Text and photos (unless otherwise specified): Kate Hampson
This summer I was fortunate to carry out my own research for my honours dissertation project for two months in Zanzibar. With thanks to the Bangor Alumni Fund for supporting me with supplementary funding to allow me to conduct my research, as well as to Alex Georgiev, my supervisor, for helping me organise my trip, dealing with logistics and for looking after us all once we were out there.
How did I find out about this opportunity?
One of my module choices for 2nd year was the Primatology Field Course to Uganda in Kibale National Park. This was the perfect trip for me, someone who loves to travel and do first-hand field work experience. After hearing Alex mentioning the opportunity to undergrad students going Zanzibar to work with him under the Zanzibar Red Colobus Project, I began my research on the primates that were found there.
I soon got in touch with Alex and very quickly began designing my project so hat I could get permission from Zanzibar’s Department of Forestry and Non-Renewable Natural Resources to conduct research in Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park- the stronghold of the endemic Zanzibar red colobus. Not long after, things were all set, and the three of us (undergrads) were ready to jump on the plane to Zanzibar.
Out in the field
The main island of archipelago Zanzibar, Unguja, is home to 3 species of monkeys; the vervet monkey, Sykes’ monkey and the Zanzibar red colobus monkey.
In Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, where the project was based, only the Zanzibar Sykes’ monkey (also know as white-throated guenon; Cercopithecus mitis albogularis) and the Zanziabr red colobus monkey (piliocolobus kirkii) are found.
These two species have been known to associate and sometimes interact with each other frequently in areas around the agricultural fields (‘shambas’) where tourists come to visit the monkeys.
The focus of my study involved understanding why it is the Zanzibar red colobus and Sykes’ monkeys travel and interact with each other on certain occasions. It surprised me to know that very little research has been carried out on the Sykes’ monkeys (although there are many studies on similar subspecies on the mainland of Africa). This is what sparked an interest in me to follow this species to try and understand more about the behavioural ecology of this species.
After finalizing my methods during my pilot study, I began collecting my data about a week and a half in. I hired a field assistant, Mwyini, for the duration of my stay, which I was very grateful for as he was very knowledgeable on plant species and was good at finding the monkeys. We would alternate daily between following Sykes’ groups found in the forest and shamba areas.
Kate and Mwyini searching for monkeys in the field. Photos: Alex Georgiev
The majority of days I was able to quickly locate a group of Sykes’ monkeys in which I would follow, but occasionally I struggled to find a group that was habituated enough to allow us to follow them without running away. This meant lots of walking in humid conditions, but thanks to Mwyini, we always managed to locate a group to follow. The main issue was mostly down to the fact that deep forest groups were not habituated to humans following them and that some shamba groups were frightened of humans due to occasional hunting.
While with the Sykes’ monkeys, apart from recording detailed data on the frequency of association with colobus and any interactions the two species engaged in, I also noted their behaviour, diet, frequencies of calls within and between groups, and mapped their movement through the forest of shambas.
I observed many associations, including some interactions such as play in small juveniles/infants and some grooming.
My main study question is to explore the biological significances of these associations, whether that be through adaptive functions such as predator protection from humans and dogs or improved foraging efficiency or whether ecological factors such as the distribution of food or dietary overlap have more of an influence. I am currently analysing all my data as I work on my dissertation. Stay tuned for some results later in the year!
Wasn’t all work, work, work
The great thing about Zanzibar is that it not only it is the home of a fascinating primate species to study but also offers lots of opportunities for relaxing after a hard week's work in the forest. Taking time off to recover from long days in the field was important for us, and so we made sure to explore the island to do some touristy things. We loved to go to the beach for a swim and visit the beach bars whilst watching the sunset.
Getting back to Bangor
Leaving camp and getting on the plane back to the UK was not easy, but the prospect of analysing the data that I had spent to months working so hard to collect made me excited to get back.
I thoroughly enjoyed showing my family and friends pictures of my trip as it filled me with joy to think that I have contributed to the conservation of two species of primate, one of which is endangered!
I would like to thank once again Alex for being so helpful in supervising me from the get-go and providing this opportunity which is not easily come by. I am so grateful for such a wonderful experience, and to share it with 4 other students from Bangor University. To all those aspiring primatologists who love to travel, this is an opportunity that should not be missed!