The Jungle as the Classroom

In Costa Rica, Humboldt Students Study Primate Behavior First Hand

Drs. Marissa Ramsier and Mary Glenn and their students have found themselves in some pretty unique situations in Costa Rica. Oh sure, they trounced around the jungle among poisonous snakes and learned to live with insatiable mosquitoes, but nothing quite compared to the all-out battle at the suspension bridge.
“We saw some really unusual stuff,” says Glenn, Professor of Anthropology and founder of the Humboldt Biological Anthropology Research Center. “Two groups of howler monkeys had been calling and going at each other on this suspension bridge and they started wrestling and grappling. We saw a howler monkey grab another one and throw it off the bridge. The monkey fell about 50 feet but survived.”
Faculty and students also observed unusual inter-species interactions including spider and capuchin monkeys playing together. The observations were made as part of the Costa Rica Primate Field Program. Cal Poly Humboldt students, as well as those from other universities, have an annual opportunity to travel out of the country to study primates in the field and gain invaluable hands-on experience. The program usually takes place every other summer.
The program typically runs mid-summer and offers students the potential to earn units through the Department of Anthropology. After initial orientation and preparatory meetings, students embark to La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. In the field, they study primate behavior and ecology as well as Costa Rican culture.
Once on the ground, faculty guide the students through what amounts to a high-intensity anthropology field school. The group eats breakfast at sunrise before breaking into smaller clusters and heading out to explore the jungle in search of primates. After their morning observations, the groups return to the field station for lunch and a classroom lecture before returning to the jungles for a late afternoon observation session.
“I’ve always been interested in primates and an opportunity to include this trip with my studies was very exciting,” says Rebekah Dickens, a graduate of the anthropology program. “The idea of being in the jungle everyday for a couple of weeks was pretty appealing to me. It was definitely different, people’s bodies reacted differently to the new environment, but after a couple of days you get more used to it. It was harder work to find monkeys than I expected, but once we found them it was amazing to observe their behavior.”
Lauren Ludtke, an anthropology alumna, also studied in Costa Rica. She remembers finding spider monkeys for the first time during a jungle expedition.
“When we finally encountered a group of spider monkeys it was very exciting,” Ludtke says. “Throughout most of the program we only saw capuchins and howlers and the spider monkeys were kind of elusive. So, when we were finally able to observe their behaviors it was a pretty special moment.”