). Tourism can deflect the instinctual  fear of humans, exacerbating human-primate conflict from increased crop raiding events within tourist areas (Laudati 2010). Human-macaque contact within the Shou-Shan Nature Park ,Taiwan, was initiated by humans significantly more than by primates, an increasingly common finding amongst human-primate interaction research (Minna et al. 2008). For many tourists, close proximity fulfils the biophillia induced inter-species friendship as depicted throughout childhood development, backed up by adult justifications of the conservation ‘good’.



            In contrast, the entertainment industry  demonstrates the persistence of Westernized Judeo-Christian ideology whereby primate anthropomorphic features are valued as an entertainment commodity. Primates are dressed in human clothing, beg, dance, ride bicycles and smoke (ChimpCARE 2011). Such anthropomorphic personification detaches the viewer from the species natural behaviours and habitat (Yamagiwa 2008). Photo-prop and film primates are misrepresented as autonomous animals, their ‘humaness’ exploited for entertainment and revenue (Beckoff 2007). Therefore, clear comparison between modern Western views and Rene Descartes’ ideology can be made. Primates within the entertainment industry become an anthropological ‘Other’, free for human exploitation, not dissimilar from Aristotle’s ‘Scala Natura’. The continuation of such attitudes has dramatic effect for primate conservation. The more primates are immersed in human environments, the more distorted primate conservation perceptions become (Schroepfer et al. 2011).



            In comparison, the primate pet industry sees a merger between the modernistic petishism culture of the West and anthropocentricism; the USA being the largest importer of live primates (Nijman et al. 2011). Large eyes, round heads and expressive faces all act as ‘baby releasers’ (Serpell 2002; Herzog 2010), making primates vulnerable to exploitation as pets. Internet-based promotion of primate pets via ‘viral’ home videos aired on websites such as YouTube, influences public perceptions resulting in heightened wild harvest (Nekaris et al. 2013). Due to lengthy gestation periods and inter-birth intervals, primates are extremely vulnerable to stochastic events, small populations dwindle unable to recover from over-extraction (Cowlishaw & Dunbar 2000).

            One must also consider the plasticity of human opinion. Human migration, change in primate behaviour and increased rates of human-primate conflict are widely documented  contributors to changes in human-primate perceptions within indigenous local communities (Hill 2002; Hill & Webber 2010; McLennan & Hill 2012). Local and Western attitudes are influenced by a complex matrix of external factors (Lee & Priston 2005). For example, conservation has dramatically shifted from preservationist to community-based approaches (Hackel 1999; Campbell & Vainio-Mattila 2003; Brockington 2004). Stemming from a grass root ideology, human development is now the focus of conservation goals, heavily endorsed by politically influential NGOs (Brockington 2004; World Wildlife Fund 2013). If Western attitudes see rise in concern for human development, then the outlook for species conservation is weakened. Increased economy and access to technologies put primate populations at faster extinction risk (Hill 2002). Thus an ethical dilemma ensues, ultimately moral stance supports both human development and primate conservation, yet dwindling resources heighten inter-species competition for which there can be only one long term survivor.

            Finally, although ecotourism provides a much favoured incentive to conservation initiatives, its reliance on Western clientèle render it vulnerable to uncontrolled external factors. Declining economies, political instability, travel restrictions and disease epidemics could decrease tourism, decline revenue and minimize the economic value of primates enrolled in tourism programs (Cowlishaw & Dunbar 2000).

            In summary, the consumerist culture of the West is a huge financial driver for primate conservation, yet the complexities of Western attitudes towards wild animals complicates the effectiveness of conservation efforts. The biocentric, anthropomorphic and anthroprocentric Western attitudes hold potential to improve as well as damage primate conservation.


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Primate Conservation MSc- Books for Sale

For those of you starting out on the Primate Conservation MSc at Brookes this coming semester (woah my year went fast!), or if you’re starting a course in a related subject then I have some books for sale that I will not be needing in the future.

