Monkeys Forest Tales: Why to collect good quality data?

In past weeks while working with my field data, as well as with other people data, reflections about how we collect field data for our research? How we teach our students to collect that data? And now, how we train our local collaborators to collect that data to help us with our research? Make me think about collecting good quality data. By good quality data, I mean data that can be used to understand biological processes but also help us to propose effective conservation actions for the species we work with.

When I started, over 25 years ago, collecting good quality data means detailed information about every observation I made about the monkeys for as long as possible. Then, while I was doing my doctorate, good quality data also means to collect data from as much places as possible, within a timeframe limited by financial resources. So, you basically must optimize the time you spend in the field collecting data. However, even when you collect just a few data for answering specific questions, the same detail should be observed as all that detail can explain the data patterns we observe from our data.

By this I mean, even if your timeframe is limited just be detailed on the data you collect and take advantage of all the technology available (if the environment allow you to have it) and collect additional details that help you contextualize the specific data you collect such a GPS point, a good picture or even better a video, talk with the local people and gather some historic information from the data…

Good data means, enough information so you can answer the questions you made before you went to collect that information. Even if the data was difficult to gather. It will be always difficult to gather, especially if you work in an uncertain environment, like field.

When you have spatial data, collecting good quality data also mean to know the equipment accuracy and what to collect as additional data that put your GPS points in context when you work with it. The reason for making emphasis on this good quality data is because that will help you understand better the kind of results your analysis give you and how that can be explained to make better decision for the animals you study and the people around them.

So, before going to the field or when training students and local assistant just remember to think about those additional details that can improve your data collection so you get better and useful results.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some stories of local people: Stella’s story

Stella and other kids from the study area painting monkeys. Picture: Graciela Pinzón

When working in the field, you meet many people from different ages and backgrounds. Your share time, stories, and experiences with them, and both are affected by those experiences and stories even many years after that happens. In today’s post, I will share the story from Stella Gutierrez, a local girl who´s mom lived in one of the farms where Zocay Project started in 2004. Here is what Stella said about how going to the forest to see monkeys with me change her:

“Hi, I’m Stella Gutierrez, I want to tell you a little about the experiences that I had with nature since I met Xyomara.

I met her around 18 years, my mom was living in a farm located in San Martin, Xyomara arrived there to do fieldwork, since then she started to take me with her for her visit to the forest to collect samples, see and mark areas where the monkeys live, know about the quantity of their population, and know their behavior, among other things.

We went to see not only the “maiceros” (black-capped capuchins), we also followed the behavior of “aulladores” (red howler monkeys), “titis” (Colombian squirrel monkeys), “nocturnos” (night monkeys) and “zocays” (dusky titi monkeys). While I was with her, she teaches me about the importance for human life of all animals and in this case monkeys. Because they help us to disperse seeds in the forest. She also teaches me that farms always need to have living fences so the monkeys can move and survive. That we need to protect monkeys instead of attack them, as we are the ones that invade its territories.

She also made meetings to raise awareness about the preservation of the environment and especially monkeys, those meetings were for adults, teaching them their importance and the role they play in nature, how they as parents and workers in farms can help to preserve them, no taking them as pets, not harming them or hunting them, but creating spaces where they can survive.

Those meetings were also for kids, where she brough teaching material, practical and easy to understand, so all kids from farms around also get interested in all the beauty of environmental preservation and especially monkeys that were attack in the area.

I remember Xyomara taking me to those walks teaching me how to observe their behavior without disturbing them, so after a while the monkeys get used to our presence and eat calmly and felt good with us keeping them company. She toughs me to eat like them, she used to say, “if they eat it, it can be food for us too”, in several occasions we eat fruits that they eat, even I eat some ants living in branches that are source of nutrients for the monkeys.

So, there are many stories about those walks, but the most important is that thanks to all Xyomara’s teaching, when I was a kid, now that I’m a grown woman worried by the environment, I share her teachings with my family, especially my two kids. This teaching had made them more careful about the environment we have, so they want to protect it and enjoy it without destroy it.”

Texto original de Stella en español (original text from Stella in Spanish): “

Hola, soy luz Stella Gutiérrez, quiero contarles un poco de las experiencias que he tenido con la naturaleza desde que conozco a Xiomara Carretero.

