Scientific Paradises

Astronomers have the Paranal observatory in Chile; physicists have Fermilab and CERN; complexity theorists have the Sante Fe Institute; neuroscientists have NSI. But what is there for behavioral researchers? As it turns out, a beautiful island in the Caribbean.

Cayo Santiago is a tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico which contains 950 free-ranging rhesus macaque monkeys. Tourists are never allowed; in fact, to visit, you must apply to the directors of the island, who ensure that the rhesus population stays healthy. If you're allowed to visit the island, you can simply set up your experiment somewhere in the jungle, and interact directly with the roaming macaques.

The colony was founded in 1938 with 409 monkeys imported from Calcutta. Since then, the monkeys have freely reproduced and now live in several naturally-formed social groups (with the exception of a few loner males). There is a database of information on each individual in the population, as well as the lineage of each individual as identified through DNA fingerprinting techniques. Researchers have also collected extensive information on the social group membership, and maintain that birth/death records are accurate to within 2-weeks.

Current research on the island is being conducted by researchers from Harvard, Yale, Duke, NIH, University of Chicago and other institutions. Check out a video of the free-ranging monkey population here (sorry, spanish only).


Blogger Dan Dright said...

I'd pay to be one of those monkeys.

5/23/2006 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Chatham said...

Yesterday, I was talking to a guy who spent 4 weeks on this island. He said that by the end of the stay he really hated monkeys. Now he's trying to research lemurs. !

Anyway, he said that he visited during mating season, which may have contributed to his current dislike for monkeys. he said that during this time they are "disgusting in every imaginable way," and that they tend to get very violent (so that many males are bleeding by the end of each day).

He described how a group of monkeys descended from the trees to take apart the experimental apparatus, then took it back into the trees, and then starting throwing pieces of it back at the experimenters!!! Maybe not the paradise I made it out to be.

5/24/2006 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Buffy said...

I've been there, it's quite cool. Sailing, scuba diving, water skiing through the mangroves. Nearby is a famous phosphorescent bay where you can watch the fish at night by their phosphor trails. Fill a bucket of water from the bay, then fling out handfuls of water into the air. Voila! Instant Gandalf!

Monkeys are monkeys. You'd have to be a fool to try to make them anything else.

5/24/2006 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Chatham said...

Buffy - how difficult is it to arrange for a visit? And did you know of / hear about anyone who was bitten by a monkey?

5/24/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Dright said...

I wonder if any of those monkeys were bitten by that friend of yours.

5/24/2006 07:04:00 PM  

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