Socratic Symposium, Spring 2014

With another semester ostensibly in the books, honors scholars convened for another Socratic Symposium this Spring. This time, the main attraction was Megan Draper’s defense of her Senior Thesis regarding her work studying primates in Borneo, Indonesia.

Draper Outrop

Megan wrote about her experience:

My name is Megan Draper, and I was one of the four OuTrop volunteers for September through November of 2013. I am an undergraduate student at Penn State University, Brandywine campus and would like to pursue a career in primatology conducting field research.

I became interested in primates after volunteering with orphaned infant baboons in South Africa during a gap year between high school and university. I wanted to get first-hand experience at a field site before applying to graduate school. A site that was producing important and relevant research on primates was at the top of my list, and equally important was a focus on conservation. OuTrop filled both of these requirements and offered the advantage of ongoing research on three fascinating primate species: orangutans, gibbons, and kelasi (red langurs).

OuTrop also has multiple research and conservation focuses from butterflies to reforestation, which I knew would give me a well-rounded experience as a volunteer. With the help of my professors, I earned university credit as a full-time student while I volunteered with OuTrop.

It’s hard to believe that my time with OuTrop is over. I had a great time during the seven weeks I was volunteering, which concluded with a relaxing and memorable holiday in Tanjung Puting National Park. I saw incredible wildlife and had the opportunity to work in the often demanding, yet always rewarding, Sabangau forest. Our volunteer group went on two week-long expeditions, one to Tall Pole and the second to Koran. Although I cannot say they were my favourite part of the volunteer experience, they had their highlights and I learned quite a bit from both expeditions (such as that sitting on the serrated leaves of pandan is a bad idea).

Despite the two expeditions, most of our time was spent at base camp and the forest surrounding it. We had rotating assignments based on the research being conducted in the forest. Although some assignments were more common than others, the daily schedule changes kept things interesting. I found the vast majority of the volunteer assignments fun and interesting, although all of them were informative to anyone interested in field work. I particularly liked helping to set the camera traps, despite the minor issue of the batteries exploding in one of the traps.

My favourite day was during my first week when I had the opportunity to join a gibbon follow. I was captivated by the gibbons from the first time I saw them, and I was excited to be able to go along with a follow so soon. I found the gibbons mesmerising, and I felt like I could watch them for days on end.

I had the unbelievable luck of witnessing an encounter between the group we were following and a second habituated group. I realised during the follow that gibbons are a primate I would be interested in researching, which was invaluable for me as a person who wants to become a primatologist.

Overall, my time volunteering with OuTrop was fantastic. I learned first-hand about field research methods and the rewards, and sometimes inconvenient realities, of conducting research in the field.

I had the opportunity to see gibbons and orangutans on multiple occasions while working in the forest, and have even seen the elusive kelasi, as well as sightings of other native wildlife. In addition to the incredible forest and its inhabitants, the people I volunteered with, from my fellow volunteers and our volunteer coordinators to the interns and OuTrop staff, were crucial to making the experience fun and worthwhile. I feel privileged to have been able to volunteer at at such an amazing location alongside the people at OuTrop.

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