Baboon distributions (and a lesson in African geography)

Previously, I played around with SVG and JavaScript in order to create interactive maps of Central American primates.

As a followup, I thought I’d try my hand at mapping baboons, given that they are the critters I am currently working with. Baboons inhabit lots of countries, so I included a bonus feature. Clicking on the map will help identify some of those more obscure countries. Try it out!

As with before, the original PDF project file is available for download under a Creative Commons license.

Distribution of baboons (genus Papio)

? ? ?
? ? ?

Click map to identify countries

Baboons are commonly divided into 5-6 species, with several additional subspecies.
Use the menu above to display species. Click on the map to identify countries/territories.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in Baboons, Maps, Primates | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mailbag #1

Julia asks: Hello! I’m a college student considering field biology, even primatology. If you have anything to say (good or bad) about your line of work, I would love to hear it… like what your day to day is, how often you are in the field, and what you do when there. Anything would be appreciated!

Hi Julia! I love my work and feel lucky to have such an interesting job. I don’t really have any bad things to say about the day-to-day, but there are certainly aspects of the job that make it not suitable for everybody. By its nature, research deals with questions that have not been answered, and oftentimes the reason that they have not been answered is that this is really really really hard to do. First, you need funds, so much of your time is spent competing with others for a very limited pool of available grant money. To get grants, you need qualifications (see my friend Evopropinquitous’ blog for some excellent advice), which will mean that you will probably be balancing your research activities with some combination of studying or teaching. Next, once you have your funds and make it to the research stage, so many things can and do inevitably go wrong. Perhaps political instability in your country of research makes it impossible to obtain visas or permits (not to mention can be really scary). Perhaps the animal group that you study disappears during your study period due to habitat destruction or any number of other reasons. Perhaps you complete your study and triumphantly make it back to civilization only to lose all your data to theft at your favorite hostel. Perhaps you get malaria.

Quick aside here. You asked about bad things about this line of work. Fieldwork can and should be one of the best parts about this job, but it can also be a nightmare when combined with bad, inexcusable behavior from colleagues. Unfortunately, a recent survey of researchers, especially women, who do fieldwork reveals that this is unacceptably common (please see Kate Clancy’s blog for more about this). I have never personally experienced abuse, but I do believe that the same isolation that makes fieldwork a delightful, insightful experience encourages bad behavior in some and makes it particularly traumatic for victims. I can’t offer you much advice here, except to be vigilant regarding who you work with and to always feel comfortable with your fieldwork plans before you begin.

Things do go wrong, but research still gets done and when it does, the results are incredibly rewarding (the good things start here!). Research opens up new areas of research in ways that are difficult to visualize when you begin your study. Interacting with all sorts of different people can lead to opportunities you never dreamed you would have. Fieldwork helps you understand yourself a little better, and has taught me, at least, to help accept setbacks with patience and humor (write it all down for your autobiography one day!). The parts of your job that involve interacting with students, colleagues, and the public can also be rewarding, but also be prepared to accept that not everybody will be interested in your work.

Finally, you asked about what I do in the field. I am at the stage where I am just beginning my Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork. My project deals with hybridization (interbreeding) in two species of baboons. When ranges of different species come into contact and hybridization occurs, alleles (one of two or more variations of a gene) are exchanged and, through time and matings, can make their way further into the ranges of species where they were previously absent. I study the genetic patterns that result from hybridization, so my study area is quite large and involves many groups of baboons. Because of this, I do a lot of driving, looking for baboon groups and sampling their genetics. At the moment, I am writing this from Zambia, where I am figuring out the logistics, so much more on this later!

Posted in Mailbag | Leave a comment

Primatology on vacation

Last week, I returned from a trip to Taiwan to visit relatives. Even though my trip was focused on family (and was the first vacation to a foreign country that I have taken in five years), I could not pass on a chance to do some field primatology. As an added bonus, I got to see my family gear up for a couple of hours of hiking “in the field.” They did great!

Map of Taiwan

Map of Taiwan (via Wikimedia)

Only one nonhuman primate is endemic to Taiwan, and that is the Formosan rock macaque (Macaca cyclopis). To find them, we traveled to Kaohsiung, the largest and most populous city in southern Taiwan. Kaohsiung has its own airport but is also easily accessible from Taipei, the capital, via high-speed rail. Right along the western edge of Kaohsiung and adjacent to the Taiwan Strait is Shoushan (Mt. Longevity). The mountain is 354 km tall with an area of about 1116 ha. Due to the rapid development of the city over the past 60 years, Shoushan is isolated from other forests in Taiwan, making dispersal impossible for Shoushan macaques. Shoushan has been a restricted military base since the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945) and was only partially opened to the public in 1989. The military presence has protected the forest from the city’s expansion. Today, the mountain is accessible to hikers through a series of boardwalk trails leading to various resting stations for tea, exercise, or nature viewing. The area includes several upturned coral reefs and extensive water penetration has resulted in an undulating terrain with hillocks and steep valleys. The flora include large Ficus trees, dispersed evergreen shrubs, orchids, acacias, and a large percentage of ferns. Razor wire lining the edges of some routes serve as a constant reminder of the military presence.

Macaques are present all along Shoushan trails, and also venture down into the city, where they commonly invade homes and harass humans for food. While the government has forbidden feeding the macaques, the practice continues, fueled in large part by their charismatic depiction in popular culture. Their familiarity with humans leaves the macaques very well habituated. Hsu and Lin (2001) have counted 16 macaque troops living in Shoushan. Here are some photos!

Monkeys are well habituated to humans

Taiwanese macaques are well habituated to humans

Emerald dove on boardwalk trail

Emerald dove on boardwalk trail

Mother and juvenile

Mother and juvenile in tree


“Monkey Rock” troop




Posted in Field | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Drawing dynamic visualizations

If you have half an hour to spare, here is a terrific talk by Bret Victor challenging the way scientists think about data visualization and presenting a vision for how best to move forward.

Posted in Miscellanea | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Desman: Pyrenean (Galemys pyrenaicus) and Russian (Desmana moschata) desmans are aquatic relatives of moles and bizarre, bizarre critters. Just look at them!

ARKive video - Pyrenean desman - overview ARKive video - Russian desman - overview

Posted in Wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment