Current Research Interests
Most of my research since 2002 has focused on the behavioral ecology and conservation of Vietnamese primates. Vietnam is home to an interesting diversity of colobines including three Pygathrix (doucs) species, one Rhinopithecus (snub-nosed monkey) and at least six Trachypithecus (langurs) species and I am working with Vietnamese colleagues and my graduate students on a number of these taxa.
Le Khac Quyet and I have been working in northern most Vietnam studying Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys since 2004. Quyet confirmed the presence of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys at Khau Ca in Ha Giang Province in 2002 and immediately initiated work to conserve this species at this location. In 2005 Barth Wright joined our research team and was instrumental in the establishment of four km of phenology transects and the analysis of mechanical properties of some of the preferred foods of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys. In 2007 Kristin Wright started to work with us focusing on the relationship between positional behavior and habitat structure. In 2008 Thach Mai Hoang collected data for his M.A. thesis including some observations on daily ranging behavior. Additional collaborators include Nguyen Thi Lan Anh (focusing on feeding ecology), Nguyen Anh Duc (botanist interested in forest structure), and Vu Anh Tai (botanist interested in phenology).
During the past three years I have established a strong research partnership with the Center for Biodiversity and Development of the Institute of Tropical Biology in Ho Chi Minh City where I serve on the advisory committee. We are collaborating on a number of projects including research on the behavioral ecology of black-shanked doucs and Annamese silvered langurs at Ta Kou Nature Reserve in southeastern Vietnam. Working closely with Dr. Hoang Minh Duc and Mr. Tran Van Bang we have collected data on positional behavior, feeding ecology, and habitat use. Dinh Hoang Dung, Vu Van Tuyen, and Nguyen Van Hung have assisted on this project.
More recently the CBD team has been focusing attention on the Indochinese silvered langurs in Kien Giang Province of southwestern Vietnam. In the summer of 2010 we were able to confirm the presence of more than 160 individuals of this species here; a surprising number in that it had been thought that the regional population was between 60 and 80 individuals.
These projects in Ha Giang, Ta Kou, and Kien Giang will continue for the foreseeable future and could serve for a series of MA thesis or PhD dissertation projects for Vietnamese and CU students.
In addition to these projects a number of my graduate students are presently conducting dissertation research in Vietnam. Jonathan O’Brien has been studying the behavioral ecology of black-shanked doucs in Cat Tien National Park since September of 2008. Larry Ulibarri has been studying the behavioral ecology of red-shanked doucs in Son Tra Nature Reserve since November of 2009. Amy Harrison-Levine is presently designing a dissertation project that will include both a consideration of human – nonhuman primate resource overlap and conservation education in Ha Giang Province. Le Khac Quyet (noted above) is presently studying the positional behavior of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys for his dissertation.
I am extremely excited about these research projects because it affords me the opportunity to work closely with Vietnamese scientists who have until the very recent been denied access to the international scientific community. It also is providing a number of exciting dissertation projects for Vietnamese and US students, and finally it promises to really make a significant and positive impact on the conservation of the most critically endangered primate community in the world.
I will close this research statement by quoting from Conroy (1997:461): "I sometimes imagine the sound of a shot ringing out, and turn in time to see the last elephant, black rhino, or mountain gorilla slowing sink to its knees in the red African dust. In time that will come to pass and on that day an unbearable loneliness will descend over humankind." I hope that it is not inevitable that this time will come to pass, and in fact, I believe that each of us who have had the wonderful good fortune to be able to conduct research within primate evolutionary biology owe a great deal to the remaining free ranging primate populations. Fulfilling this debt includes the responsibility of being actively engaged in research and education that is directly related to conservation. If we make the effort to share with students, colleagues, administrators and to our communities why conservation is important and if we take the time to link our research with conservation issues, and finally, if some of us participate in the frontline of conservation on the ground working not only to protect the endangered species but also with native scholars and with the people who live nearby, we may be able to protect and successful conserve these creatures.
I strive daily to situate my professional activities at the University of Colorado within this framework of research, conservation, and education.
Conroy, G.C. (1997) Reconstructing Human Origins. W.W. Norton: New York.