For the past 13 years,
Lincoln Park Zoo researcher David Morgan, and his wife and research
partner Crickette Sanz have been studying wild chimpanzees and
gorillas in a remote corner of Republic of Congo-one of the
planet's last remaining pristine forest habitats. Recently, the
couple got good news when the government of Congo agreed to expand
the neighboring park's protected area to include the Goualougo
Triangle where they works. This month, David took a few minutes to
talk about his life away from Lincoln Park Zoo.
How did you get
started in chimpanzee research?
My start in ape research was originally with wild western
lowland gorillas rather than chimpanzees. The opportunity came
after writing many letters to scientists asking how I could get
involved with working at a newly created national park in Republic
of Congo, Central Africa, called Nouabale-Ndoki. I was fortunate to
be offered a volunteer position at Mbeli Bai Gorilla Project. This
was one of the first research projects in the park and they offered
me a chance to assist in collecting behavioral data on gorillas and
other wildlife that came into the Mbeli Bai clearing to feed on
aquatic plants. I thought it was a great opportunity that provided
me a chance to finally get some experience with wild apes, field
research and eventually start the Goualougo Triangle Ape
Do you spend most of your time in the Congo and how long
have you been working in Africa?
My wife and I have been
incredibly fortunate to have spent a great portion of the last 15
years working in Central Africa in Congo. For the first 12 years we
spent roughly 10 to 11 months out of the year in the field,
studying chimpanzees and gorillas. Now, I spend roughly 6 months of
the year in Africa and the rest in the U.S. Fundraising, report and
scientific writing obligations make it hard to spend more time in
Working with chimps in the Congo sounds so exotic. How
can kids reading this who are interested in that type of career get
I think kids interested in
this field have a lot of opportunities available to them. Those
interested in chimpanzee research can prepare themselves by taking
relevant classes and courses in school. Doing well in subjects such
as biology, math, psychology, and even a foreign language (French
is spoken in Congo) is a good start, But grades are not everything
and I spent a lot of time at the library reading about far off
tropical places and what it is like to work in the field. Outside
of school, getting involved in outdoor clubs, local zoo programs
can make a difference and provide kids an opportunity to see just
where their interests and talents are.
What has been the most exciting part about your
...Perhaps most exciting is
being part of a project that my wife and I share that has
contributed new discoveries into chimpanzee and gorilla behavior.
Some of our observations have provided new insights never before
documented in chimpanzees. Chimpanzees have been studied at some
sites for over 60 years and so a lot has been gained in terms of
understanding their behavior. Here in Central Africa however,
chimpanzees have only just begun to be understood and there is
great potential to gather information that will help conserve them.
Being involved in such work is highly rewarding and an honor.
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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