Episode 18 of our Tuesday Feature is with Ciara Stafford, a PhD student who looks at how Monkeys and humans coexist! Ciara gets the chance to spend a lot of time out in the Ecuadorian Amazon researching this. We had a quick chat with her about her research, how it can help us here in the UK, and what it’s like doing a PhD in Manchester!

Can you explain your research for the layman in ten sentences or less?DSC_0048

I work in the Amazon rain forest. I’m particularly interested in what happens when animals share the same habitat with indigenous communities that are still dependent on the forest for a living. So are the animals benefited by the people being there? Are they exploited by the people being there? Do people value them, care about them? Do people know that these animals are actually living around them?  So I’m particularly interested in primates because it’s been shown that throughout a lot of the Amazon that they’ve been over-exploited and they’ve been having a bit of a tough time recently. The idea is that if we can understand some of these relationships between people and wildlife, we can make much better conservation decisions; it’s been shown that conservation works a lot better if you work with people rather than against them.

How can your research benefit the person reading this blog?

I think it’s really easy to think that the stuff that goes on in the rainforest with monkeys has no relevance to say wildlife issues in the UK, but if you actually look at what the core problems are between people and wildlife here, a lot of them are exactly the same. Even though it might sound I’m doing research in the middle of nowhere, the issues that I’m tackling are a lot of the same of the conservation issues we have here.

How did you first get interested in primates and conservation?

I don’t know – I kind of wanted to be a zoologist as long as I can remember. When I was little I had this obsession with those little Early Learning Centre animals and there are pictures of me on camping trips – next to my sleeping bags there are these little rows of marine mammals and I would refuse to go anywhere without. I liked animals – I was never particularly interested in primates (which sounds pretty bad) but all that I knew was that when I work outside, I’m really happy and when I work with animals I’m really interested in them. I think that if you have a PhD that’s going to have field work – regardless if that’s in the middle of the rainforest or whether that’s in a reserve that’s 20 minutes from Norwich, it’s going to be adventure! You won’t know what’s going to happen next and that’s really exciting.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

Science heroes – there’s a guy down at the UEA (University of East Anglia) in Norfolk, Carlos Perez; he’s basically a legend of neo-tropical primates (primates that live in Brazil and Ecuador and other places that I go to). The guy has put in some serious hours traipsing around the rainforest and has put out some really cool papers. I don’t think you really do that unless you love what you do – so yeah, he’s a bit of a science hero.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester is generally just a great place to do a PhD. You get a lot of support from the staff and we also have a lot of brilliant links with a University out in Ecuador which we collaborate with. They run the research stations and it’s the whole reason that I’m able to go there.

What do you outside of work?

It’s going to sound really sad because I’m like animals – animals, animals, animals all the time, but I draw. Mainly birds and things like that. I also spend a lot of time down in Norwich, which is where my boyfriend is, and he’s a RSPB warden and I’m a bit obsessed with Fens so every weekend that I’m there, I go down to the Nature reserve to have a look at what we can find.

Ciara also recently did a Minute Lecture with us – check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHmBOuPwyQc

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