As a child, I was fascinated with all living things. However, nothing captured my interest more than our closest evolutionary relatives – primates. I would often find myself thinking how amazing it would be to see them in the wild, to watch them for hours, to learn about and from them. I would constantly dream about them and wish with all my might that I could just see one in nature, not locked away in a cage on display.
At the time, I thought that science was a thing for boys. All the nature programmes I devoted hours of my life to watching were either narrated or presented by men – David Attenborough, Steve Irwin, Chris Packham, Steve Backshall, Gordon Buchanan, and countless others I can’t name. It wasn’t until I could read that I realised that women could be scientists too – Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas, even Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie. The older I became, the more I studied and read, the more I realised that if I so desired, I too could become a scientist; I too could study animals the way that my childhood heroes had.
Despite my immeasurable desire to see a primate in its natural habitat, I spent 22 years of my life confined to Britain, only seeing the creatures that enamoured me so in captivity or on film. When, during my studies as a Zoology student at University of Liverpool, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Uganda as part of a Tropical Field Course module, I saved what little money I had and boarded a plane for the very first time to Africa – the home continent of primates. The first wild non-human primate I set eyes on was a vervet monkey, and I was completely mystified. Seeing such an animal able to move as freely as myself, not restricted by bars, was awe-inspiring. Soon after, I spotted black-and-white colobus monkeys, red colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, olive baboons, and eventually our closest relatives – chimpanzees. When I first set my eyes on a wild chimpanzee my glasses fogged up, tears stung my eyes and I realised I had forgotten to breathe. Completely mesmerised, I neglected to take photographs, not wanting to miss a second of their visible activity. Only after I had seen them on a couple more excursions into the Kibale National Park rainforest did I try to capture them on camera. It was at this point that I decided that no matter what obstacles presented themself, I was going to study primate behaviour.
This year I will finish my third and final year at University of Liverpool, after which I intend to study a MSc in Primate Behaviour and Conservation at Liverpool John Moores University. I am so excited to start this new chapter in my life, studying under world leading experts in the field and learning how to pave my own way into this incredibly competitive area of research. I’m ready to work hard and learn some amazing things.
The featured image for this post is a red colobus monkey that I photographed on 11/04/2017 in Kibale National Park, Uganda.