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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-21-Narasimhan-2_20150522-144111_1.jpgThis internship keeps getting cooler. Today, we had a troop of wild howlers hanging around the sanctuary, and our babies actually got into the trees and interacted with them! We call this troop R2D2, and all of their names have something to do with Star Wars. The dominant male’s name is Yoda, and the other male is Vader. 

It’s interesting because no matter where a howler troop is, you will almost always find the dominant male in the center of the group. Stevie, our blind howler, was playing with Mace, a baby in the troop. It was adorable. Rugby is still a little shy with other howlers, but she is getting there. Watching the wild howlers and capuchins is unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s one thing to see them in photographs and to learn about their behavior in a textbook, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. I really enjoy just sitting peacefully and watching. 

Another cool thing we are doing is documenting howler behavior. The species has been neglected in this area, and so the research we are doing is extremely important. Every day we do several behavioral follows, either focusing on one baby or both. For about forty-five minutes, we document their every behavior, which can be anything from a vocalization to foraging. This is called an ethogram, and it takes a while to get the hang of. We are also identifying all of the individuals in each troop to try to get a population count. As of right now, it is not known how many howlers live in Panama, further adding to the importance of our research.

My favorite part of the internship so far has been interacting with the monkeys. The babies are frustrating at times, and it sometimes feels like babysitting spoiled toddlers. We try to keep them in the trees and off the ground as much as possible, to mimic a normal upbringing and get them used to a typical howler lifestyle (wild howlers spend almost no time on the ground). Sometimes, however, the babies do not want to get into a tree and just want to cuddle. Sometimes they will bite and run away, resulting in a wild monkey chase. However, watching them in the trees and playing with them is so rewarding, and they have the ability to make anyone’s heart melt, no matter how hard they bite.

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Posted by on in Blog

b2ap3_thumbnail_5-19-Narasimhan-1.jpgI’ve been at the sanctuary for a few days now, and I am already immersed in the several projects going on here. I am learning so much. While the babies are adorable and fun to play with, I am falling in love with the capuchins. 

Their intelligence is so obvious when you spend even a small amount of time with them. Every time I enter their enclosure, they embrace me quickly and then search my pockets for hidden almonds I may have brought for them. After that, we settle down for a grooming session. I usually groom Angie while Ace sits on my shoulder and grooms me. It is easy to forget, however, that these are wild animals and not pets.

I’ve been trained in how to read their body language and facial expressions. For example, when upset, caps will bare their teeth in a way that almost looks like they are smiling. This is similar to their play face, so when working with them, you have to always be aware of how they are feeling and behaving.

Because they have to live in an enclosure while they are being rehabilitated, it is easy for these intelligent creatures to become bored. We try to provide as much enrichment for them as possible, and part of everyday is dedicated to that. We often rearrange their enclosure, so branches are in different positions than they were before and new ones are added. We also hide their food in interesting places and design fun toys for them. Some favorites of theirs are colored paper or egg cartons with yummy peanut butter.

We also have to watch for stereotypic behaviors they might exhibit. These are behaviors that are common in animals in captivity, and are usually a sign of distress or boredom. Lately Ace has been doing a quick head roll, almost like a twitch. This is a common behavior in capuchins in captivity, but it isn’t clear what it means or how to prevent it.

Another cool thing with capuchins is their territorial behavior. When trying to ward off enemies or demonstrating dominance, caps will break and shake branches. It’s actually quite terrifying to be on the receiving end of one of these encounters. We try to keep the wild caps away from the ones in our care, as they take their food and make Angie nervous, so part of the job is breaking and shaking branches at them in return. I’ve had a couple showdowns with some wild caps, and they are extremely intimidating.

I’m learning so much about animal behavior and husbandry, and loving every second of it!

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-8-Narasimhan.jpgMeet Rachel Narasimhan, a senior biology major at Waynesburg University. This summer, she will be interning at the Aloutta Sanctuary in Panama. She plans to share her experiences right here on the Waynesburg blog.

Hi! My name is Rachel Narasimhan, and I am entering my senior year at Waynesburg University. I am a biology major with a psychology minor. I am extremely interested in animal behavior, especially that of primates. I am going to be spending one month here at Aloutta Sanctuary, located on the Chiriqui Penninsula of Panama. It is a rehabilitation center as well as a field research station. Its main focus is mantled howler monkeys. 

