For five weeks, Jennifer Franke hiked the pathways of a Costa Rican park, checking trail cams and looking for signs of wildlife. She slept at ranger stations, awoken each morning by the noisy chorus of howler monkey troupes. “Alpha males making their roaring vocal displays,” she said.
This usually started at 3 a.m. but Franke didn’t mind—howler monkeys were actually the point.
With $2,500 in funding from the Parker Matzinger Internship of Impact Award and the Robert Rue Parsonage Fund for Student Opportunities, Franke traveled to Costa Rica to assist with a long-term wildlife monitoring project and to do her own research on primates.
Franke is a biology major and the third student to participate in a five-year project between Professor Erik Olson’s Wildlife Research Laboratory and the Costa Rican National Parks Service to collect data on animals including two species of peccaries, a pig-like mammal. In Costa Rica, the poaching of peccaries has led to a decline in the jaguar population.
Franke said she first heard about this research from the first student to participate—Parker Matzinger ‘16. He presented his 2015 research at her prospective student scholarship dinner.
“I remember being in awe of all he had experienced and accomplished as an undergrad student and wished, without any expectation of doing so, that I could someday follow in his footsteps,” she said.
Matzinger died in 2017 of natural causes, doing field research in Panama. His family established the Parker Matzinger Internship of Impact Award to honor his legacy. Max Beal became the first recipient of the award in 2018, spending six weeks in Costa Rica to continue the research.
“Parker is continuing to have positive impacts on this project and on the lives of students,” Olson said. “Max and Jen’s experiences are a great example of that.”
Like Olson, Matzinger, and Beal before her, Franke checked trail cameras, organized and entered camera trap data. She also focused on primate population densities. Parker and Olson conducted the first primate survey; Beal the second. “Primates are very rarely captured on trail cameras since they are usually above the camera’s view,” Franke said. “So you need your eyes and observations skills to document them.”
Costa Rica has four species of primates—Geoffroy’s spider monkeys, listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation Nature, squirrel monkeys, white-faced capuchins, and those rowdy, early morning risers, the howler monkeys. Franke says she had time and opportunity to record data on the primates’ presence and group compositions.
“Franke’s survey will help us better document the distribution and abundance of the primate species of Corcovado,” Olson said.
Franke, who has studied Spanish, says one of the highlights of her five weeks was assisting a wildlife veterinarian outfit white-lipped peccaries with GPS collars. “I spoke with her about her career path and it gives me a thrill to think that I could possibly be a part of the wildlife research realm in my future, helping to create and perpetuate positive change for the environment and our fellow inhabitants,” Franke said.
She’s off to a good start. After returning from Costa Rica, Franke packed her bags for Florida where she’ll be interning at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge in Navarre this summer, learning and assisting in wildlife rehabilitation of terrestrial animals and marine mammals.