Monkey Forest Tales: Working with locals and getting help from them to collect data

Working in countries where social unrest and political insecurity is part of our daily lives means that research is not always possible using standard methodologies. This means we usually need to relay in local people from those unstable remote areas to collect the data need it. It also means you need to be flexible enough to train them and learn to trust in the data they collect. So, in today’s post I was to talk a bit about this topic.

Over the years I had worked with local people from different backgrounds and education, who had help me and other researcher to collect important data to understand monkey’s ecology and behavior. Although not always easy and sometimes conflicting, local people is an important part of research in many remote and dangerous parts. With time you learn to choose the people who is committed to collect good quality data and who really care about your research and not only the money you give them.

Training is an important part of that process, as well as taking the time to learn about their lives and hear what worries them. One element that for me seems to be clear of working with indigenous people, peasants or cattle rancher is that they all want to improve their lives and not necessarily do that while destroying the environment. Most of them are aware of the importance that forest have to preserve water on their lands and even some of them care about the wildlife living in their land. So, an important part of doing research with them is to hear their concerns and find solutions to their problems at the same time we preserve wildlife in those areas.

However, working with local people also have some limitations. Most of the time those limitations came from not enough training for data collection and a miscommunication about why is so important that data is collected in certain ways and with certain detail. All this can be overcome by making sure to train them well and explain to them in the simplest language possible why is important for them as well as for us the information they are collecting.

In our current global situation, COVID19 pandemics, collaborations and data collected by local people is even more important due to travel restrictions and general health situation. Today, most countries also have reduced economic stability, making even more important to involve local people on our research not only as a support to their local economies but also as a measure to control the spread of the new variations of the virus, an increase protection for the local wildlife. Research funding to cover those expenses are not always easy to get, however new technologies can help to increase our access, communication, and training possibilities if we are flexible enough to incorporate them.

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