The Ethnoprimatology of Caribbean Vervet Monkeys
The ethnographic data I have collected in St. Kitts has shown that the interconnections between humans and vervet monkeys have increased dramatically since 2005, when the more than three hundred year old sugar industry collapsed. Prior to 2005, many Kittitian people did not have the opportunity to observe monkey behavior. Today, small-holding farmers work on old sugar land that is no longer protected as the cane was with lots of workers, tractors and rangers trained to shoot monkeys. Humans and monkeys now interact negatively on a daily basis. For example, my research has shown that over three quarters of all Kittitian farmers deal with crop damage by monkeys. Because monkey behavior is now being observed for the first time, their human-like qualities are only now being fully realized. Conflict is exacerbated because the monkeys are so much like humans that farmers expect them to behave with human-like manners in their crop raiding (and not to take one bite out of twenty different cucumbers)! In addition, I have shown that the historical and political context surrounding conflict with monkeys is an incredibly important part of understanding this problem. Due to the island’s colonial history, most farmers do not own their land, making this situation more difficult. Currently, I am working to compare my data from St. Kitts to Nevis and Barbados, two other Caribbean islands with vervet monkeys (the monkeys are also found in St. Martin/St. Maarten and Tortola). Nevis stopped producing sugar decades before St. Kitts and has much higher rates of land ownership and Barbados is still a sugar-producing country. I am interested in learning how these varying economies affect the human-primate interface.
Applied Management of Vervet Monkeys in St. Kitts, Nevis, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin and Barbados
Because the “monkey problems” faced by these islands are so severe, the results of my research will likely be utilized by local governments and play a role in the applied management of this environmental issue. Thanks to funding from the Christophe Harbour Foundation, Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, and the St. Kitts Ministry of Agriculture, I am currently conducting a scientific population estimate of the St. Kitts vervet monkey population and will be expanding this project to Nevis, Sint Maarten, and Barbados. Understanding the dynamics of these monkey populations will enable me, along with my collaborators at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, Newcastle University (the Biological, Clinical and Environmental Systems Modelling group), and the Food and Environment Research Agency, to generate effective and island-specific management strategies.
Understanding Pathogen Dynamics Within Insular Ecosystems
I am currently collecting biological samples (blood, hair and feces) from vervet monkeys in St. Kitts with Dr. Christa Gallagher at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine to test for the presence of the pathogens rotavirus and norovirus. As I have shown the increasing interface between humans and vervet monkeys in St. Kitts over the last ten years, we are investigating the possibility of host shifts in these diseases. The presence of these pathogens in vervet monkeys creates the possibility of understanding the unique dynamics of disease transmission in insular ecosystems.