Volunteer research assistant: Landscape genetics of wild black howler monkeys in Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico (MX)
Mar 13, 2017
May 12, 2017
Job Level
Entry level
Employment Type
Full time, Volunteer
Salary Type

Hiring Organization: Doctoral Candidate, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Toronto

Position Description: I am seeking a volunteer field assistant to assist with data collection for my dissertation research on the effects of habitat fragmentation on dispersal and gene flow in black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) in the fragmented landscape around Palenque National Park, Chiapas, Mexico. This project will unfold in collaboration with Drs. Alejandro Estrada and Sarie Van Belle of the Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The assistant will be responsible for contributing to the following:

• Conducting surveys of forest fragments and collecting data on group size and demography
• Tracking group and individual movements with GPS 
• Collecting fecal samples for later DNA analysis 
• Conducting habitat quality surveys (laying transects, marking trees, measuring tree diameter, and tree height with a laser rangefinder, etc.) 
• Collecting behavioral data (feeding, aggression, mating, and proximity)
• Regular data entry and quality control

The assistant will spend 2-3 weeks upon arrival learning the basics of these different types of data collection, and will always work with a partner, either with the PI or a local field assistant. A minimum commitment of 6 months is required. The work is physically demanding, with long days (~10 hours, 5 days a week) in often extreme heat and humidity and/or rain, with a lot of walking, occasionally over steep and very muddy terrain. The assistant must be physically fit and able to deal with the heat as well as with frequent encounters with mosquitoes and various other insects, as well as the occasional snake.

The field site is located minutes away from the town of Palenque, with easy access to a supermarket, restaurants, laundry, medical services and pharmacies, etc. The field site is located in a beautiful area, minutes away from the famous Mayan archaeological site of Palenque. The assistant will live in a house with electricity, internet, hot showers, a kitchen, and 2 bedrooms, which will be shared with other assistants working on research being conducted on the howler monkey population in Palenque National Park under the supervision of Drs. Estrada and Van Belle.


1. At least 22 years of age
2. FLUENT in both English and Spanish – a must!
3. Bachelor’s degree in ecology, zoology, primatology, biology, animal behavior, OR considerable previous experience with this type of fieldwork. Any prior experience with wildlife biology fieldwork is a plus, as is experience living or traveling in Central or South America
4. The ability to contribute to the project both in data collection and data entry, and experience with common data entry programs (mainly Excel)
5. Mature, reliable, trustworthy, flexible and patient individual, capable of working independently as well as part of a team, with the ability to both follow strict protocols and instructions and to make independent decisions when necessary
6. In good physical and mental health and comfortable with spending an extended period of time away from family and friends while engaging in challenging physical work
7. Capable of amicably sharing a living space with others and maintaining reasonable standards of cleanliness
8. Excited about primates and wildlife in general, passionate about conservation, and highly motivated to gain valuable experience in fieldwork that includes a variety of data collection methods
9. Ability to interact respectfully with local landowners, the community in general, and local researchers collaborating on this project, and to represent the project in a professional, positive manner.

Salary/funding: This is a volunteer position, so no salary is available.

Support provided: The cost of accommodation and local travel expenses (i.e. daily travel to and from the forest fragments) while working will be covered by the PI, and all specialized equipment will also be provided by the PI (e.g. GPS, snake guards, sample collection kits, etc.).

Volunteers would need to cover their own travel expenses to and from Palenque (flight + bus or cab to/from the airport) as well as the costs of medical insurance, vaccinations, visa, basic field gear (e.g. appropriate clothing including rubber boots, poncho/raincoat and hat, field backpack; if you already own high-quality binoculars this is a plus!), and living expenses (~150-200 USD/month).

Term of Appointment: A minimum commitment of 6 months is required, up to 10 months. Start date is flexible: position begins August/September 2017.

Application Deadline: June 1st 2017

To apply: Please submit the following via email: (1) a letter of interest, describing your background, experience, and qualifications, and indicate why you are interested in this position specifically; (2) a CV including relevant academic and research experience; (3) contact information for 3 references that can speak to your abilities, research experience, and suitability for this project.

Contact Information:
Keren Klass
19 Russell St.
Toronto, ON M5S 2S2

Telephone Number: 1-647-8651131

E-mail Address: keren.klass@mail.utoronto.ca