We caught up with Anna Starkey who studies on the MSc Wildlife Conservation and UAV Technology programme. She spent two months in Sulawesi, Indonesia at the Macaca Nigra Project to survey crested black macaques. You are probably familiar with this species already. A macaque from the region made headlines when it pressed the shutter of a photographer’s camera – producing a selfie. What followed was a major dispute over copyright, with one side arguing that the macaque who took the self-portrait be granted ownership of the image. Instead the photo is in the public domain.
While the monkey may have lost this case, hopefully the species as a whole might benefit from the interest the selfie has generated as more people are made aware of the plight of the macaques. Regardless of who owns it, the image is a great wildlife photo. It captures the macaques’ intelligent and expressive nature, something which Anna discovered about the monkeys early into her fieldwork.
“Macaques are super clever…they can push open doors, find food and steal it! One macaque ran off with a full pineapple!”
Anna photographed these crested black macaques grooming in Sulawesi.
Despite the ‘monkeying about’ going on around her, Anna was able to get onto the important conservation aspects of her project. Sulawesi is a unique and significant region to study the Critically Endangered crested black macaques as they are thought to be the last viable population on earth. The area has also experienced major changes since the last study was taken – El Nino has caused severe droughts and forest fires across Indonesia. Anna's new survey will give a good indication of the current health of the population and will determine if El Nino has had an effect on the macaques' numbers. Alongside climate change, the other major threats to the macaques are habitat alteration and hunting. The Macaca Nigra Project is working to conserve the species by reducing hunting and illegal logging within the forest and promoting biodiversity and conservation to villagers, rangers and students.
"I have always wanted to be a conservationist working overseas, so travelling to Indonesia and experiencing it first hand was the best way to find out if it is for me. I also knew that it would be out of my comfort zone and completely different to what I am used to, which is always a valuable thing to experience and makes you a more confident person."
During her time at the Macaca Nigra Project, Anna learned a great deal about conservation and the macaques, but she also discovered what she was capable of:
"You can achieve what you want if you put your mind to it. Most of the time challenging things take practice and determination, and if you persevere you can get what you want from it. My fieldwork was very tough to begin with, walking long distances in humid conditions and being attacked by insects! But I continued with my fieldwork and after time I got much stronger and loved every minute.”
And in terms of helping her decide on her career goals, Anna’s field experience in Indonesia has confirmed her ambitions to pursue a PhD:
"Both the trip and the project have given me experience and the confidence to go for it. I have always wanted to work with endangered species overseas. The trip and carrying out conservation-related research has strengthened my passion and ambitions to do so."
Anna, right, with colleagues at the Macaca Nigra Project in Sulawesi.
We sort of know the answer to this one, but would she recommend that other students take a similar trip?
"I most definitely would recommend students to do something similar and take a trip like mine, even if it’s not for research purposes, because it teaches you so much about cultural differences, biodiversity and conservation, and the importance of preserving nature. We can read about it in books, online and watch it on TV, but nothing compares to being there, making a difference and experiencing it for yourself. The more people understand, the better chance species like the macaques will have for surviving in the future."
Just don't forget the bug spray!
If you're interested in taking part in conservation projects and fieldwork similar to Anna’s, why not discover the types of courses you could study at LJMU?
About the Macaca Nigra Project
Anna's trip was made possible by Dr Antje Engelhardt and her team of researchers and assistants at the Macaca Nigra Project, the research station in Tangkoko, Sulawesi which aims to study the ecology, reproductive biology and social system of the crested black macaques and help to conserve their numbers.
"After meeting the team it is clear that they each are very passionate about protecting the macaques and their habitat and work incredibly hard to do their best for the species. They were all very welcoming and my work would not have possible without their help." – Anna Starkey