News

Davidson Research Initiative Supports Student Capstone Project in Nicaragua

by Bill Giduz

Obtaining monkey skeletons isn't easy. Associate Professor of Anthropology Helen Cho's lab in the basement of Chambers contains dozens of boxes of human and small mammal bones, and even a dead beaver in the freezer waiting to be "de-fleshed"! But this expert in skeletal biology would like more monkey remains for her course in "Monkeys, Apes, and Humans."

That's one reason why over the past few years she has taught short courses at the Maderas Rainforest Conservancy research station on the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe. The island is teeming with howler and capuchin monkeys.Cho made her fourth trip to Ometepe over winter break, accompanied by eight students-five from Davidson. The two-week trip was an optional capstone experience for the Davidson students, who were all enrolled in her course last fall. The $3,000 cost of the trip for each of the Davidsonians was provided through the Davidson Research Initiative.

The students ventured into the forests to observe live monkeys in their natural habitat, supplementing what they learned during the fall term. Their field observations were supported by hands-on examination of more than a dozen complete monkey skeletons in the Maderas station's collection. Maderas station stands out as a modern, well-manicured retreat in a largely rural, impoverished land. The island's 40,000 residents subsist on garden plots of vegetables, livestock, and fish. They also raise avocados and plantains as cash crops, and are increasingly earning more from ecotourists attracted to the island's rain forests, an immense inland lake, and two volcanoes.

Cho first learned to love bones as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and bones are the subject of three courses she teaches at Davidson. She occasionally works with the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner's office, rendering opinions in cases involving recovered skeletons. Despite the success of the trip, laws prevented Cho from bringing monkey skeletons back from Nicaragua. If you've got some to spare, you know who to call!