Introduction to Conservation Genetics (2nd ed)

This is the core book for the conservation genetics module and it was a real life-saver for me. But lets face it, I am not a geneticist, and so this should probably find its way to a better home where it will get the attention it deserves. You should view my listing here:

Zoo Animals: Behaviour, Management, and Welfare

This is the most recent publication (2013) by Hosey, Melfi and Pankhurst. If you’re starting the Primate Conservation MSc then it’s highly recommended for thecaptive care module (my favourite module!) and it’s also the most commonly used book for zoo professionals so would suit anyone working/studying captive animals (zoo keepers, animal science students at level ND, FdSc, BSc etc etc). You should view my listing here:

Habitat Management for Conservation Genetics

I bought this for a project but then completely changed my idea to an unrelated topic so again please someone use it so it isn’t neglected on my book shelf where it can’t help anyone! You should view my listing here:



Primate photo of the week: Pan troglodytes

Suborder: Haplorrhini

Infraorder: Simiiformes

Family: Hominidae

Genus: Pan

Species: Pan troglodytes

Why chimps?

I have now been back in the UK writing up my project dissertation and disseminating my results into various articles for publication for the past two weeks. Having spoken to several students on my cohort , I have decided to dedicate the next few weeks of Primate Photos to the primate species which have been studied as part of the many successful primate projects (Primate Conservation MSc 2014, Oxford Brookes University).

This week I am dedicating the photo slot to Georgia Lorenti, who recently travelled to Africa for her final MSc project. I was particularly touched by Georgias blog about falling in love with a chimpanzee, and her struggles with anthropomorphism (the most terrible of scientific sins!) so this Georgia, is for you… and Moses.

About the photographer:

This stunning photograph is part of a unique series by James Mollison, named ‘James and other apes’. I especially love this series as not only does it portray a sense of identity by capturing the human-likness of our closest genetic kin using the frame-work of a passport photo, James did not opt to use ‘actor apes’. Upon entering his website, James states:

I decided against photographing in zoos or using ‘animal actors’ but travelled to Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia to meet orphans of the bush meat trade and live pet trade.

 This obviously called out to me, as having worked with so many unwanted primate pets myself, I found his work encapsulated the individuality of each animal who all have their own personal story to tell. Stories which convey the plight of their species, in an emotive and raw way.

You should visit James Mollison’s website here:

And of course, you should follow Georgia’s primate blog here:

Mexican primate project-update 5: A JOURNEYS END

The most important advice I will ever receive was given to me by a wise man, he told me: “think”. I was a teenager about to leave home for the first time to travel and explore India. Despite this advice being the most simplistic (and at that precise moment quite confusing), it was more valuable to me than the dearth of other tips and advice that apparently everyone seems to have for the first time traveller. “Think” is exactly what has got me through the toughest of situations, the most dangerous, the most tempting, and now: the most complicated. Yet this time, I am thinking like a monkey.
The reason for turning again to his sound word, is because our project is ending. I can now start reflecting on what we have accomplished and what goals to set ourselves for the coming years.

Our greatest achievements:
1) Constructing a larger more complex enclosure full of enrichment and visual stimuli for our eldest male: Panzaburro.
Panzaburro now enjoys swinging from ropes, resting on elevated platforms, and hiding in his shelter when it’s raining. His locomotion has improved, as has his overall demeanour-no longer is he frustrated and aggressive, instead he is calm and relaxed with people and other monkeys.
2) Constructing a second enclosure for the free ranging male: Pequitas.
Although Pequitas was a very good example of how a spider monkey should behave, his sexual aggression and promiscuous mating had resulted in an uncontrolled population. Inbreeding was a serious threat to the heath of the captive monkeys, as was the stress which resulted from his territorial patrolling and mobbing behaviour. Since his removal from the general population, Pequitas has in fact relaxed. He can still interact with the monkeys but without full contact and thus an inability to breed and control the movements of the females. He now enjoys resting alongside Panzaburro, who has become his very good friend. The females have also changed in their behaviour, becoming more social with each other and spending more time within the centre of the sanctuary, a place which they now feel is safe.
3) Providing friends to Zulu
After the installation of enrichment for the large social enclosure, Zulu was observed sitting closer to other monkeys. Within several days she became quite the socialite, and is now frequently observed grooming and playing with the young and adolescent monkeys. Even Zulu’s stereotypic behaviour has decreased, a huge indicator that she is coping with social stressors in a more normative way.
4) Getting every monkey here off the ground!
This is one of the greatest behavioural achievements of the project-and one I have felt strongly about from the off. Spider monkeys are arboreal primates, they have not evolved for a life on the ground, and our project shows this. Once we provided networks of ropes, static and flexible platforms, swings and ladders, every monkey has significantly increased their elevated space use….no more monkeys sitting upon the floor!

