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Friday, October 14, 2011

Qualified to Collect Monkey Poo

I believe that this essay was an assignment in a college course designed to help students decide what they wanted to do with their lives. Reading back over it I believe that there were at least thirty spelling errors that spell-check wouldn’t have caught.

I can’t imagine anyone who had the problems I had passing any college level class, but the low standards that prevail in the college classroom permit this condition. Well, I thought I was being clever when I wrote this, you tell me if I was right.
4th November 2003

(She) is a slender woman of plain features who might get lost in a crowd. To the shallow or simple-minded she would be of little interest, especially in our world of digitally enhanced plastic people.  Yet, the passion with which she speaks of her work draws people to her like cold hunters to a campfire. Many of the people in her field risk their lives to inquire into the nature of humanity, its origins, and future. No, she is not an astronaut or a nuclear-physicist, she is an Anthropologist.

(This Anthropologist) originally studded zoology, but found Anthropology much more interesting, because of its relationship to the nature of the human species. Anthropology itself is defined as the study of the origin of humans (I believe this is a definition from class so it may not be wholly accepted). It is often confused with geology because of the importance of fossils in the field and it is common to mistakenly ask anthropologists about rocks. Christina prepared to enter the field with internships studding captive animals which are far easier than studying wild specimens as they are already habitualized to the presents of humans. Even with its attributes, captive work is no substitute for field research as many animals do not take well to captivity.

Another curious aspect of Anthropology is that after six years of study, training, and the completion of course work for a Master’s of Science (she) was considered qualified to collect monkey poo. This is what one would refer to as fieldwork which is the hardest part of being an anthropologist. It requires getting up when the animals do and trailing them throughout the day. In the study of Chimpanzees, for example, one researcher may follow a particular animal and record the vocalization made by that animal (sounds it makes with the mouth) and the situations in which they occur. Another researcher will then follow another animal and do the same. At the end of the day they will put their data together and see if a conversation has taken place between the two animals.  Others will collect genetic samples (monkey poo) to see who is breeding with whom. Conservation projects present more unique challenges. This would require caring for captive animals and working closely with the local community. Unfortunately for many anthropologists the animals that they study live in countries that have yet to work out their human rights. Needless to say, convincing them to care about animals presents difficulties.

Her degree is in Anthropology, but she considers herself a Primotologist, specializing in the study of primates our closest living relatives. She spent much of her field time researching a small ape known as a gibbon. One of the unique qualities of the Gibbon is that they imprint on (that’s Primotologist for fall in love with) humans more than other Gibbons making it hard to breed them in captivity. The Gibbon, like many primates, can be very aggressive. Caged Gibbons must be restrained when the handlers enter the cage. It can be difficult to see that neither creature, Human nor Gibbon, get hurt.

(Her) love for her work becomes most apparent when she talks about the forest. Describing the humble feeling of being in that great expanse of trees surrounded by a diversity of creatures is truly breathtaking. In fact, at that moment the question is not why she loves Anthropology so much but why anyone wouldn’t want to feel so alive. However, this joy is accompanied by a deep pain that she feels when she sees how we humans treat the environment. The industrial wastelands that dot the world are like a lost dream, sickening requiems of the dark side of human nature. Loss of animal habitat caused by development seems to her to be lost opportunities to inquiry into the nature of humanity.       
Anthropology may seem like a field for dreamers but in reality it has some practical applications. For example, Genetic anthropologists were brought in to search for victims of 9/11. Anthropologists also consult large corporations and governments on the environmental impacts of technology. It would seem that Anthropology and Environmentalism go hand in hand.
(She) recommended that anyone wishing to go into this field should spend a lot of time reading. The journals of the American Anthropology Association and Internationals Primatological Society are a good place to start. Moreover, the smart thing to do would be to take and internship at a zoo or conservation center, and find out about working with animals, it is just not for everyone.