Photo Courtesy: Kimberly Digness Pictured: Jessica Ritsche (left), Arrianne Byrum (right)

Photo Courtesy: Kimberly Dingess
Pictured: Jessica Ritsche (left), Arrianne Byrum (right)

Hey everyone! So now is the time I go a little more in depth on how exactly I became interested in non-human primates. It is very difficult for me to pinpoint exactly where my interest began. I first became fascinated by anthropology through the studies and findings of Margaret Mead and the Leakey family. I began my studies as an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University seeking a history and mathematics degree so that I could teach high school students. I took anthropology courses out of interest and to fulfill my gen eds. Soon after I began my courses I realized how much I enjoyed learning about it, reading about it, and researching it. I couldn’t get my hands on the information fast enough. So I met with Dr. Leila Porter, a professor in the anthropology department, about my options. Let’s just say the minute I walked out of her room, I walked into the Liberal Arts & Sciences office and switched my major. I wasn’t quite sure at that point if I was more interested in cultural or physical anthropology. To finalize my decision I took the Primate Behavior and Conservation course through DANTA.

Heading out of the country for the first time by myself was a bit intimidating; I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to react when I saw my first giant cockroach or venomous snake. And trust me, I saw plenty of them! To my surprise (and relief!), I loved it. It was so amazing being so close to and a part of this natural slice of Earth. I was so used to being around buildings, sidewalks, and crowds of people. This was so different, and so beautiful. We were able to see squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and capuchins. Watching them in their natural habitat was fascinating.

During our course we were also able to see sea turtles. Words can’t even describe how I felt as I watched a mother sea turtle laying her eggs. It was such a raw part of nature that I felt so lucky to be able to witness. I really enjoyed it. We also visited a sanctuary which allowed us to see a more “hands-on” approach. It was very unnerving seeing the variety of conditions of the animals that had been rescued from the pet trade. It certainly solidified the fact that conservation and the protection of animals is going to be a part of my life and career goal.

While I find all species of primates fascinating, I most enjoy studying monogamous primates. I am interested in finding out the factors that support monogamy. There is a lot to be discovered in monogamous primates; to determine if monogamous pairs are pair-bonded or considered serial monogamists. I would also like to compare non-human primates with humans to better understand which organization we truly exhibit.

I will be continuing my education this fall through the Graduate School at Northern Illinois University. Here I will be a Teaching Assistant in the Anthropology Department. I will be mentored by Dr. Leila Porter, someone I really admire and respect. In Fall of 2015 I will be conducting my thesis on territoriality in titi monkeys (Callicebus donacophilus) at a site in Bolivia that another mentor I admire, Kimberly Dingess, so graciously presented me and is assisting me on.

After graduate school I plan to continue my education and obtain a Ph.D. in biological anthropology. I really enjoy being in academia and it excites to know that I could inspire young minds to enter this field. My long term goal is to become a Professor of physical anthropology and a successful researcher and conservationist.

The main area of interest for me in non-human primates is social organization and infant care. I plan to provide many blog postings about the ecological (and any other!) factors that support certain social organizations and the dynamics of these social structures. I am also interested in spreading information about current conservation efforts that are ongoing or are beginning. To have the opportunity to study and continue to research non-human primates, conservation is extremely important for the preservation of these species. I also enjoy discussing subjects of debate (I’m not giving anything away, you’ll have to read to find out!) to hear the voices of people and their reasons for their viewpoints. I hope that you will find my (and everyone’s!) postings interesting, helpful, and most importantly, worth your time!

Jessica Ritsche

One comment

  • It’s amazing what you have taught me about humans via your studies of non-human primates. You helped Marc understand his father’s needs in the nursing home (the need for contact) in a way that made sense to him.

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