The Philadelphia Zoo is a great place for a Bryn Mawr student to observe nature. After just an hour on a local train, any student can visit America’s first zoo to see tigers, lions, bears, and more; this national treasure is teeming with wildlife any time of the year.
But, for just three weekends in February, the Philly Zoo will be host to a very rare exhibit: the chance to see a Mawrter in her natural habitat.
That’s because Natalie Schall ‘17 is spending eight cold February days at the tamarin exhibit in the Philadelphia Zoo, conducting research that first began last summer during an internship with Field Projects International in Peru. Thanks to funding from Bryn Mawr’s Dean’s Office, Natalie will be studying the sleeping and resting habits of tamarins in the zoo’s PECO Primate Center.
Natalie’s interest in tamarins began during her summer in Peru, where she helped graduate students conduct research on primate mating behavior Subjects included a female who’d been the dominant tamarin of her group for an astounding nine years, and a male whom Natalie jokingly described as a “major player.”
After spending six weeks in Peru, Natalie returned to Bryn Mawr and decided to continue researching tamarins for her thesis, concentrating on the animals’ sleeping behavior.
Tamarins and their sleeping habits aren’t often the focus of major research, but Natalie’s taking this opportunity to explore one of the unsolved mysteries of tamarin behavior: why they change their sleeping location so often over the course of a day.
“I’m looking at the amount they sleep, when they sleep, and if they change their sleeping location at night,” she said. “Whatever behavior I see in captivity, it will theoretically eliminate the variable factors, like whether it's predator-influenced, and get down to what the actual reason for their sleeping behavior is.”
While her Dean’s Office funding is going towards public transportation, a zoo membership, a new voice recorder, and a pair of binoculars, Natalie says she owes even more to Bryn Mawr: the college is where she discovered primatology in the first place.
“I took Intro to Anthropology my first semester ever, and we did a week on primates, and I was like, ‘This is it! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!’
“I just think they're really interesting behaviorally, because they're so similar to us but also so different. And they can tell us a lot, not only about our own behavior, but also our diets and genetics.They're just a really good comparison.”
While Natalie’s journey into primatology began at Bryn Mawr, it certainly won’t end here. After graduation this spring, Natalie’s looking to work in a zoo or museum for a few years, before getting her Ph.D. in primatology. “I’d like to eventually end up doing research,” she said. “But also, some kind of education with children would be really cool.”
More information about funding provided by the Dean’s Office at Bryn Mawr can be found here