Released: March 3, 1999
Brent White Leads Travel-Study Program to Barbados
DANVILLE, KY- Brent White, Matton Professor of Psychology at Centre College, recently returned from a three-week travel-study program that included field work with wild monkeys on the island of Barbados. White's daughter, Jodi, a Danville native and student at Colorado College, joined him and 16 Centre students for the program, which was completed during the college's recent winter short term.
White has expertise in animal behavior and has done prior field work with monkeys, especially a colony of woolly monkeys at the Louisville Zoo. He says the Barbados Wildlife Preserve offered a unique opportunity to conduct field research in a natural habitat with monkeys that are wild, yet accustomed to human contact.
Within the preserve and adjoining areas, the monkeys are free to roam in troops, but most come to a central area once each day when the preserve distributes food. That daily contact has made the monkeys accustomed to humans, so White and his students were able to walk through the preserve and stand for long periods of time studying monkey behavior and taking notes.
White asked the students to choose themes for their research and write papers about their observations on that topic. As one student verified, the monkeys could be aggressive when provoked. Dustin Howard, a sophomore from Raceland, noticed that, when a particularly loud or active tourist visited during feeding time, the monkeys responded by becoming more aggressive. In turn, the most introverted tourists elicited the least reaction from the monkeys.
Howard focused his research on this topic and verified that the most extreme forms of human behavior elicited reactions from the monkeys. He collected enough data to warrant a presentation to the Kentucky Academic of Science later this year.
Jodi White also produced some interesting findings. The preserve is home to many tortoises, and White noticed that the monkeys sometimes stole and ate the tortoise's eggs. She watched more closely and discovered that the monkeys actually watched the turtles laying eggs and after waiting until a crucial moment, a monkey would flip a female turtle on her back, leaving her helpless while the monkeys stole the eggs.
The preserve staff was unaware of the degree to which monkeys were eating tortoise eggs, and they will be able to use the results of White's observations to insure that the monkeys do not eventually endanger the tortoise population.
In addition to individual projects, the entire class did a service project for the nature preserve, interviewing 500 residents and visitors to collect information about the role of the monkeys in attracting tourists to Barbados.
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