Our future goals:
1) To construct a large social enclosure for all the tethered and free ranging monkeys.
The free raging monkeys and the tethered monkeys deserve social enclosures for two equally important but differing reasons:
The free rangers have access to human and domestic animal food, the result of which has been the emersion of an obese monkey group. In a large enclosure their diets can be controlled, and they can be encouraged to exercise by using novel enrichments and feeding strategies.
The tethered monkeys on the other hand, need social stimulation more than other monkeys within the park for they have thus far had none. As a naturally fission-fusion species, social facilitation is crucial-particularly within a rehabilitation program. Enclosures will provide them social access, and an opportunity for staff to closely monitor their social and physical progress.
2) To construct a primate nursery
After the successful introduction of Moni (now renames Mylo) to our female Ciriaca, we have formulated a plan to construct a primate nursery for all new arrivals. This will allow all new arrivals a chance to socialize with other young monkeys, and have the care and mothering attention of Ciriaca (who is desperate for a baby). The nursery will be secure and safe but with full visual access to the main population, allowing for vocal and olfactory communication, thus making integration to the adult population an easier and less stressful process.
3) To begin an operant conditioning program
A dream of mine which I have had for Fenix since my arrival! The use of operant conditioning (or “positive reinforcement training”) will allow me to assess the behavioural and physical progress of each monkey with minimal stress to the monkeys. Training will provide a management tool based upon trust and co-operation, hence we will no longer need to devise complex strategies to catch and move monkeys between enclosures or for veterinary care. I will be writing a more in-depth post about operant conditioning for primates on my return, so watch this space for more information.

Until then, I look forward to returning to England, to “think” about the intricacies of statistics and thesis writing (albeit the part which is a lot less fun), and to think about how I’m to begin paying back my amounting student loan (an inevitable student-primate problem), all the while knowing that the small changes we have implemented here have had a hugely positive impact upon all the monkeys. Thinking like a monkey has been a rewarding experience, and as always my wise mans advice wins again…thanks Dad.

Mexican primate project-update 4: ENRICHMENT

Having begun my journey into the world of primates in the Mexican rainforests and having been lucky enough to participate in field work with many established primatologists, I am finally realizing my place is with those extracted from the wild and destined to live a life in captivity. After a troublesome summer of 2013 fighting off infections and struggling with a rheumatic condition whilst assisting field primatologists in tough terrain, I think I can give more to monkeys in places like Ecoparque el Fenix, and although I love field work I am finding this project  extremely rewarding.

Although the project has taken a different direction after finding we needed a staggering £6, 000 to reconstruct the derelict enclosure, I think progress here has flourished.

The English team are doing well, and it brings me much joy to be living and working alongside such dedicated people. Robyn is now confident with data collection and monkey identification; we sit together in the evenings discussing the behavioural progress of each individual monkey within the enrichment program and enjoy sharing stories of our daily observations. Dave has managed to win the hearts of everyone here (minus Pequitas the dominant male monkey, but boys will be boys), and after enduring staggering heat and apocalyptic monsoons to construct enrichments, shelters, and enclosures for the monkeys here, he has been rewarded by the naming of a new baby boy ‘Dave’….probably the only monkey named Dave in South America!

The Mexican team are also doing brilliantly, all assisting in every aspect of the project at each phase. It has been a really rewarding experience teaching the keepers about enrichments, social structures, fission-fusion dynamics, and captive management, and even more exciting watching them plan and implement networks of ropes for our large enclosure. No longer will there be bored monkeys sitting on the floor twiddling their thumbs (if they had any).

