|Monkey business: Professor, student study primate behavior
RELEASED: Aug. 12, 2004
DANVILLE, KYCentre rising sophomore Cloe Luckett has been doing a lot of monkeying around this summer. Along with Brent White, Matton Professor of Psychology at Centre, she has been spending time at the Louisville Zoo collecting data on gorillas and woolly monkeys to better understand their behavior.
White and Luckett are measuring levels of urinary cortisol in the animals in order to learn about their emotional activity. Humans and other primates secrete the hormone cortisol when faced with stressful or threatening situations. The research will help determine which behavioral events and social interactions cause the physiological response of raised cortisol levels.
Luckett's work is the continuation of a study involving woolly monkeys that White, an animal behavior specialist, began in 1986. Gorillas became a significant part of the project after the Louisville Zoo opened its gorilla exhibition in 2002. In addition to understanding the behavior of these animals, the project is also aimed at assisting the zoo staff in evaluating the exhibits. Centre students have worked with a wide range of species at the Louisville Zoo for the past 18 years.
"The zoo provides an opportunity for study of a wide range of species at an accessible location," White says. "Our motivations for doing these studies include curiosity about animal behavior and a desire to contribute to the conservation of these species. The more we know about them, the better we will be able to sustain both captive and wild populations."
Luckett, an Elizabethtown, Ky., native who plans to major in biology, also sees the research as an opportunity to better understand the environment. She has undertaken several other conservation and environmental projects during her time at Centre, including the Clark's Run Reforestation Project of Danville and research on the health of local streams and wildlife.
Luckett says doing research at the zoo is nothing like a normal day at the lab.
"I get to go behind the gorilla exhibit and get very close to them," she says. "I have to be careful not to get too close to the wire mesh separating me from the gorillasa few like to reach through with their fingers and touch me! Getting to observe the gorillas and woollies has allowed me to realize that each animal has a personality, much like a human."
Luckett and White plan to present their research at the Kentucky Academy of Science meeting this fall and eventually hope to publish their results.
The experience gained from working at the zoo will also play a role in Luckett's future plans.
"My job this summer has increased my interest in all kinds of scientific research and has solidified my decision to do research as a career," she says. "There are always questions that need to be answered in the field of science, and I hope to make a career out of helping to find those answers."
Centre offers many opportunities for students to do collaborative research with faculty members during the academic year and the summer.
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