La conocí hace aproximadamente hace 18 años, mi madre se encontraba viviendo en una finca ubicada en San Martín de los llanos Meta, allí Xiomara llego a realizar trabajos de campo; desde entonces ella me empezó a llevar a sus camitas diarias para recolectar muestras, ver y demarcar las zonas por donde habitaban los micos, conocer acerca de la cantidad de su población Y conocer su comportamiento entre otras cosas.

Salíamos a ver no solo los micos maiceros, además seguíamos el comportamiento de los micos aulladores, titis, nocturnos etc. Mientras la acompañaba ella me enseñaba la importancia que tienen para la vida humana todas las especies de animales en este caso los monos, ya que nos ayudan a polinizar esparciendo semillas para el aumento de árboles etc. Me enseño que las fincas deben tener siempre cercas vivas para el traslado y la supervivencia de los micos, que debemos protegerlos no atacarlos, ya que nosotros somos los que invadimos su territorio.

También realizaba reuniones de concientización para la preservación del medio ambiente y en especial la de los micos, esas reuniones las dirigía no solo para adultos, enseñándoles su importancia y el papel que juegan en la naturaleza, como ellos al ser padres de familia y encargados de fincas podían ayudar a preservarlos, no adoptándolos como mascotas, no lastimándolos ni cazándolos, sino creando espacios apropiados para su supervivencia.  También para niños ofrecía espacios en los cuales llevaba material de enseñanza muy práctico y fácil de entender, para que los menores de todas las fincas aledañas también se interesaran por todo lo hermoso que tiene la preservación del medio ambiente y en especial  los micos que eran tan atacados en estas zonas.

Recuerdo que Xiomara al llevarme a esas caminatas me enseñaba como observar su comportamiento sin incomodarlos, tanto que después de un tiempo los micos se acostumbraban a nuestra presencia y comían tranquilos y se sentían a gusto mientras nosotras los acompañábamos; me enseño a alimentarme como ellos, ella me decía “ si lo comen ellos a nosotros también nos sirve como alimento” en varias ocasiones nos alimentábamos de los frutos que ellos también comían, hasta llegue a comer ciertas especies de ramas y hormigas que sirven como fuente de nutrientes para los micos.

En fin hay muchas cosas por contar de esas caminatas, pero lo más importante es que gracias a todo lo que Xiomara me enseño de niña, ahora soy una mujer preocupada por el medio ambiente y le transmito a mi familia, especialmente a mis 2 hijos esas enseñanzas, las cuales han servido para que ellos no destruyan el medio ambiente que tenemos sino que lo protejan y lo disfruten sin destruirlo.”     

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Monkey Forest Tales: Writing a letter of interest for your job application

In past weeks, I wrote a couple of post about volunteer experiences and transferable skills, both important when you prepare your CV and apply for jobs. In today’s post I will talk about my experiences with letters of interest when applying for new jobs.

When I started applying for jobs, a long time ago, it was only about your CV done, showing what you have done, your studies and the experience you have. Every country presents this same information in different ways and receive different kinds of support documentation with your C.V. Also, academic jobs are different from industry, NGO jobs applications. Nowadays, both will require a letter of intention in which you will explain why your experience is the right one for the job you are applying.

Over the years, some friends and professors gave me different advises about how to write this kind of letter, what to put in, but just recently I also learned that you also must learn what kind of language you should use. Some of the instructions on those job applications explain that you need to put how your experience will be useful for that job. However, it seems is also important to put how those experiences and skills will solve the problems you will face while doing the job you are applying for, using the same words they use to advertise the job.

Some career advisors also will tell you; you need to sell yourself for the job you are applying for. I never being good at selling, even less to sell myself. But in today’s job market the better you market yourself the better the job you get, so try to learn the language appropriate in your field to do it.

In academy, is not only about selling, but also about the articles you publish and the journals in which you publish it. So, if you can start publishing early, choose wise about the journals and even if we do not like and depending on where you want to go to work, publish in English.

Recently, there has been a lot of debate about, how academy is driven by publishing in English and how difficult it is for us non-native speakers to publish in this language. Although I think is valuable to publish both in English and in your own native language, you need to be aware that you will get different opportunities from publishing in different languages. I also agree that academy system need to change about this aspect, however I do not think it will change fast enough to give people finishing their careers now the opportunities they deserve if they only publish in their native language. So, my better advise is trying to publish in both languages, English and your native language.

