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Volunteer Baboon Research Assistants: Primate & Predator Project in South Africa

Hiring Organization:
Primate and Predator Project Durham University

Date Posted:

Position Description:
The Primate & Predator Project based within the Soutpansberg Mountains of South Africa is playing a critical role in the research and conservation of the local wildlife. We are looking for a hands-on and passionate research assistant to join our team to help support our research in primate behaviour. The project provides a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure to behavioural ecology, working with a range of experienced professionals from around the world. You will be working closely with primates whilst developing a range of research skills and could be a perfect stepping stone for your future career in conservation.

The Primate & Predator Project

Our project objective is to examine the behavioural ecology of predator-prey interactions focussing on diurnal primates and their predators as a model system. This research plays a critical role in preserving local biodiversity. The project operates in conjunction with Durham University and you will have the opportunity to work closely with a dynamic group of primate and predator specialists.

Our research centre offers a unique opportunity to interact with all five species of South African primate: chacma baboon (Papio ursinus), vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops), samango monkey (Cercopithecus mitis erythrarchcus), thick-tailed bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus) and southern lesser bushbaby (Galago moholi).

The Lajuma Research Centre

The camp is located on the beautiful Soutpansberg Mountains in Limpopo province, South Africa. The mountains provide a unique ecosystem and as such attract a range of scientist studying the local ecology.

The Centre is in a rural location so there is housing available onsite. The accommodation is equipped with hot showers, flush toilets, a gas stove, fridge, tapped water, washing machine, solar power, firewood and electricity (220V). These are often shared rooms with other assistants. As the camp is in an isolated location, volunteers may join the town trip to Louis Trichardt (Makhado) once a fortnight for shopping, visits to an internet café, landline phone calls, etc.

Your Key Activities

We are currently recruiting specifically for an assistant to work on our habituated baboon group; however, you will also be asked to help collect data on the samango and vervet monkeys during your stay. You will spend lots of time out in the field, alongside an experienced and passionate team of field biologists, and it?s likely that you?ll be involved in tasks such as;

1. Behavioural observations of habituated primates through full day follows and collection of standardized behavioural and demographic data from our study troops. This will involve 3-5 dawn-to-dusk follows per week.

2. Experimental titrations of predation risk based on giving-up densities or predator detection experiments using predator models.

3. Learning approximately 80 individual baboon IDs, including all juveniles.

4. Maintaining/updating individual baboon identification book and photo file.

5. Learning to identify over 50 different species of plant that the baboons, samangos, and vervets regularly feed on.

6. Phenological transects and vegetation plots to estimate seasonal changes in primate food availability and distribution.

7. General data entry.

8. Based on performance and maturity, you may be asked to train future assistants in any of the aforementioned tasks.

8. Assisting PhD students based at PPP with their data collection as required.

9. Volunteers may also have the opportunity to work on the predator element of the project and engage in camera trapping.

As a busy research centre, it is likely that these activities will vary and we hope you will want to get involved in a variety of other projects during your time with us. We will also help you develop your skills and experience, so if you have any specific interests in particular techniques or aspects of our research, we will try to accommodate these

What we are looking for:

Everyone at the Primate & Predator Project is passionate about the work that they are doing so we are looking for someone who is excited to make an active contribution to the project. We are open to your background, what is most important is that you are passionate about conservation. There are a few qualities that will make you more relevant for the programme:

1. A background in biology/zoology/ecology or related field and an interest in the behaviour, ecology and conservation of primates and other mammals would be preferred.

2. As the applicant who takes on this role will primarily work on our baboon group, you?ll need to be extremely physically fit. You will regularly undertake walks in mountainous terrain, often in relatively extreme weather conditions, varying from very hot days to cold-rainy days (torrential rain can also happen!). You will need to be able to comfortably cover 30km per day (often more) over rough and often steep terrain and capable of carrying a day pack these distances while collecting data. We demand you carry at least 4 litres of water for safety reasons, which combined with your food for the day and additional equipment can make backpacks quite heavy, therefore we expect you to be comfortable dealing with this. You will be accompanied by another PPP assistant at all times, whilst Primate Research Coordinator Andy Allan should also be present for the majority of follows.

3. Please do not apply if you have a history of injuries or health problems, as this type of work is incredibly intense, and cumulative fatigue alone has previously lead to injuries in very fit and healthy individuals. We encourage applicants that compete in a sport or have active hobbies.

4. You should enjoy working as part of a team and be happy to operate under the authority of field research coordinators. Due to the nature of our work, you?ll need to work unsociable hours and should be happy to support other researchers in their work as necessary.

5. You should be reliable, responsible and motivated when it comes to following research protocols and methodologies. You should also display a keen eye for detail and good initiative, it can often take a considerable time to learn all of the baboon IDs, so applicant?s must also display patience and persistence, and approach their development in an honest and methodical manner.

6. Although we have excellent knowledge of the area, and know the safest ways to navigate the landscape, we do occasionally find ourselves near cliff edges, in very thick bush (with limited visibility), or can encounter dangerous wildlife such as snakes; therefore we require applicants to be mature at all times, and not hold any overt fear of any of these factors. We will favour applicants that can demonstrate that they have successfully dealt with these factors in the past.

7. Relevant experience of the project?s field techniques. Due to the intensity of following baboons from dawn-to-dusk multiple days a week, we are seeking applicants with prior field experience, particularly in harsh environments.

Salary/funding: This is a volunteer role so no salary is provided, however you will be exposed to a wide range of research techniques and therefore could be an integral stepping stone to your next role.

You will need to cover your own food and accommodation costs at the research station. Accommodation costs are currently 5000 Rand a month. All research equipment will be provided. Volunteer research assistants will also be responsible for their own airfare and travel to South Africa and medical/travel insurance.

Application Deadline:
Rolling until filled

How to Apply:

We are looking for volunteers who are able to commit for a minimum of 7-8 months, although our preference is for those who are available to stay for longer (12 months or more). Volunteers who are able to contribute for longer periods could also have the opportunity to take on extra responsibilities such as data analysis and publication where appropriate.

Application Deadline:

To apply, please submit a CV and covering letter to the project email address (

Please use your cover letter to explain why you are interested in working at Lajuma and to outline your relevant experience or transferable skills. Please also include contact details for two referees. Applications are welcome year round, with up to six vacancies available per year.

Contact Information:
Dr Andrea Donaldson, none
South Africa


E-mail Address:

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