Monkey magic prompts USC student to swap careers

Friday 12 April 2013

A University of the Sunshine Coast student was so amazed by his research work with monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest as part of his Environmental Science degree that he aims to focus his career on primatology.

Rob Burton, 34, returned in February from two months living and studying in Ecuador through USC’s GO (Global Opportunities) program.

Some vivid photographs of his work are on show at the USC Gallery to 20 April.

Mr Burton left his Mooloolaba home for the Universaid of San Francisco, de Quito, and the remote Amazon basin inhabited by “new world” (tree-dwelling) primates such as pygmy marmosets and golden-mantled tamarins.

“Every day was a knockout experience,” said the former project manager for companies such as Telstra who left the corporate arena to enrol at USC and follow his passion for the natural world.

Mr Burton was a student research assistant at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station where his work included observing and collecting data on the feeding and foraging behaviours of the marmosets (which only weigh about 120 grams) and tamarins (smaller than house cats). Tamarins pictured right.

“There were days when six or seven groups of different primate species would traverse over my head, high in the forest canopy, and I was extremely fortunate to observe a Harpy Eagle perched near me,” he said.

The Harpy Eagle at about 100cm tall is one of the world’s largest birds of prey.

“I even worked with a BBC crew for 11 days. They were doing a documentary series called Planet Primate and I took them out in the field to different sites.”

Mr Burton said he had never worked with primates before answering the USC GO Program advertisement about the opportunity.

Originally from Sydney, Mr Burton moved to the Sunshine Coast with his girlfriend Amanda Norton so they could both study at USC. He started an Arts degree before swapping to Environmental Science and Miss Norton is studying a Bachelor of Science focused on chemistry and ecology.

‘My USC degree has been fantastic and now I can add this field experience to my theoretical studies,” Mr Burton said.

“My goals changed as I thrived out there and I’d love to work in primatology.”

He hopes to graduate from USC at the end of this year and travel to the Amazon again next year to continue working as a research assistant while completing USC Honours.

Three other USC students also undertook GO Program placements in the Ecuadoran Amazon and Paramo at the same time as Mr Burton, funded jointly by USC International and the Australian government department DIICSRTE.

Julie Schomberg

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