Tuesday, January 11, 2011

J-term Honors

It is J-term and instead of relaxing and catching up on tv (which I’ll admit I am making time for) I am working hard on my honors project! I am a Psychology major, and what I am really interested in studying is animal behavior. Because of this, (and because I spent the summer between sophomore and junior year as an intern at the MN Zoo) I designed an honors project at the zoo observing a group of monkeys. The monkeys are a part of a new exhibit that opened summer 2010. My project was in two parts: Part 1 establish the protocols and definitions of the behaviors I would be observing (commonly referred to as an ethogram) and using those protocols to observe the monkeys and figure out how the monkeys were spending their time (these are DeBrazza’s monkeys by the way), and Part 2 to see whether living in an exhibit with 3 other species (Colobus monkeys, Red River hogs, and Rock hyraxes) influenced their behavior.

A month ago, I found out that the female DeBrazza’s monkey had a baby. This changed my project, so now my focus was on the changes in behavior based on the addition of an infant into the group. I am still interested in the effects of living in an enclosure with these other species, but now I am specifically focusing on parenting behaviors.

So now it is J-term and I get to go watch a baby monkey every day. It is very exciting. I am finding all of this research on parenting behaviors, and I am observing it on a regular basis. The mother monkey carries the baby around all day. Last week she began parking the baby, which is when the mother puts the baby down on a branch and leaves it there for a short time while she does other things. At this point Shama (the mother) is only leaving the infant for very short periods of time (less than a minute). She will eventually leave it alone for longer intervals and it will become more and more independent.

I feel so lucky having the opportunity to watch this baby grow and mature, as well as watch how an infant changes the behavior of the rest of the group. The juvenile DeBrazza’s is clearly curious about the baby, and I have seen her approach Shama and the baby and sniff and poke at the infant. The father has gotten more territorial (based on my observations, not on statistically significant data). I am very excited to see where this project goes, and see whether there are significant changes in behavior due to the infant. I also appreciate having this opportunity as a Macalester student!