As for the monkeys, well I hope the following photos will do justice as to the success of the project so far, and I expect my data will do just the same (fingers and tails crossed!) In addition to the drudgery of checking in with the online world (I haven’t missed the junk mail and bills!), I was wonderfully  overwhelmed today to find our online donations are still rising whilst we are busy working here on a limited budget. I hope you can see what your kindness is achieving from these photos, I know I say this a lot but we couldn’t do any of these things without your support, so thank you!




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If you would like to contribute to our work, then please feel free to visit my crowdfunding page and the ecoparque el fenix website!



Mexican primate project-update 3

Hola amigos!

A short and sweet post from me and the team tonight, as we are bracing ourselves for another night of heavy rain.

The past two weeks have flown by! We had a few technical issues with our camp due to the hurricane in the pacific, which spread a lot of water our way, playing havoc with our scheduled (no painting or building from lack of dry wood, flooding meant we had no trip to the zoo to talk with directors about capturing our lone male for translocation into another new enclosure, no material deliveries, and no dry pants or other amenities). But all was not lost…we did what we could and then cracked on like troopers once the weather cheered up a bit (to almost 40 degrees!) Here is a quick list of our progresses so far:

Panzaburro was successfully rehomed in his new enclosure and is now loving life! Below is a picture taken before, and after…we hope the new facility speaks volumes as to the improvements made to his welfare. Panzaburro also now enjoys more company with limited tactile contact to conspecifics and other age mates-which we hope will lead to a full integration in the future.

I presented an educational talk to the sanctuary director and zoo keepers about the results of my previous study (conducted in 2013) and the importance of species-specific locomotion and socialization. This was a lovely opportunity for us to discuss future ideas including new plans for larger social enclosures, a social integration program, and even a baby nursery for new orphaned babies derived directly from the illegal wildlife trade. I presented the current results of  my socialization study which really emphasized the cognitive significance of fission-fusion socialization and the importance of social facilitation within captivity. Each one of our resident monkeys were represented and discussed at length in order to ensure that all management decisions are appropriate at individual level, taking into consideration their specific life histories and personalities.

Following the presentation we began introducing our newest arrival (Moni) to Ciriaca, an adult female with a longing for a baby. Ciriaca stole my heart last year, as she is a well-rounded monkey with exceptional social skills despite her past history within the pet trade. As a free ranging primate at Fenix, Ciriaca is friends with everyone, and if you can’t find her with the usual suspects, then you can be sure to find her clinging to the side of our large social enclosure trying to play and groom the infants through the wire. Unfortunately a previous unexpected pregnancy was unsuccessful and Ciriaca carried her deceased baby for two days before accepting its death. Ciriacas reaction to Moni was very moving, at first seeming unsure as to why the monkey was not accompanied by its mother, then taking it by the hand and not letting go for several minutes. I believe Ciriaca will make an excellent surrogate mother for new orphans, a possibility we are looking into for the future.

After six days of rain, the sunshine brought in new materials and new lease of life for our monkeys Nino, Naomi, Gorda, and Matha, who were all issued with a plethorer of enrichment activities -ropes, ladders, swings, elevated platforms, and shelters. We are now attempting to raise even more funds to create a social enclosure for them so they can learn to live closely with other monkeys of similar backgrounds within the pet trade.


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Oh and we got locked in my  observation area (aka “Jess’ cage”)whilst  I trained Robyn how to collect observational data….by a monkey climbing on the outside! Well its only fair I guess.



Mexican primate project-update 2

As much as I have been enjoying connecting with other primatologists and like-minded folk through my blog, website, and twitter, I have to say the immersion back into the wild has been so pleasing that I have put off the trip to the city to stay instead with the animals, which has meant a significant lack of updates on my behalf and for that I am sorry.

That being said, I have many good news to report about the progress being made here at Fenix. In the short of it-we have started something big!

Never before has there been any fundraising efforts to create the much needed financial support to aid the monkeys in their rehabilitation from their pet-trade pasts. With new arrivals appearing every year, we desperately needed better enclosures, an enrichment program, a social integration program, and the involvement of the community to educate the public as to why these monkeys are wild animals and not suited to a life as a pet.

