A Helping Hand: Meet Our Volunteer Vicky Howard

Monkey care, seamanship and research assistance: Vicky Howard is full of energy and always up for joining us in the field. Here she talks about the volunteering experience in Gibraltar, cheeky monkeys and wild life.

"I have always been certain, that I want to work with mammals in the field," explained the 18-year-old gap year student from Herne Bay in Kent, who in the next term will start to study environmental science at the University of Sussex.

In Vicky's opinion it is crucial to carry out practical work to understand the subject of study. Additionally, she said, it is important to her to get to know some places of the world, to learn about different cultures, to meet new people and to benefit from that input.

When over a friend of her mother she learned about the Helping Hand Trust, Vicky enquired about us, applied successfully and took up on the challenge to come to Gibraltar on 2nd January 2010, staying at our research field station in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

Despite the unusually constant rains and storms of the first three months of her stay, Vicky has been out with us every day since. She was introduced to marine biology, seamanship, bird watching and has assisted the primatologists, marine scientists and botanists who stayed at the field station – and of course she also works with the Ape Management Team of Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) taking care of our free-ranging Barbary Macaques.

"I keep a work journal to memorise properly the different fields of study, the methods and techniques I encounter. It is all very exciting, but as I love working with animals the work with monkeys is probably my favourite," said Vicky.

And work with and for the six troops of course there is plenty. It starts with the daily care: the provision of water, 100 kg of fresh and cut fruit and vegetable, the cleaning of the feeding areas and the monitoring to guarantee that all monkeys are healthy and well.

It continues with the in-depth examination: On Tuesdays and Wednesdays the team alongside a veterinarian check up on the health condition of individual monkeys in the laboratory facilities at the research field station.

It ends with the research: One of Vicky's big projects is the set-up of identification catalogues of the monkeys to be used by visiting biologists.

"I love this kind of work: going out to take photographs of the Macaques. They tease you and make it really hard for you to get a proper picture, always moving away in the last moment," laughed Vicky, who identifies and categorises the monkeys pictured both based on various identification techniques and the material of our data base.

"I do not think I could sit in an office on a desk 24/7, ideally, I also would like to have a balance between field work and the intellectual challenge in the future," she added.

It is not the first time Vicky combines these two ends. In Sixth Form she signed up for environmental studies in her home town and among other assignments categorised and promoted the local flora and fauna.

And what does she think about the fauna in Gibraltar – humans included?

"It is great. I have received a warm welcome and easily made friends," said Vicky, who in her free time spends a lot of time with the locals, meeting up for a meal or drink, going bowling, to the cinema - basically "the kind of stuff you do".

"I recommend volunteers from the UK to come to Gibraltar when planning the first independent time abroad. It is a cosy place with lovely and welcoming people and it feels not too different from home. It is ideal for a first step," smiled Vicky.

Vicky certainly has planned the second step: For the university's Easter break 2011 Vicky applied for working with lion cubs in South Africa.
For the time being, though, she is still walking with us. We thank Vicky for dedicating six months of her life to us and for supporting us in our goals. We admire her for the lengths she goes to improve her knowledge of her subject of study and the understanding of the world at large. We are sure that she will become a big player among the wild creatures on this planet – and in the meanwhile we just enjoy having her working with us. Thank you, Vicky!