My DANTA Experience – Nicole Furgala

My DANTA Experience – Nicole Furgala

University of Guelph, Zoology & Psychology

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to study animals. As a kid growing up, I would spend my summers catching frogs, then pretending to teach an invisible class about their structure and biology. This curiosity to understand the natural world is what led me to seek field experience, as I hope to continue in the areas of animal behavior and primatology. When I first saw the DANTA flyer in my science building during my first year of university, I knew I had to go. It wasn’t until third year that I applied, making that nervous first- year- self proud as I flew into San Jose.

Before even getting to the biological station in the Osa Peninsula, I made memories with my new friends and expert instructor, Kim, that I would never forget. This included the hilarious drive into the station in the back of our bumpy van, where we first got to see the beautiful tropical trees and local residences in the forest.

Once at the station, Kim would take us into the forest, pointing out different groups of monkeys before I could even look up from the trail. However, after two weeks, I learned where and when to find each species of monkey based on their differing behavioral characteristics. We practiced aging and sexing primates, noticed exciting group dynamics, and identified the different vocalizations of each species. With inspiring lectures, seminars, and hands on field work in behavioral analysis, my confidence in the field grew stronger, motivating me to learn and do more. The exercises we practiced in the field validated the information and experiences I would need to follow my interests within animal behavior. Additionally, as someone who is usually nervous to talk to professors in a university setting, this experience allowed me to build an educational and personal relationship with the instructor, hearing stories and asking questions involving her expertise within primatology, and gaining helpful advice for future education. For this reason, the information and field techniques I learned in my two weeks are things you simply can’t learn in a classroom.

Monkeys

What I appreciated most about this trip, however, was the focus on conservation and community involvement. Because the Osa Peninsula is home to 2.5% of the world’s species, conservation initiatives are in place to ensure the survival and success of these species within this small piece of heaven. Working at the biological station allowed me to meet and become friends with brilliant locals who are working on their own conservation projects. One project our DANTA group was lucky enough to participate in was with sea turtles. After a thrilling walk through the jungle at night, we made our way to the beach in search of turtle nests that would potentially need to be relocated, due to factors such as river flooding, animal predators, and even poachers. At this time, we saw a beautiful Olive Riddley sea turtle patting down her nest before slowing making her way back into the ocean. We then got to relocate her 102 eggs to a nearby hatchery where all 102 babies would get their chance to make it to the ocean after hatching. Being part of this project was one of the most beautiful and impactful things I have ever done, and I truly hope others are lucky enough to share this humbling experience.

Cerro Osa

During this field course I saw breathtaking landscapes, learned essential field techniques, met inspiring individuals, and contributed to the conservation of species worth fighting for.

Group photo

With my new perspective, I came home to Canada with a longing to go back, yet the motivation to move forward in animal behavior and conservation.

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