My role at Operation Wallacea is a bit different from most as I work for the UK office, but I am based in Mexico year round. I have lived and worked in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico for 15 years, which started with my doctoral research on wild spider monkeys back in 2002, and having fallen in love with the extensive jungle and beautiful beaches of the Yucatan, I decided that moving back to the UK was not something that I ever want to do! My first experience with Operation Wallacea was as a research assistant on the Indonesian expedition in 2000 when I had just finished my undergraduate degree at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), and I then joined the expedition the following year to collect data for my MSc thesis on Buton macaques awarded by the University of Liverpool. Operation Wallacea opened my eyes to the wonder of field work and from Indonesia I travelled out to Mexico to the Punta Laguna Reserve where I spent two wonderful years running around with wild spider monkeys Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis), collecting data for my PhD (University of Liverpool) focused on the regulation of social relationships with specific reference to sexual selection theory, and biological markets theory of behavioural exchanges.
I kept in touch with the Opwall team while I was in Mexico and in 2006 I was offered the chance to join the expedition to Cusuco National Park in Honduras to lead the behavioural research on howler monkeys. I continued to work in Honduras as the senior scientist for the terrestrial expedition, and also designed and helped coordinate the Opwall elephant behaviour project in South Africa while still living in Mexico and continuing my research on spider monkeys. Over the years I developed contacts with the Mexican government department of protected areas (CONANP) and with a local conservation charity called Pronatura that specialize in sustainable development projects with indigenous Mayan communities. CONANP and Pronatura alerted me to the problems they faced in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve when the sheer size of the reserve (over 2 million hectares of remote forest) made it impossible for them to monitor, and so it was not possible to determine how badly the reserve was affected by climate change or if their projects with local communities were actually helping to conserve the forest and its wildlife. At the same time, a local population of sea turtles in Akumal was facing major issues with growing tourism and so in 2012 the Operation Wallacea Mexico expedition started with terrestrial research in Calakmul and marine research in Akumal.
I now split my time between the two sites. Obviously, my research background is more suited to the terrestrial side of things and in Calakmul we are conducting long-term behavioural research on spider monkeys and population monitoring and ecology studies of large mammals with a focus on jaguar and tapir, birds, bats, butterflies and herpetofauna with a major focus on the endemic Morelete’s crocodiles living in the unique aguada habitats in the reserve. We have provided the first standardized monitoring data for the reserve that has been used to create a new management plan, we have helped the reserve to obtain UNESCO mixed world heritage status, and in conjunction with Pronatura we have a number of successful ecotourism and sustainable agriculture projects. In Akumal I devised a long-term behavioural project investigating the impact of snorkel tours on the resident sea turtles (because the methods used for this type of study are the same standardized methods used to study behaviour of primates), monitoring of the impact of tourism on nesting turtles and helped to coordinate a water quality study. After detecting very serious problems caused by the tourism in Akumal we are very pleased that our data was used to turn Akumal into a protected area with a new management plan for sustainable tourism.
I continue to live in the Yucatan and with PhD students focussing on crocodiles and jaguars as well as my ongoing research with large mammals, primates and sea turtles I am certainly kept busy! However, when I am not working, I can generally be found on the beach with a cocktail enjoying the Mexican Caribbean weather!
Aureli, F. A., Schaffner, C. M., Verpooten, J., Slater, K. Y. & Ramos-Fernandez, G. (2006). Raiding parties in male spider monkeys: Insights into human warfare? American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 131: 486-497
Slater, K. Y., Schaffner, C. M. & Aureli, F. A. (2007). Embraces for infant handling: Evidence for a biological market? Animal Behaviour 72: 455-461.
Slater, K. Y., Schaffner, C. M. & Aureli, F. A. (2008). Female-directed male aggression in wild Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis. International Journal of Primatology 29: 1657-1669.
Slater, K. Y., Schaffner, C. M. & Aureli, F. A. (2009). Sex differences in the social relationships of wild spider monkeys. American Journal of Primatology 71: 21-29.
Schaffner, C.M., Slater, K.Y. & Aureli, F. 2012. Age related variation in male–male relationships in wild spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis). Primates 53: 49-56
Stafford, R., Goodenough, A.E., Slater, K.Y., Carpenter, W., Collins, L, Cruickshank, H., Downing, S., Hall, S., McDonald, K., McDonnell, H., Overs, B., Spiers, L., Stetter, M., Zitzer, H., & Hart, A.G. 2012.
Inferential and visual analysis of ethogram data using multivariate techniques. Animal Behaviour 82: 563-569
Doughty, L.S., Slater K.Y., Zitzer, H, Avent, T & Thompson, S. 2014. The impact of male contraception on dominance hierarchy and herd association patterns of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in a fenced game reserve. Global Ecology and Conservation 2: 88-96
Colston, T.J., Barão-Nóbrega, J.A.L., Manders, R., Lett, A., Willmott, J.M., Cameron, G., Hunter, S. Radage, A., Littlefair, E., Williams, R., Lopez Cen, A. & Slater, K.Y. 2015. Amphibians and reptiles of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, México, with new records. Checklist, 11(5): 1759.
R. Anastácio, R., Gonzalez, J. M., Slater, K.Y. & Pereira, M. J. 2017. Software for improved field surveys of nesting marine turtles. Scientific Reports 7: 10796, DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-11245-6.