Field Primatology Syllabus

Field Primatology

Course Syllabus

 22 June – 18 July 2016

Instructor: Dr. Brandi Wren

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Takes place in South Africa. Provides an introduction to field research in primatology. Topics include primate behavior, ecology, evolution, conservation, and primatological field methods. Sites visited include private game reserves, government parks, and primate sanctuaries. The format of the course includes individual and group participation, hands-on activities, practice with various research methods, lectures, readings, and written and practical assignments.

COURSE OBJECTIVES: Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. design and implement a basic primatological field study;
  2. properly utilize a variety of field data collection methods, including sampling and recording methods for behavioral data, population assessment methods, and habitat description methods;
  3. conduct fieldwork safely in wild areas; and
  4. accurately describe the primates and ecology of southern Africa.

Emergencies: We will have the capability to make and receive telephone calls throughout most/all of the trip. If there is an emergency during the trip, students may be contacted at XXXX.

Further, all courses will be registered with the U.S. Embassy for student safety in the case of a catastrophe.

Students with disabilities: If you need course adaptations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with us, or if you need special arrangements in case of an evacuation, please contact us as soon as possible.

GRADING: Your grade will be based on the following rubric:


Final presentation (30%) 30 pts.
Data collection (30%) 30 pts.
Class discussions (20%) 20 pts.
Participation & teamwork (20%) 20 pts.
Total Points 100 pts


Final presentation: Students are required to give a 15-minute presentation on a topic of their choice that is relevant to the course. Students are encouraged to use data collected during the field course for their presentations.

Data collection: Students will be responsible for the collection and submission of both behavioral and ecological data. Students will be trained in various methods of collecting behavioral data, and will practice those methods during fieldwork. Methods of collecting behavioral data will include the following: ad lib sampling, focal animal sampling, scan sampling, behavior sampling, continuous recording, and instantaneous recording. Students will also learn various methods for collecting ecological data, including the collection of percent canopy cover, GPS locations, vegetation sample plots, diameter at breast height of trees, and weather/climate data. Students will also learn methods for estimating primate populations through survey procedures, including point transects and line transects.

Class discussions: Students will be graded on participation in discussions of the assigned readings. Each student will be responsible for leading one group discussion of an assigned reading. Assignments of discussion topics will be assigned prior to the beginning of the course. Students should briefly summarize the paper in their own words, and lead a discussion with questions that critique the reading. Students should NOT simply outline/describe the article, but should demonstrate some sort of critical analysis or application of the reading during the discussion.

Participation & teamwork: Students will receive daily grades for participation and teamwork. These grades will be based on the ability to work effectively with classmates, instructors, and guides, in addition to their willingness to participate and level of participation.


REQUIRED READINGS: Readings should be done before the trip, as we will discuss the articles at various times throughout the trip. Required readings will be provided to students as PDFs.

Buckland et al. 2010. Design and analysis of line transect surveys for primates. International Journal of Primatology 31(5):833-847.

Plumptre, AJ, & Cox, D. 2006. Counting primates for conservation: primate surveys in Uganda. Primates 47:65-73.

Marshall, AR, JC Lovett, and PCL White. Selection of line-transect methods for estimating the density of group-living animals: lessons from the primates. American Journal of Primatology 70:452-462.

Ganzhorn, JU. 2003. Habitat description and phenology. In Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology: A Practical Guide, ed. JM Setchell and DJ Curtis. pp. 40-56.

Martin, P, and P Bateson. 1993. Recording methods. In Measuring Behaviour: An introductory guide, 2nd ed. pp. 84-100.

Fragaszy, DM, S Boinski, and J Whipple. 1992. Behavioral sampling in the field: comparison of individual and group sampling methods. American Journal of Primatology 26:259-275.

Silk, J, D Cheney, and R Seyfarth. 2013. A practical guide to the study of social relationships. Evolutionary Anthropology 22:213-225.

Anderson, DR. 2001. The need to get the basics right in wildlife field studies. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29:1294-1297.

Seyfarth, RM and DL Cheney. 1992. Meaning and mind in monkeys. Scientific American 267:122-128.

Hauser, MD. 1989. Ontogenetic changes in the comprehension and production of vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops) vocalizations. Journal of Comparative Psychology 103:149-158.

Foord, SH, RJ Van Aarde, and SM Ferreira. 1994. Seed dispersal by vervet monkeys in rehabilitating coastal dune forests at Richards Bay. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 24:56-59.

van de Waal, E, N Renevey, C Monique Favre, and R Bshary. 2010. Selective attention to philopatric models causes directed social learning in wild vervet monkeys. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 277:2105-2111.

Marais, AJ, LR Brown, L Barrett, and SP Henzi. 2006. Population structure and habitat use of baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus) in the Blyde Canyon Nature Reserve. Koedoe 49:67-75.

Isbell, LA, and TP Young. 1993. Social and ecological influences on activity budgets of vervet monkeys, and their implications for group living. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 32:377-385.

 Sikes, RS, WL Gannon, and The Animal Care and Use Committee of the American Society of Mammalogists. 2011. Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the use of wild mammals in research. Journal of Mammalogy 92:235-253.

Fedigan, LM. 2010. Ethical issues faced by field primatologists: asking the relevant questions. American Journal of Primatology 72:754-771.



Martin, Paul, and Patrick Bateson. 2000. Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 222 p.

Setchell, Joanna, and Deborah Curtis, eds. 2003. Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 343 p. (particularly ch. 1-6)



20 June:   Arrive SA, overnight at Lesedi Cultural Village

21-26 June: Loskop Dam Nature Reserve: orientation, lectures, fieldwork, bush skills training, work with habituated vervets

27-30 June: Leshiba Wilderness Reserve: lectures, fieldwork, work with samango monkeys

1-3 July: Blyde River Canyon: fieldwork, etc.

 4-8 July: Makuleke Contractual Park, EcoTraining Camp: fieldwork, etc.

10 July: Travel to airport


Lecture/Tutoral Topics:

1 Introduction to Fieldwork – field safety, approaching wildlife on foot, comfort zones, habituating primates, wildlife tracks
2 Primates of Southern Africa – bushbabies, vervets, baboons, samangos, behavior, ecology, conservation
3 Methods: Navigation Fundamentals – field orientation, compass, maps, GPS
4 Making Sure You Get What You Need: Fieldwork & Research Design – study hypotheses, predictions, anticipated data, methods
5 Methods: Behavioral Observation – sampling & recording techniques
6 Methods: Population Assessment – DISTANCE sampling
7 Basics of Tree ID – dichotomous keys, plant structures
8 Methods: Habitat Analyses – vegetation traits,
9 The Monkeys on Your Back: Research Requirements – permits, IACUC, IRB, biological samples, funding
10 Ethics in Field Primatology
11 Community Conservation
12 Additional methods – camera traps, radio telemetry, non-invasive analyses of biological measures, DNA data for elusive populations
13 Methods: Using Your Data – population assessments & habitat descriptions
14 Methods: Using Your Data – activity budgets & behavioral data
15 Methods: Presenting Your Data – giving a scientific talk, prepping your field course presentation