It is my second day at the sanctuary, and I am learning and experiencing so much. The sanctuary has been doing amazing work, and has rehabbed and released over a dozen animals back into the wild. 

Right now we are home to two capuchin monkeys, Angie and Ace, two Geoffroy’s Tamarins, Razorblade and Mr. T, and two baby howlers, Rugby and Stevie. I’ve gotten to work hands on with all of them, and they are a handful. The capuchins are so so so smart. Angie, who came to the sanctuary in February, was tied to a pole at a gas station for an estimated ten years. She is very friendly and sweet, but gets anxious quickly when other wild caps come around her enclosure. Ace is young and rambunctious, and is a good playmate for Angie.

The Geoffrey Tamarins do not get along, so they are housed separately. If you feed Mr. T before Razorblade, Razorblade will freak out. Alone, they are wonderful little creatures who will hop all over you when you greet them. The howlers, affectionately known here as the babies, are something else. They require the most attention and they certainly love every second of it. Stevie and her mother were electrocuted by a wire when she was very young, resulting in her mother’s death and the loss of her eyesight. I am amazed at how good of a monkey Stevie still is. She climbs fearlessly in and out of trees and keeps up with Rugby just fine.

The other interns and managers have been really welcoming and helpful with my transition, but it is a lot to handle. The bugs are biting all the time, and the heat is suffocating. My first day here, I had sort of a meltdown. I’m extremely homesick and the difficulty of living in the middle of the jungle got to me. I was on baby duty at the time. Stevie, sensing my fear and sadness, climbed into my lap and cupped my chin in her hands. We locked eyes, and I think she was trying to tell me to stick it out. I’ll never forget the look she gave me and how she made me feel so much better in that moment. I’m still having a hard time adjusting, but the monkeys make it worth it.

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Posted by on in Alumni

Julie Tischer, 2013

Microbiology Ph.D. student and research associate at the University of Georgia

Julie Tischer, a 2013 Waynesburg University alumna, was recently published in a peer-reviewed journal as part of a research group at the University of Georgia. 

Her article, "Proteomic Analysis of the Acidocalcisome, an Organelle Conserved from Bacteria to Human Cells," was published in PLOS Pathogens, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal published monthly by PLOS, a nonprofit organization. Tischer and the additional authors studied the proteins that are on the surface of an organelle in order to determine how it functions in the cells.

The journal addressed questions such as: 

•What proteins are associated with this organelle called the acidocalcisome? 

•What are the individual functions of these identified proteins?

•Are these proteins essential for the survival of the cell?

•How are these proteins contributing to the overall activity of the acidocalcisome?

Tischer, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, is currently a microbiology Ph.D. student and research associate at the University of Georgia. At the university, she works in the Terns lab studying the CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune system found in bacteria and archaea. 

“During my first semester, I worked diligently on the acidocalcisome project to generate data for the journal,” said Tischer. “My results during that six-week rotation went into producing a few of the figures in the paper, making me an author.”

Tischer adds that the classes and staff at Waynesburg University helped prepare her for the research program as well as her published journal article. 

“Waynesburg University set me up for success in the field of biology research by providing me with an exceptional foundation in biology education and encouraging me to pursue research opportunities beyond Waynesburg,” said Tischer. “In addition, the professional and passionate professors really inspired me to pursue a career in research and teaching.”

 

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Posted by on in Alumni

b2ap3_thumbnail_Rearick.JPGCorey Rearick, 2013

Medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pa.

After graduating from Waynesburg University with a degree in biology (pre-med) and a minor in chemistry, Corey Rearick spent the next few months studying for the Medical College Admission Test in order to be accepted into medical school. While working a shift as a pharmacy technician at a local pharmacy, Rearick learned he had been accepted into the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he recently started graduate classes in August.

While a student at Waynesburg, Rearick was selected from more than 1,000 students to be part of the Mayo Clinic’s student research fellowship program. The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical practice and medical research group that was recently voted the third best hospital in the United States. 

After his experiences at both the Mayo Clinic and Waynesburg, Rearick is confident he wants to do something with scientific research as a career one day. Rearick attributes Waynesburg University for leading him down the correct path to become a successful researcher. 

“I think the biggest opportunity Waynesburg afforded me was in research,” said Rearick. “It was during my research at Waynesburg that I fell in love with discovery. It started as something I was doing for my résumé and turned into something I want to do for the rest of my life.”

 

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