Lindsay Magnuson

Why did you become a wildlife biologist?

I became a wildlife biologist because I love the outdoors and everything that lives in it. I have always had an interest in animals, I was the first to pick up frogs and salamanders on hikes through the forest. I knew that I wanted to work with wild animals so I didn’t want to work in a zoo or as a veterinarian. I have since honed my interest to focus on endangered species because so many animals are in danger of becoming extinct either through loss of their habitat or other reasons.

I now study animals in their natural environment focusing on how they use their habitat to survive. This information is important for biologists to determine how to best conserve wild animals and their habitats.

Who have been role models and/or mentors for you?

I am fortunate because I have had many role models that helped me develop my skills as a biologist. When I was younger I wanted to study marine animals and was influenced by biologists like Jacques Cousteau who captured my imagination with his amazing photographs and videos of life in the sea. I was also inspired by Jane Goodall and her commitment to education and conservation of chimpanzees in Africa.

Surely my strongest role models
have been my parents. Both actively encouraged my interest in science (my father coming from a zoology background). I was raised in a very small town in northern California and through their own enthusiasm for the outdoors I learned much of the foundation for my training as a biologist from my parents.

It wasn’t until college that I focused my interests to primates. My advisor and friend Dr. Dave Kitchen has encouraged my interests and kept me on track throughout college. If it weren’t for Dr. Kitchen’s support I would not be in graduate school. He has taught me persistence and patience and above all to never give up. Dr. Mary Glenn who also studies monkeys has, beyond a doubt changed my life. Not only is Dr. Glenn a wonderful role model as an accomplished woman in science, she is a great teacher and friend. I have learned from Dr. Glenn everything I know about monkeys and she has given me the confidence to pursue a career in primatology.

What skills does it take to be a wildlife biologist?

First and foremost a wildlife biologist must LOVE the outdoors. They must have an appreciation, curiosity and respect for the natural processes that make ecosystems tick. Jane Goodall is a good example as she began her career in science with little formal scientific training. However, her curiosity and wonder allowed her to record behaviors and observe chimpanzees effectively.

Wildlife biologists must be good observers
willing to watch patiently and record every detail of the things they witness. It is important to have good math skills and generally some knowledge of computers. It is absolutely essential that a wildlife biologist have good writing skills. Collecting data and conducting research is only half the battle. As biologists, it is our responsibility to make our research available to other scientists so that additional research can be organized. This is particularly important when studying endangered animals.

Again, patience may be one of the most important skills needed to be a wildlife biologist. Particularly when studying mammals that are fast, smart and sometimes incredibly hard to find, patience and determination are essential. This determination is also important as a field biologist where you are often away from the comforts of home. In Africa this may mean no electricity, running water or telephones.

What level of education is required?

For most jobs it will be necessary to have a bachelor's degree in something like wildlife biology, ecology, or zoology. Wildlife biologists with a bachelor’s degree can be park rangers, work in zoos and conduct research among other things. However, to lead a research team and conduct research of your own it will be necessary to have at least a Master’s degree which is two more years of school.

What interested you in studying Roloway monkeys?

Who wouldn’t want to study monkeys?! Not only are they our closest relatives but they are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. Monkeys live anywhere from forests to savannah grasslands to snowy mountaintops.

It is almost eerie to watch a primate in the wild. They have very dexterous hands and expressive faces not found in other animals. These characteristics remind us how similar we are to our monkey relatives. Primates also have complex social systems often involving hierarchies where some individuals dominate over others in the group. These hierarchies encourage bonding between certain members of the group and are interesting to scientists from a behavioral ecology point of view.

I chose to study Roloway monkeys because they are an extremely endangered species that is found mainly in Ghana. Being endemic to Ghana makes Roloway monkeys particularly interesting and important to conserve. Roloway monkeys are in danger because their habitat is being destroyed and they are hunted for their pelts and meat. These conservation threats have brought this monkey species to the brink of extinction and I think it is important to learn all we can about Roloway monkeys before they are gone. It is my hope that through research and education we can help preserve these monkeys for generations to come.

What new knowledge do you hope to gain from your research?

Believe it or not, very little is known about the Roloway monkey. There have been precious few studies done on the habitat use patterns and general biology of this animal. For this reason my study will be important to provide a general look at the current distribution of these monkeys while also attempting to determine the general habitat use patterns of this species. It is my hope that this research will provide the foundation for future studies on the Roloway monkey and other endangered primate species in Ghana.