Devin’s DANTA Field Course Experience
I’ve known from the very beginning that I wanted to work with animals, and that regardless of where I ended up in life there would always be an animal sitting right beside me. Once in college, I narrowed down my carrier focus to working with primates. There are those pivotal decisions in life that curve pathways and redirect or change your future in unexpected ways. Deciding to work with primates was one of these moments for me. But upon searching for opportunities in the field of primatology, I found that most positions involved lab based work, or targeted people who already had primate experience. That’s when I found DANTA: Association for the Conservation of the Tropics and their field course, Primate Behavior and Conservation. Attending this course became one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Currently, I am sitting on the balcony of the Smithsonian Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island, looking over the Panama Canal. I have howler monkeys screaming off to my right, spider monkeys cackling behind me, and an array of established researchers at my side. It’s important to set the stage of my current situation, because none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t decided to enroll in DANTAs field course. Hence, I’ll explain just how exactly DANTA prepared me for a life time of field work, and how it became the gateway to the work I’m doing now in Panama.
Every morning on the OSA (Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica), where DANTAs field courses are held, I woke up around 5:15am, and was in the forest by 5:30am. Notebook and pencil in hand, Sam (my lab partner) and I waved Osa Conservation‘s Piro Research Station goodbye and disappeared into the green in search of our squirrel monkeys. By now we had been in Costa Rica over two weeks. Orientation and the research methods part of the course were long over, and now it was up to Sam and I to conduct our own pilot study. We spent about 2.5 hours in the forest before breakfast, 3 hours in between breakfast and lunch, and typically an additional 3 hours after lunch in the forest, almost every day. Our project involved watching how the squirrel monkeys moved, and how their locomotion behaviors differed between age and sex classes. This required a good amount of data collection, however being that we were focusing on wild primates, our subjects weren’t always easy to locate or follow. There were treks of the day where Sam and I came back empty handed, and sometimes days when we didn’t see our squirrel monkeys at all. We had no GPS tracking system, no radio collars and antennas to find them, and instead had to self-teach ourselves the patterns in which our monkeys moved through the forest, and try to estimate based off of previous sighting where our monkeys might be during certain points of the day. What did this experience teach me? Well, for one DANTA taught me how to stay self-motivated. The time we got up, how long we stayed in the forest, how much effort we put into the project, and the quality of data we collected depended on when and what Sam and did, the forcing hand being ourselves instead of an instructor or parent. It was not always easy. The mosquitos, and chiggers, snakes and hilly terrain were never cordial. Yet, Sam and I persevered. This experience taught me the importance of optimism and perseverance, and how important it is to bring that with you in the field. But even more so, I learned that regardless of how hard field work can be, I can do it! In going to Costa Rica, and participating in DANTAs course I knew I wanted to experience the forest, however now I know I have what it takes to conduct research on wild primates.
The course also went above and beyond teaching us about primates, and we saw so much more wildlife than I ever expected. During the one month course I saw all fours types of primates, an ocelot, two different types of anteaters, sea turtles, snakes, peccaries, and more. I met people from all around the world and got to learn about what they studied, and sometimes participate in their research. Pura Vida, and the Costa Rican culture still lives in me today, alongside the ever clear research addiction that I now possess.
On paper, the fact that I have completed a field course in primatology, sets me apart from a lot of applicants in my field. DANTA was a way for me to gain firsthand experience without much outside pressures, such as the need to publish. 6 months after the field course I found myself heading back to Central America, as an REU student to Grace Davis, a PHD Candidate. I’m not going to lie, field work is not for everyone. I know people who have returned from the field and never want to go back. It takes a certain type of person to study primate, or really anything in a tropical forest environment. However, I’ve never heard of a person regretting attending a DANTA field course. If nothing else, DANTA teaches you all about perspective and what it means to live worldly and sustainably. For me, the DANTA experience gave me the confidence to continue on.
Devin Lindsley, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis, USA
DANTA alum Summer 2015