Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Volunteer Primate Research Assistants

Volunteer Primate Research Assistants: Primate and Predator Project in South Africa

The Primate & Predator Project based within the Soutpansberg Mountains of South Africa is playing a critical role in the research and conservation of the local wildlife. We are looking for a hands-on and passionate research assistant to join our team to help support our research in primate behaviour. The project provides a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure to behavioural ecology, working with a range of experienced professionals from around the world. You will be working closely with primates whilst developing a range of research skills and could be a perfect stepping stone for your future career in conservation.

The Primate & Predator Project
Our project objective is to examine the behavioural ecology of predator-prey interactions focussing on diurnal primates and their predators as a model system.  This research plays a critical role in preserving local biodiversity. The project operates in conjunction with Durham University and you will have the opportunity to work closely with a dynamic group of primate and predator specialists.
Our research centre offers a unique opportunity to interact with all five species of South African primate: chacma baboon (Papio ursinus), vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops), samango monkey (Cercopithecus mitis erythrarchcus), thick-tailed bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus) and southern lesser bushbaby (Galago moholi).

The Lajuma Research Centre
The camp is located on the beautiful Soutpansberg Mountains in Limpopo province, South Africa. The mountains provide a unique ecosystem and as such attract a range of scientist studying the local ecology.

The Centre is in a rural location so there is housing available onsite. The accommodation is equipped with hot showers, flush toilets, a gas stove, fridge, tapped water, washing machine, solar power, firewood and electricity (220V). These are often shared rooms with other assistants. As the camp is in an isolated location, volunteers may join the town trip to Louis Trichardt (Makhado) once a fortnight for shopping, visits to an internet café, landline phone calls, etc.

Your Key Activities
The majority of your time will involve working with samango and vervet monkeys. You will spend lots of time out in the field, alongside an experienced and passionate team of field biologists, and it’s likely that you’ll be involved in tasks such as;
1. Behavioural observations of habituated primates through full day follows and collection of standardized behavioural and demographic data from our study troops.
2. Experimental titrations of predation risk based on giving-up densities or predator detection experiments using predator models.
3. Habituation of new groups, sometimes tracking via VHF receivers to maintain contact.
4. Monitoring of primate groups via GPS collars - you may play an important role in setting and monitoring traps, tracking via VHF receivers, data download, and collar retrieval.
5. Phenological transects and vegetation plots to estimate primate food availability.
6. General data entry.
7. Assisting PhD students based at PPP with their data collection as required.
8. Volunteers may also have the opportunity to work on the predator element of the project and engage in camera trapping.

As a busy research centre, it is likely that these activities will vary and we hope you will want to get involved in a variety of other projects during your time with us. We will also help you develop your skills and experience, so if you have any specific interests in particular techniques or aspects of our research, we will try to accommodate these

What we are looking for:
Everyone at Lajuma is passionate about the work that they are doing so we are looking for someone who is excited to make an active contribution to the project. We are open to your background, what is most important is that you are passionate about conservation. There are a few qualities that will make you more relevant for the programme:

1. A background in biology/zoology/ecology or related field and an interest in the behaviour, ecology and conservation of primates and other mammals would be preferred.
2. You’ll need to be physically fit as you will regularly undertake walks in mountainous terrain, often in temperatures. You will need to be able to comfortably cover 10-15km per day (often more) over rough and often steep terrain and capable of carrying a day pack these distances while collecting data. You will usually do this with another assistant but you’ll be comfortable walking alone as well.
3. You should enjoy working as part of a team, and be happy to operate under the authority of field research coordinators.
4. You should be reliable, responsible and motivated when it comes to following research protocols and methodologies. Due to the nature of our work, you’ll need to work unsociable hours when needed and should be happy to support other researchers in their work as necessary.
5. Relevant experience of the project’s field techniques and of working in southern Africa is desirable but not essential.

This is a volunteer role so no salary is provided, however you will be exposed to a wide range of research techniques and therefore could be an integral stepping stone to your next role.

You will need to cover your own food and accommodation costs at the research station. Accommodation costs are currently 4000 Rand a month. All research equipment will be provided. Volunteer research assistants will also be responsible for their own airfare and travel to South Africa and medical/travel insurance.

How to Apply:
We are looking for volunteers who are able to commit for a minimum of 6 months, although our preference is for those who are available to stay for longer (12 months or more). Volunteers who are able to contribute for longer periods could also have the opportunity to take on extra responsibilities such as data analysis and publication where appropriate.

Application Deadline:
To apply, please submit a CV and covering letter to the project email address (
Please use your cover letter to explain why you are interested in working at Lajuma and to outline your relevant experience or transferable skills. Please also include contact details for two referees. Applications are welcome year round, with up to six vacancies available per year.

Contact Information:
Professor Russell Hill
Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Science Site
Durham DH1 3LE
United Kingdom

Project related websites
Durham University Primate and Predator Project
Lajuma Research Centre                                                                                                   
Primate and Predator Project blog 
You can find us on Twitter @PrimatePredator

Peter Dickinson
Independent International Zoo Consultant

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