Students study aggression in monkeys at Cahuita National Park

Molly Craig

On the east coast of Costa Rica, two or more troops of capuchin monkeys roam in a national park. Jenny Campbell, graduate student in anthropology, continues to research the monkeys and has planned a trip with fellow classmates in June. 

The monkeys in Cahuita National Park have been showing higher signs of aggression towards the tourists that visit the park and each other. Some monkeys often went so far as to steal food from the visitors. This kind of action increases the possibility of disease transfer from one species to the other. 

To help establish more patterns, there is another trip tentatively planned for June 2013. Lace Logan, junior in animal ecology, is planning to go along on the expedition.

“I have always had an intense interest in primates and animal behavior. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity to see what research is like in the real world,” Logan said.

Campbell is unsure whether the June trip, or even other future expeditions, will happen.

“Right now the project is not affiliated with Iowa State University. It’s more affiliated with me,” Campbell said.

The costs of the trip are not subsidized by the university.

“This is a project that we are funding with our own money; any donations would be greatly appreciated. If anyone is interested in contributing to our efforts, they can contact Jenny Campbell or me,” Logan said.

On the first trip in 2012, Campbell was the sole researcher, which made collecting data a little more difficult.

“I did my thesis there [at Cahuita National Park] in May and June of 2012, and again in December 2012 and January 2013,” Campbell said.

During Winter Break in December 2012, she had two others with her. One of them was Amanda Luketich, junior in anthropology.

“It was interesting because we just lived there. We stayed in one place and interacted with the same people, making friends and learning how to fit in,” Luketich said.

The three researchers studied one specific troop of monkeys that resided close to the park entrance. They tried their best to capture the monkeys’ movements during their most active period, between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

To best cover the 12-hour period, the girls split the observation periods into different shifts.

“We traded off on making dinner and made work schedules that worked for our sleeping habits and really made sure to work to each others’ strengths,” Luketich said.

As the researchers observed the monkeys they would write down what the monkeys were doing every minute on the minute.

“We looked at their behavior in general; what they did when people were there, what they ate and how much of their diet consisted of human food,” Campbell said.

The troop of monkeys was not stationary by any means. While they usually stayed within the first 1.5 kilometers of the park, they rarely returned to a location they had foraged in unless 24 hours or more had passed.

Luketich enjoyed her involvement during the 2013 Winter Break trip to Costa Rica.

“I gained a lot of experience when it comes to research gathering and field work. I also learned how to survive in an environment where I do not know the language or the culture,” Luketich said.