Decoding the Language of Dolphins and Apes: Tessa Feeney Lends Us a Helping Hand

Animal welfare, monitoring and seamanship: Last summer Conservation and Wildlife Management student Tessa Feeney has spent eight weeks with us volunteering. Next month, we are so fortunate to welcome her again in the framework of a college experience placement.

"I've always been fascinated by the natural world, and have known that I wanted to go in the direction of land management for a while", said the 20-year old English girl with local family ties. She is subscribed to the Hampshire-based Sparsholt College - an institution which as she explained also teaches the "practical approach looking after" nature.

Practical work there was plenty with the Helping Hand Trust, in areas previously unfamiliar to Tessa. Whatever needed to be done, though, Tessa went out and did and in an instant adapted to the sometimes unpredictable challenges of our working day. Whether this meant to help us trying to convince a wild-ranging ape to leave the bathroom of an unimpressed hotel guest or giving us a hand in maintaining our research field station.

Tessa has worked with our ape management team providing the daily care for the five monkey troops in the nature reserve, helping us with our behavioural studies and monitoring of the apes. Additionally, she assisted our veterinarian in conducting his regular health checks of the primates and our local doctor in our joint project with the aim to provide better guidelines for the treatment of possible animal bites.

She accompanied us to trips to the Campo, identifying invertebrates and also assisting us following up on our marine projects in Gibraltar. She has learned the basics of seamanship while for example testing the quality of our waters or monitoring the dolphins in the bay.

The daily routine according to Tessa was always full of surprises: "Most mornings were taken up with work with the monkeys, preparing their food distributing it. Looking out for new borns, photographing them for the annual journal, keeping a head count and checking their general health."

"I was instructed on the behaviour of the animals and what their facial expressions meant. It's like a language or monkey talk that we see but don't understand until it is explained to you. With the ape management team I would answer any call-outs, such as getting the monkeys off the Caleta Hotel's roof. The afternoons were spent out in the vessel Nimo looking at the dolphins, surprisingly this work is much similar to the work with monkeys but out at sea."

With previous volunteering experience in the UK in land management working with domesticated animals Tessa proved to be a dedicated student and great team player who quickly adapted to the challenges of our daily and day-filling tasks and keen to learn the methods and methodologies applied. Even though she decided to specialise in land management, Tessa said she especially liked "working with the boat and learning the new skill of operating it."

Currently, she is still at university, residing in Hampshire in student halls on campus: "As Sparsholt is a land based college many of the students are also interested in wildlife, it's common to find the TV showing 'Total Fishing', 'Pet Rescue' or something with David Attenborough narrating."

For Christmas Tessa will stay with family over here, describing Gibraltar in three words as "well kept secret."

Before returning to college, we will be happy to have her with us for a while in the New Year and hope she will find it worthwhile again.