Since its inception, Samara has sought to develop its potential as a site of learning and discovery. We have entered into partnership with a number of universities from around the world who send Masters, PhD, post-doc students and their professors to Samara to conduct original and often groundbreaking research. Our longest-running research project began in 2008, and constitutes a collaboration between a number of universities.
Currently, the four main protagonists are the University of Lethbridge (Canada), University 16 of South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and University of Aberdeen (Scotland). The aims of the research are several fold, but focus predominantly on the social organisation and adaptation to climate change of vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) .
The research has found that Samara, and the Karoo in general, is home to some quite extraordinary monkeys. Typically confined to the tropical forests of East Africa, the blackfaced, silver-haired vervets have not only adapted to the harsh conditions of the dry, semiarid Karoo, they positively thrive in these adverse circumstances. Samara has the highest density of vervet monkeys in the world, with troops averaging 40 individuals, the largest recorded for the species. In periods of drought, the animals are able to go for an entire month without drinking water, a record for a primate.
Monitoring the vervets is often an entertaining experience, and Samara guests are encouraged to join the researchers going about their daily routine. During hot summer days, juvenile monkeys, with their boundless energy, love to play hide and seek, play-fight and chase each other around, often jumping into the river to cool off. Whilst these antics provide amusing interludes, they are also of scientific interest. In particular, the behavioural and physiological strategies employed by the vervets to stay cool during scorching summers and warm during cold winters could provide valuable insight into how these creatures might adapt to global climate change. As well as the ‘Verveteers’, as the monkey scientists are known, Samara has welcomed researchers from, amongst others, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (South Africa), Rhodes University (South Africa), the University of St Andrews (Scotland), and the University of Cambridge (UK), on projects as varied as mapping species’ diets using DNA samples in animal droppings, to exploring the cultural meanings of ‘wilderness’ in the Great Karoo. Research on Samara is an area that we hope to expand considerably.