- Associated Press - Friday, September 19, 2014

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - During a recent interview outside a coffee shop in downtown Lawrence, Rachel Kilian got up and started walking into the middle of the street. “Oh, no!” she said.

She was worried about a black lab that was wandering aimlessly around the busy intersection of Massachusetts and Seventh streets. She kept walking toward it until she saw that some people had corralled the dog and were looking after it. She came back and sat down at the table.

It goes to show how much she cares about animals. So does the fact that she travels to Costa Rica every few months to build so-called monkey bridges, aerial structures that allow wildlife to safely cross a road that cuts through the rainforest.

Kilian, a Lawrence waitress who just returned from her latest trip to Costa Rica last month, learned about the project while studying wildlife biology at Baker University in 2008, the Lawrence Journal-World reported (https://bit.ly/1qSPCXP ). The daughter of one of her teachers had started building the bridges after seeing a need for them while studying primates in the Costa Rican rainforest. That woman, a Kansas University graduate and biological anthropologist named Stacy Lindshield, is now completing her doctorate at Iowa State University.

While working on a master’s thesis on spider monkey behavior, Lindshield had noticed that primates, as well as other wildlife in the lowland tropical rainforest, were being put at risk by the increasing amount of development in the area, namely a road that travels through a coastal nature preserve. The animals were not only in danger of being hit by cars, but also dog attacks and electrocution from falling onto power lines.



“I feel like as a primatologist it’s imperative to be involved in conservation activities - for ethical reasons, to make sure we have primates to study and learn from, and moral reasons, including preserving species diversity,” Lindshield said.

After receiving grants from primate and conservation organizations, she constructed the first monkey bridge in 2006. The bridges, which had a ladder-like design to start but are now just synthetic ropes, are put up with the help of the local electric company, which sometimes has to turn off power in the area to install them.

But are the primates actually using the overpasses?

“For a while we’ve been through this stage where everyone but the monkeys have been using them,” Lindshield said. That includes kinkajous, boa constrictors and possums.

“We don’t put up a sign that says, ‘Monkeys only,’” Kilian said. “All are welcome.”

Neighbors, at least, have reported seeing monkeys crossing the bridges. But since no one is monitoring them 24-7, the Monkey Bridge Project recently installed cameras to learn whether the three species of monkeys in the area - mantled howler, capuchin and spider - are using them.

The project, which has a five-member board and helpers from both the U.S. and Costa Rica, has so far installed bridges in three locations, with five more expected to go up in the next few months. Lindshield said the group has also located 17 forest canopies that act as natural passageways for wildlife to cross above the road. Development, meanwhile, continues to grow in the region.

“The forest is coming down in piecemeal, acre by acre,” Lindshield said.

Kilian, who previously worked in the education department at the Topeka Zoo, wants to get more involved in wildlife education, both locally and in Central America.

“If you hear about someone having a snake in their yard here, what do they do? A lot of times, they kill it, no matter what the snake is, even though our nonvenomous outnumber our venomous snakes,” the 27-year-old said. “It’s the same down there. They don’t understand a lot of it, so they fear it. It’s this disconnect.”

“We just have to learn how to coexist and live in harmony with the animals that are around us,” she added.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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