By Hugh Notman
Every May since 2007 I have taken up to 20 undergraduate students to a remote little strip of forest called Monkey River in Belize. This forest is home to a healthy population of black howler monkeys, which are famous for being one of the loudest mammals on the planet relative to their size (think cocker spaniel producing a call that can be heard over a kilometer away). The field school is a University of Calgary group study program but it is open to all students in Canadian universities.
During the program students are taught, and gain first-hand experience in the basics of data collection methodology on wild primates, forest ecology, research design and the management of rigorous field conditions (including how to get along with fellow researchers in tight quarters). Monkey River is not only home to howler monkeys, but also jaguars, poisonous snakes (the fer de lance) and millions of mosquitoes (in fact, its original name was the Mosquito Coast). Conditions are rough – students share rooms at the end of long days in the forest and then completing “homework” each afternoon and evening – but the rewards are worth it (according to the feedback we get). We have a long-standing relationship with local field guides from the village of Monkey River, most of whom have been working with our project since the first group of students went in 1998 (I was a TA for that one). They accompany us in the forest and provide assistance with plant identification, trail clearing and forest safety. Almost all of my current and past Masters and PhD students are field school alumni;
Preparations are underway for the field school this coming that these students are fully aware of what they’re getting into with field work at the grad level once they’ve been through my Belize program! I also have a different site in Belize that has been used for my research program at Athabasca University, but only my graduate students visit this site.
Updated March 03 2017 by Student & Academic Services