Sequoia Volunteer Digs Costa Rica Study

Arcata - Humboldt State University undergraduate Rani Ram, winner of a $3,000 William Randolph Hearst/California State University (CSU) Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement, spent the summer in a primate field study in Costa Rica under the auspices of HSU’s Department of Anthropology.


Rani Ram is majoring in wildlife conservation and anthropology.

Ram’s adventure began with prototype field activities at Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka, where she is a community volunteer in environmental education and animal care. (She won the 2007 Morris K. Udall Scholarship for environmental achievement). She learned field techniques at the zoo and took coursework in international study preparation to acquaint herself with Costa Rican culture and history.

Ram then decamped for La Selva Biological Station at PuertoViejo de Sarapiqui, an ecotourism destination in the country’s northeastern region, to study the three types of monkeys found there. “We had incredible sightings, studying their locations in the canopy, their behavior and vocalizations, their group composition and diet,” Ram recounted in an interview. She discovered fascinating behaviors. “Nine out of 10 times when we saw primates in the wild, especially the fruit-eaters, they were so wasteful. They take a bite and just throw it, which surprised me. But then ground-dwelling animals get the leftovers, which otherwise would be out of reach. The monkeys looked wasteful, but in fact they helped.”

Ram was also captivated by the primates’ interaction with other species, fruit-eating birds in particular. “It made me think more about who is cueing who—are the primates cueing the birds and following them to the fruiting trees or vice versa? It started making me think about the bigger picture.”

Of her volunteer experiences at Sequoia Park, Ram said they are rewarding not only because of her proximity to the animals but also because “in such a small zoo, my contribution has a greater impact on the welfare of the animals and the engagement of the surrounding community, on a scale one could not hope to dent in Los Angeles,” where she grew up.

The $3,000 Hearst scholarship assists financially distressed students who demonstrate superior academic performance with a minimum 3.0 GPA average and outstanding volunteer community service. The award also recognizes those who have achieved success in spite of severe personal hardship. Ram’s family struggled with unemployment and after high school she worked two jobs while attending community college part-time. She is a minority female in the sciences and a survivor of serious medical problems. “I understand all too well the challenges that face low-income minority students,” she said.

Ram is a double major in wildlife conservation and anthropology—she maintains a 3.6 GPA—and a volunteer with HSU’s Global Connections Club. The club fosters friendships among the University’s international exchange students and the sharing of diverse cultural heritages. It also disseminates information across campus about world cultures through events like the annual International Education Week, scheduled this year from Nov. 17 to 20. Ram will make presentations about her experiences in Costa Rica and South Africa and appear in a fashion show to model Indian clothing. In December, she plans to visit India, including New Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai (Bombay), where she has relatives.

Ram traveled to South Africa’s Kruger National Park in the fall of 2006 to earn her certification from the Field Guide Association of South Africa, which deals with ethology and wildlife population management. She qualified to guide tours in the park through a one-month course, becoming the first American and the first female to take it. The course spanned survival skills and the scientific horizon from astronomy to ethology.

Ram plans a career in international conservation, serving as a liaison between wildlife and human populations. She describes her goals this way: “I aspire to bridge the gap between science and the humanities, to research how human encroachment affects wildlife behavior and population. I’ll combine field techniques in wildlife management such as population counts, radio collaring and habitat management with academic training in sustainable resources and cultural understanding. I’ll have the full spectrum of tools for a career in international conservation.”

Learn more about the Costa Rica Primate Field Program.