CU Grad Student Gets Fulbright To Study Endangered Primate In Forests Of Vietnam

Published: Aug. 11, 2008

Watch: Graduate student Jonathan O'Brien is in the forests of Vietnam carefully observing endangered primates called black-shanked doucs in their wild habitat. In this video, O'Brien explains what his typical day is like and what he hopes to learn about these colorful monkeys.

University of Colorado at Boulder graduate student Jonathan O'Brien will spend the next nine months in the forests of Vietnam carefully observing endangered primates called black-shanked doucs in their wild habitat.

O'Brien, who is working on his doctorate degree in anthropology, studies primate conservation and ecology and is one of four CU-Boulder doctoral students to receive a Fulbright scholarship for 2008-09. He will study the primates in their forest habitat in Cat Tien National Park, about 81 miles northeast of Ho Chi Min City in the Dong Nai province in Vietnam.

While the black-shanked douc is an endangered species, there is a lot to be learned about the species in order to help protect it and its preferred habitat, according to O'Brien.

"This is a great opportunity to go and do a natural history of this animal and be able to take that information and apply it to different conservation needs within Vietnam and abroad," O'Brien said. "They are an important indicator species for the health and status of forests within Cat Tien."

Black-shanked doucs are "old world monkeys," or leaf-eating monkeys, and are found in the forests of Vietnam and Cambodia.

"They are really a charismatic creature with yellow rings around their eyes, a nice blue face, a big gray belly and black arms and legs," O'Brien said. "They really are striking animals."

As striking as the animals may be, O'Brien said he didn't have the pursuit of monkeys among his early career goals.

"I never thought I'd be traveling to Vietnam to spend a year chasing monkeys around to see what they eat," O'Brien said. "But I got to school and found out that I was very interested in what animals eat, especially the nutritional aspects of it."

In the field O'Brien plans to follow troops of black-shanked doucs around the forest to determine their feeding habits, to see how group members interact and to learn about what the animals do each day.

"The big picture of this project is to really get a general idea of what they're eating," O'Brien said. "This is both important in the wild so we can understand what their habitat constraints are and their general needs for the environment they're living in. But this information also can be easily translated over to captivity studies."

O'Brien, who is conducting his doctoral work under CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Herbert Covert, plans to pursue a job as a professor once he completes his doctorate degree. Covert also has received a Fulbright and will be traveling to Vietnam in 2008-09.

Other CU-Boulder students who have accepted Fulbright scholarships in 2008 include Jessica Lee of the anthropology department, who will be traveling to Tanzania; Carla Stansifer of the art and art history department, who will be going to South Korea; and Bozena Welborne of the political science department, who will be traveling to Jordan.

Each Fulbright winner who accepts a scholarship receives travel expenses, health insurance and a monthly living stipend that varies by country. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.