Photograph by Silvy van Kuijk/Owl Monkey Project, Formosa-Argentina
Photograph by Eduardo Fernandez-Duque/Owl Monkey Project, Formosa-Argentina
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Older. I wanted to study wild animals. I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was already a big city with little animals in town. But I would be counting the days for the weekend to arrive, because then I went to my grandfather's ten-acre house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. And there I could run, chop wood, make fires, or watch animals [as] if I were in the African savannahs. In the '70s, we were not thinking of the Amazon or any fauna in South America; all the animals to watch on TV were from the African plains. For me it was watching the TV series Daktari and El Mundo de los Animales.
How did you get started in your field of work?
When I finished my Ph.D. in animal behavior at UC Davis in California, I wanted to go back to Argentina. So I looked for a primate species that was monogamous and I was lucky! Of the four primate species in Argentina, one of them, the owl monkeys, are monogamous.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to studying primatology?
A passion for understanding the living world and for helping young biologists and primatologists to do it through the lens of science and evolution.
What's a normal day like for you?
There is [a] normal day in Connecticut, where I live and teach during the day, and there is a normal day in the field. At home I start very early; I love the first few hours of the day while I drink maté, an [Argentine] tea. Then I go to the office to work on my teaching, meet with students and colleagues, prepare my classes, and answer email! In the field, I start even earlier: I start a fire and drink some maté in solitude when everyone is still asleep. I love those moments. Most of the time we go to the forest for some hours early in the morning, come back for lunch and a siesta in camp, and then [go] back out in the afternoon.
Do you have a hero and, if so, why is this person your hero?
Thousands of them. Every person who, from their own little corner of the world, spends his or her life discovering the wonders of the living world and then works to share those wonders with all of us.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?
Finding the owl monkeys early at dawn; spotting their silhouettes against the sky at the break of dawn fascinates me today like it did back in 1996, when I saw them for the first time. And a full moon night—what an incredible experience to be in the forest with a full moon, and when that's done, hanging out in camp, sitting around the fire, drinking maté, and chatting.
The most challenging experience was capturing our first owl monkey to fit it [with] a radio collar. We worked and planned and prepared for that day for months, and it took months to succeed.
What are your other passions?
I have three boys and a wife-friend-lover-colleague—they are my passion. Fútbol is a big passion at home. We have been to the two last World Cups with the boys, and we managed to follow Argentina all the way to the final in Brazil!
In Their Words
[I have a] passion for understanding the living world and for helping young biologists and primatologists.