Studying in Ghana: Meet Rob

(As part of Geography Week and as part of btw’s Profiles of interesting people, we present Part I of an interview with Rob Schubert, who recently completed research in Ghana.)

My name is Rob Schubert and I am a graduate student from The Ohio State University. I study primates, specifically monkeys, through the field of Anthropology.

Anthropology is the study of all aspects of human beings including language, biology, culture, and history. Studying primates helps scientists to better understand behaviors and physical characteristics that humans and primates share.

btw: Where have you been working?

Rob: I have worked throughout the world in Central America, Asia, and Africa. My longest and most recent project has been in a monkey sanctuary (protected area) in Ghana, West Africa.

btw: Why are you there?

Rob: Scientists interested in primate behavior and biology can study these animals in a number of different settings.  I want to understand how differences in the types of forests where primates naturally live influence the way that they move and rest.

The sanctuary I’m currently working in offers an opportunity to study how monkeys living in a natural, undisturbed forest differ behaviorally from monkeys living in a nearby patch of forest. That area was partially cleared of large trees and farmed as recently as a few decades ago.

btw: What is your typical day like?

Rob: Many primates have distinct periods of feeding, resting, and traveling each day. Primatologists often work long days to observe differences in behavior during these activities.

I wake up about an hour before dawn to prepare for the day (pack my lunch, my gear, etc.). I go to find the group of monkeys that I will watch that day shortly after dawn. Once I find them, I follow them continuously until late in the afternoon. That adds up to between 8 to 11 hours.

After a long day under a hot sun, I always look forward to taking a shower and cooling down for the evening. After dinner, I enter my data into my computer. I try to relax a little before going to bed with a good book or some music and get to sleep early so I can start again early the next day.

btw: What does your study consist of?

Rob: I follow two monkey species: the Ursine Colobus and Lowe’s Guenon. The Ursine Colobus is a leaf-eating monkey with starkly contrasting black and white hair patterns. Its long white tail can often be seen hanging low below branches even when the rest of its body is obscured by leaves.

Lowe’s Guenon is a smaller, energetic fruit- and insect-eating monkey that is constantly on the move. Each week, I follow one of these species for five days from dawn until a few hours before dusk.

btw: What are your tasks?

Rob: Every three minutes, I record how a specific animal is moving (leaping, climbing, etc.) or resting (sitting, clinging onto a trunk, etc.) and the characteristics of the area of forest where that behavior is occurring. For example, I record the size and orientation of branches they are standing on, how high they are in the trees, and whether they are in an area of the forest where trees had been cut down for farmland in the past.

Every three minutes, I switch to another nearby animal and follow that individual until my stopwatch goes off for another sample. My goal is to see if and how monkeys change the way they move and rest depending on where they are in the forest.

btw: What kind of gear do you need?

Rob: The most important pieces of gear I have are probably my binoculars and my stool. Binoculars are a primatologist’s best friend. They help me see high up in the canopy and see details about branches and the monkey’s behavior that I couldn’t see with my eyes. The stool lets me rest during the very long afternoon naps that leaf-eating monkeys are known for. Plus, the stool keeps me off the ground where I could find myself in a big swarm of biting army ants.

Some raingear, waterproof paper, a good compass and/or GPS are the only other items you really need in the forest.

Come back next week to learn more about Daily Life in Ghana!