Primate conservation course celebrates 10th anniversary

Monday, 19 April 2010

The only master's course dedicated entirely to primate conservation in the UK, if not the world, celebrates ten years of ground breaking research and award winning education this month.


The conference ‘What is Primate Conservation?’ will take place on 23 and 24 April at Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus. There are still some places available for members of the public interested in primate conservation.

The only master's course dedicated entirely to primate conservation in the UK, if not the world, celebrates ten years of ground breaking research and award winning education this month.

Oxford Brookes will mark the milestone by a conference to be addressed by leading figures in the field of primate conservation from around the world and will explore the challenges and triumphs of this vital work.

In this International year of Biodiversity, declared by the United Nations, the conference will be highlighting the plight of the world’s primate species. Nearly half of all primates are now endangered globally including monkeys and apes, our closest primate relatives. It is a threat which impinges on human survival as primates are vital seed dispersers in the rainforest; if they do not survive the rainforest itself is threatened, with all that means for regulating the planet’s rainfall and clean air.

The course was recognised by the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2008 which is awarded for work of outstanding excellence and acknowledges the enormous contribution of staff and students to international research and development.

Students from over sixty countries across the world have completed the course and graduates occupy influential conservation positions in countries where primates are under special threat such as Madagascar, India , Bangladesh, Peru Indonesia, Sumatra, Vietnam, Panama, and many African countries as well as in sanctuaries and zoos across Europe, USA and Canada.

They are passionate about the importance of their studies and their role helping to reverse the decimation of primates. ‘Our students witness the devastation of species and their habitats in remote regions,’ says Simon Bearder, Professor of Anthropology at Oxford Brookes. ‘They gain a sense of urgency about the importance of their work and the necessity to protect not only primates but the biodiversity of the planet. I am delighted that we are celebrating ten years of educating students who are devoted to protecting primates and raising our awareness of the importance of this for all of us.’

Former scholarship student at Brookes, Pedro Mendez-Carvajal, who graduated from the course in 2008, is the first specialist primatologist practising in Panama. He works with two primate species little known even inside Panama, the Azuero spider and howler monkeys. He is enabling them to use the ever dwindling areas of vegetation in deforested areas by encouraging the use of ‘living fences’ around cattle ranches and farming lands. These provide the monkeys with food and safe corridors while also offering fruits, shadow, firewood and medicinal plants for the local people.

He says: ‘The programme prepares graduates to do a professional job in the field. I learned standard methods of surveying primates which has helped me to improve my research and bring a strong conservation programme to my country’.

Twenty five year old, Ammie Kalan who graduated from the Brookes course in 2008 and is currently studying chimpanzee vocalisations at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig is passionate about the course.

’It is invaluable’, she said. ‘The whole reason I left my hometown Vancouver to come to Oxford was for this course that was not offered by any other institution in the world. Not only does the programme offer courses that are progressive for this field, it also provides a sense of a global community of primate conservationists, where we all have the same aspirations and passion to protect primates, but even more importantly, the integrity of the natural ecosystems of which they are a part.’

Course graduate and UK director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), Helen Buckland, agrees: 'The course remains a great resource to us in our work and helps us feel connected. This is especially important for colleagues working in the field, in often remote locations, who want to be part of a worldwide conservation network, sharing news, resources and expertise’, she says.

Since the course started students and lecturers have discovered more than ten loris and bushbaby species not previously recognised. Such as the Kalwe dwarf bush baby near Lake Malawi where their habitat is being destroyed.