Cayo Santiago: No Monkeying Around

ID: unID, Cayo Santiago, 18 Mar 2015

Off the coast of Puerto Rico lies Cayo Santiago, a 38-acre island home to one of the oldest primate field sites in the world. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the well being of its locals and monkey population is at risk.

Scientists have been studying Cayo Santiago’s monkeys for decades, looking at group dynamics, development and genetics. “It’s one of the only sites in the world with such a large population of habituated monkeys,” said Laurie Santos, psychology professor at Yale University who studies animal cognition. “It’s really the one site where I can do my cognitive studies of primates on that large a sample.”

But on September 20th, the island’s 1500-strong monkey population and locals were in the direct path of Maria, a hurricane that has ravaged much of the Caribbean. Now, researchers and affiliates are rushing to ship food, clothes and other supplies to help aid recovery.

Though all monkey groups on the island have been accounted for, the devastation to infrastructure, vegetation and fresh-water sources will no doubt impede their livelihood. And for many locals – most of them in the researchers’ employ – the situation is even more dire. “Some of our long-term staff and their families have lost everything they own,” said Santos, “and everyone in the town has not had power, phone service, or water for an entire month.”

Despite lackluster official support, researchers hope their shipment of supplies will help alleviate the hardship. But until the locals get back on their feet, all operations on the island remain on hold.