A team of researchers, including a University of Michigan assistant professor, is trying to save their work with monkeys on a remote island that was badly damaged by Hurricane Maria.
In late September, the hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, including Cayo Santiago, which is off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico,
Many people living in those communities lost their homes and belongings, and have limited access to electricity, phone service, fuel, food and water.
But the situation for the monkeys on Cayo Santiago, which received a direct hit from the Category 4 storm on Sept. 20, is also precarious.
The animals braved the storm, but island vegetation has been decimated, and the infrastructure providing life-sustaining fresh water has been destroyed. The scientists are organizing a relief effort to address these problems on the monkeys’ island and the surrounding communities.
“We need to act quickly to save these monkeys for future generations of scientists to study,” said Alexandra Rosati, assistant professor of psychology. Rosati’s research group studies how the monkeys solve problems and make decisions, in order to understand the roots of the human mind. She first worked at Cayo Santiago 15 years ago as an undergraduate.
“Cayo is an amazing place, and many scientists have gotten their first real taste for research on this island,” she said.
The researchers and staff have immediate plans to send food and supply fresh water for animals. The staff is already making boat trips to the island to deliver supplies and rebuild freshwater cisterns that were damaged in the storm. Long-term plans over the next year will involve rebuilding infrastructure such as feeding stations and labs on the island.
These monkeys have been subjects in scientific research since the 1930s. They roam free on the tropical island, but also are so habituated to humans that they can be involved in up-close and personal research.
This microcosm of monkey society has shed light onto questions as diverse as how they choose friends, choose mates, and the genetic underpinnings of their complex social behaviors.
In addition to U-M, scholars working to raise funds and organize relief efforts for the monkeys and the people in the surrounding local communities are from New York University, University of Washington, University of Buffalo, University of Exeter, University of Pennsylvania, University of Puerto Rico and Yale University.