Although I was upset to learn that the enclosure we had set out to repair would cost a whopping £6000 (!!) we have instead put all your kind donations to good use in a way which will (and already has) improved the welfare of ALL our monkeys. In order to keep this simple and instead of showing you our organised chaos, this is a list of all we are achieving-none of which could have been done without the support of our friends back home and here in Cuidad del Carmen.

1) Some of our friends will remember Panzaburro, a lone male unable as yet to be socially integrated into the population. Housed in a small barren enclosure for 11 years, we have successfully built him a new, larger, more complex enclosure with visual and olfactory contact to the females and limited tactile contact with another singularly caged male. I am very saddened that at this point full social integration is not an option between our males, due to past incidences of intense aggression and resultant injury. Panzaburros new enclosure is equipped with an elevated shelter, many platforms of varying sizes, textures and elevations, ropes for climbing and swinging, and a keepers double-door entrance to prevent disease transmission and uncontrolled breeding with neighbouring females. Panzaburro is awaiting his move whilst we finish the final touches…but we have had a full seal of approval from all our free ranging monkeys which have spent every day since its installation resting on the platforms and playing together in the network of ropes!

2) After enclosure A fell into disrepair, a resident male (named Pequitas) escaped and was free to roam with the other free-ranging females. This had unfortunately caused several unplanned births, as Pequitas was able to mate with several females through the wire mesh of their enclosure. This not only causes an uncontrolled population, but also a significant risk of inbreeding. Unable to rehome Pequitas elsewhere (surplus males are a problem for zoos, as are all genetically unknown primates from the illegal wildlife trades) we have begun constructing Pequitas his own enclosure equipped with multiple platforms, substrates, shelters and enrichments. He will be housed next to Panzaburro, enabling a slow social integration between the two and we hope that in the not so distant future we may be able to permit them full access to each other.


3) We are very pleased to say that your support has enabled us to build a shelter for every single monkey at Fenix, which have been a huge success! Nino spent the first two days after recieving his new shelter pushing the walls and inspecting it thoroughly, before sitting contentedly eating his dinner inside. Nino now enjoys a stable, safe, and dry place to hide when the monsoon rains hit, and when he finds things a little stressful.

4) Enrichment for everyone!! After my study last year revealed a deficit in species-typical locomotion it is my aim to increase normal spider monkey locomotion…more climbing, clambering and arboreal locomotion! With your help we are providing every monkey with an extensive playground! Every monkey will have access to a plethora of ropes, rope ladders, enrichment platforms, swinging tires, novelty toys, feeding stations, climbing walls and more! If the reaction of our monkeys to Panzaurros new playgound is anything to go by, we should be seeing a lot of very happy monkeys!

5) This is where it gets big-our project here has attracted a little bit (a lot!) of attention. Myself and Dave have been in the newspaper and local newsletter along with the director Lou, with information about our work with the monkeys, and we have even held a concert in support of our work! The incredible singer Maria Moctezuma played a beautiful concert all in aid of buying more materials for our project. In a single day we sold 100 tickets, raising $10,000 (pazos) with more on top made from the sale of t-shirts which we had printed specifically for the concert. I was extremely happy to see so many people buying a t-shirt and sporting the logo which I created. The money raised on the night alone has equipped us with enough wire mesh to finish Panzaburro and Pequitas’ enclosures, and we have been inundated with support including another fundraising event in the pipeline!

6) Sustainability- this is the most important aspect of what we have started here at Fenix: Not only have the zoo keepers been busy helping Dave in the construction of our new enclosures and enrichment structures, they have been learning the vital skills needed to maintain our work here. It is my full intention to fade into the background, by providing the zoo keepers with the ability to take action themselves-with knowledge of what the monkeys need, and how to achieve it.

One final word from me for now is that all our materials have been sourced locally in order to aid with the local economy and spread the message of our project both for Fenix and primate conservation as a whole. Our enclosures have been constructed from fallen trees (also helping with land management), the wood for our enrichments are largely collected from skips (the hippy in me was having a field day!) and every bought piece of wood has been recycled, and who knew pallets could look so beautiful!…many of which we were amused to find originated from England!

I leave you now with a collection of photographs of the project so far, and I will upload soon a video of our test pilot Carmen giving Panzaburros enrichment a once over (for good measure of course).

Adios amigos and muchos gracias!

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