Training in Primatology: Building Capacity to Ensure Long-term Primate Conservation
The term “capacity-building” is frequently used in the conservation world. These days it seems like a catchphrase that is bordering on cliché. As a scientist myself, working at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, I have devoted much of my career to mentoring up-and-coming primatologists. Over the last 11 years I have trained and/or supported over 70 students.
Although being a mentor can be an extremely rewarding experience, my efforts are more about conserving primates that can be iconic species for promoting habitat and biodiversity conservation, and ensuring that well-trained professionals will continue to carry the torch into the future.
I recently received some fantastic news from former and current students. James Dopp, who works with me on Guizhou snub-nosed monkey research in China, wrote from the field: I want to let you know that I was awarded a Fulbright [Fellowship]…I want to thank you for your help and the letter again, as the people at IIE decided to use your letter to show the officials from Yunnan University.
I am elated by James’ achievement and the fact he used the opportunity I provided as a springboard to further his aspirations. James demonstrated motivation and independence – two essential characteristics that I, in my mentoring efforts, nurture in young professionals.
Through my research and conservation work on the Asian leaf-eating monkeys, I have established an extensive professional network in the region. Three years ago, I spearheaded a Training in Primatology (TIP) program to elevate the technical competencies of early career professionals in Asia. I enlisted the help of fellow primatologist Sylvia Atsalis, Ph.D., and my colleague at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, Lance Miller, Ph.D., in designing and teaching short courses and workshops to young professionals who came highly recommended by experts.
Besides teaching the fundamentals of primate behavior, ecology, and conservation, we also impart practical skills to prepare our trainees for the real world. Thus far, we have completed two training modules and the third installment will be implemented in 2013. Ultimately, our goal for the TIP program is to empower next generation scientists to take on a leadership role to tackle the conservation problems in their home countries.
Already, the TIP program has made a positive impact on the professional lives of our trainees. Many reported that the training experience was transformational and the guidance they received was effective in helping them build confidence and advance their career.
Parkin Runcharoen, a trainee from Thailand, attributed his new found voice for campaigning for science and conservation to our program. For Kefeng Niu, our trainee from China, the TIP program and my continued mentorship have prompted him to take on more conservation challenges in his work as a nature reserve biologist. In an effort to safeguard Guizhou’s endangered species, he and I founded the Little Green Guards, an education and outreach program aimed at fostering understanding of wildlife in children living in rural areas adjacent to protected areas.
Here at San Diego Zoo Global, “capacity-building” is not a catchphrase. I am proud to be part of this excellent team, doing my share to promote primate conservation. Although I am but one scientist, through our collective efforts, I believe we can bring species back from the brink of extinction!
Chia Tan, Ph.D., scientist, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research