Shauhin Alavi – Primate Researcher

Shauhin studies primates. He is a field researcher to the extreme. I first heard about Shauhin after I left a 6 month extended stay on a remote island in the middle of the Panama Canal. I thought 6 months was long – Shauhin studied monkeys there for a year! I finally had the chance to meet him while Haley and I traveled to Africa to make a video about some of the baboon research he was working on. It may have been one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever had. The highlights included waking up at 4am every morning to go immerse ourselves in the baboon troop, something Shauhin had already been doing for 6 months. Shauhin is a kind hearted sole who would be good at anything he put his heart into. Sometimes, it’s attracting primates of our own species. Sometimes it’s following other primates. Other times it’s training fellow field researchers to be as ripped as he is. That’s right, he has a youtube channel where he gives tips on how to do field workouts. It might seem like a niche audience, but I think they have wide appeal. Check out his Field Work[out] videos here.


I wanted to ask Shauhin a few informal questions so that you all could learn more about what it means to be a field researcher.

If you were a non-human primate, what would you be.

I’d be a baboon! They are so clever and strong and adaptable, and they seem to do better in changing environments than other primates.


Could you summarize what you do in the field for research?

I study diet and spatial cognition in primates. I also study nutrient cycling by primates.  In particular, I’m now in Borneo studying with Orangutans.

What does a typical field day look like?

When I am in the field my days consist of running through the jungle collecting data on whichever species I am studying at the time. I usually wake up at about 2 or 3AM to get ready to enter the forest. I try to arrive at whatever location the animals are sleeping at before they wake up, which is usually around 4:30 or 5AM when the sun comes up. I follow and observe the animals until they go to sleep when the sun goes down, and return to camp to process any data and samples that I collected.


What inspired you to start doing this?

I impulsively took a primate ecology class when I was an undergraduate and was hooked!


Why do you think it’s important – how does it benefit the animals?

Studying primates not only teaches us a lot about evolution, but studying how they interact with their environment is important to understanding how to conserve them and how to predict how they will react to changing environments

What is the hardest thing about doing this?

There are many physical challenges associated with this career, however one of the most difficult things for me personally is the amount of time I have to spend away from loved ones.

What is the most rewarding thing about it?

There are many rewarding aspects of this career! Just being able to see some of these rare and endangered animals in person in rewarding, however some of my favorite things are being able to make discoveries and share them with the world, and all of the interesting places and people I get to visit and meet.


What if others want to help but don’t want to go into the field. How can they help?

You don’t have to be a field researcher to study primates! Many people study primates in captivity, and if you are interested in conservation then there are a number of organizations that participate in fundraising, influencing policy, and outreach.

Finally, do you have any advice for a young student wanting to study something like this? What would you tell them?

Don’t be shy, network and take any opportunities for field experience as you can get. Also get comfortable with statistics.


Videos with Shauhin Alavi

The following two videos are stuff we shot with Shauhin in Africa. He was doing some of the field work with Meg Crowfoot. The data he was able to help acquire is explained in the second video.

A Google Hangout with Shauhin conducted by Haley, one of the Untamed Science Crew for a JASON LIVE event.