Make sure also that you show that flexibility to publish in more than one language in your letters of interest, especially if the job you are applying require that you manage more than one language, a feature that I found is getting more common in recent years. And a final advise, spent time doing your job applications, this will assure you, you will get at least to the job interview phase of the process…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Monkey Forest Tales: Some positive things happening in cattle ranching areas

Over the last 17 years, Zocay Project had worked in private cattle ranching areas, this had allowed us to see the goods and the bads of this economic activity that is spread in Neotropical areas. Livestock ranching affect at least 59 % threatened monkeys in Latin America. However, over the years and depending on the particular landowner practices, there has been some positive changes too. In today’s post I want to focus on those positive changes that can improve biodiversity persistence in cattle ranching areas.

As I mentioned in other post (here), presence of living fences, small fragments (< 1 ha) and isolated trees help biodiversity in these areas by allowing them to move from one forest fragment to another and helping them to complement their diets. Trees present in living fences, isolated tree and small fragments usually have pioneer plant species that are food sources for birds and monkeys in the area.

Regenerating areas also provide new microhabitat for insects and spiders, as well as pioneer plants that became food for animals dispersing through the pasture matrix. All these areas previously mentioned are especially important during dry season, as temperatures rise, and water become scarce.

Over the past dry season, we implement a pilot project to evaluate wildlife use of water reservoirs for livestock in one of the farms where cattle ranching is the primary economic activity. Some pastures in this farm had living fences and isolated trees. But mostly the pastures are open. Farmers use water reservoirs, artificial and natural, to provide their livestock with water during the dry season. These reservoirs are located next to fences in forest fragment edges. Some are made of plastic (big plastic bins), and others are made of cement.

Monkeys like squirrel monkeys and other fauna (birds and mammals, especially), use these water reservoirs as a source of water, once the stream crossing the forest fragments dried during the dry season (December to March). Like what had been seen in Australia and other temperate areas where wild animals use human structures to access to water. In the study area water reservoirs for cattle can be used by native fauna.

So, if you are a farmer and you are concern about the wildlife fauna living in your property, additional to the use of living fences, you can also implement water reservoirs for your livestock close to forest fragments edge that not only will give additional benefits to your livestock by maintaining a cold water and giving some shadow while they drink, but also you will benefit the native fauna present in your property. Although small, it can have a huge impact during this changing times of climatic crisis.

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Monkey Forest Tales: What are transferable skills?

In past days while attending a webinar about jobs, they talk about transferable skills, and how they account as experience you can put in your CV. Transferable skills are those skills you learn through your volunteering, during your thesis and during your study courses. Most of they are useful even when you want to change your career.

This was not the first time I hear about that, and it was also, not the first time that someone mention how all those things you learn through all the academic and volunteer experiences serve you to transit from different industries and sectors. But it was also not the first time I realize that these skills are not always reflected in my CV.

However, during this webinar, they mention something that I never though as a way to show how to add those transferable skills to your CV. The whole webinar was about how to present yourself as a problem solver for the institution/ company/ client you are reaching out for a job. A new concept for me that also can be use for your CV introduction.

Another important lesson from the webinar and new for me in this context of applying for jobs and improving my CV is the importance of storytelling in this context as it is in others like education. So, one of the main tips from this webinar that I feel can be useful for some of the readers in this blog is to use a story to show how you solve a problem to show them you are the right person to invest in:

Tell a story where you show the situation in which the problem occurs, the role you play to solved, including the skills you use to do it, what action you did to solve the problem and the outcome.  Chose a problem like the one you will solve in the job you are applying for.

Some examples of the transferable skills you have and can be useful in any sector or institution are problem solving, time management, logistic and administration skills, budgeting, workshop facilitation and in some cases conflict resolution. All those names sometimes seem a bit flashy. But if you have done a thesis, you have done most of them, at some part of the process: you have to deal with logistic and administration skills and budgeting while preparing for lab or field work. Additionally, for sure in the field or in the lab you had to solve different kinds of problems and even conflict resolutions with different actors. Also, you have been successful at time management as you were able to finish a complex work in a defined timeframe.

So use those skills every time you tell your story of problem solving to a new employer/ client. If you will like to see the webinar I talked at the beginning of this post I think it is posted in the YouTube channel of Conservation Career. Webinar given by Dr. Jette Stubbs.

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