Reiko Matsuda Goodwin is on a longstanding mission to help save rare monkeys in Benin.
This past December and January, Goodwin, PhD, an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, returned to the West African country, where she did research 17 years ago, to study the plight of the nation’s primate population.
She began her study of primate behavioral ecology as a student. In 2007 she published the results of two years of Benin-based research in her dissertation, Behavior and ecology of the mona monkey in the seasonally dry Lama Forest, Republic of Benin.
She was drawn to the Lama Forest in 1997 because of its location in the Dahomey Gap, an area where—in contrast to the rainforest it surrounds—precipitation is very low. She wanted to learn how the area fauna adapt to the intense seasonal shifts.
Recently, she received an invitation to return from the Benin-based Organization for Sustainable Development and Biodiversity (ODDB ONG). For her, it meant a chance to look for rare and endangered red-bellied guenons, threatened white-thighed colobus monkeys, and red-capped mangabeys. She did her research through mid-January with the local collaborator, which proved to be a great success.
“We now have new information about the historical distribution patterns of the rare monkeys,” she said. Unfortunately, it’s not very good news: their populations have been decimated by low-level, yet chronic hunting.
“The situation is very dire,” she said, noting that their surveys estimate the population of red-bellied guenons at fewer than 500 and the white-thighed colobus monkeys at fewer than 100.
Until Mariano Houngbedji, chief of research and education at ODDB ONG, contacted her to return, no one from Benin seemed to be interested in saving the primates of the forest, said Goodwin.
“It’s very difficult for people to think of the wildlife living in areas where people don’t regularly visit,” she said. “There are so many endangered species, and most people are concerned with large fauna, like elephants, giraffes, and tigers. I feel my task is to make these rare species better known to the general public.”
One thing that gives Goodwin hope is that local organizations such as the ODDB ONG view ecotourism as worth investing in. Benin, which borders Nigeria and Togo, is a peaceful country with tremendous potential to attract North American tourists, she said.
Goodwin said one challenge is to insure the benefits of ecotourism are spread equally and not concentrated in the hands of just a few people. Another challenge is developing the least-intrusive interactions among primates and humans: Nocturnal primates viewing—either at dawn or dusk—would be ideal.
Lastly, human hunting of primates needs to be halted if tourists are ever going to be able to see the monkeys.
This summer Goodwin returns to Benin to teach local biologists how to collect data on behavioral ecology, as well as techniques that are important to conservation biology.
“I like challenges, and I feel as if the primates have chosen me to help them,” she said.
“It’s a little bit like fate that we met this way, and somehow I feel like I’m needed there.”