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Primate Behavior and Ecology
Dr. April Binder, Director
(509) 963-2803

Ms. Penelope Anderson, Secretary Senior

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Student Spotlight: Miranda Cays


         Primate Behavior and Ecology (PBE) students typically come from a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, and first-year PBE student Miranda Cays is no exception. Her exposure to animal care curriculum began well before she enrolled at CWU in Fall 2018. She received her Associate’s Degree at Moorpark College in their Exotic Animal Training and Management program, where she gained hands-on experience at America’s Teaching Zoo, and took classes in animal behavior and nutrition. It was during her time at Moorpark that she developed her fascination with primates. She was a primary caretaker for Malay, a siamang at the teaching zoo. Miranda formed a personal connection with her. “She was primarily responsible for my interests in working with primates. The breadth of her behavior was so exciting to me.” In addition to her cleaning and feeding enrichment responsibilities, she was able to successfully train Malay to maintain species-specific behavior, as well as multiple simultaneous targeting behaviors (e.g. grab something with her hand, and another object with her foot). Training of this nature can be particularly helpful when working with captive primates during husbandry and veterinary procedures.

Miranda with Malay at America's Teaching Zoo.

         After receiving her Associate’s Degree in 2015, Miranda was a seasonal keeper at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. As a Sequim, WA native, she was excited to make her return to the Pacific Northwest and have the opportunity to work with the primates there. Following the conclusion of her seasonal position, Miranda spent three years as an animal trainer at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, CA. There she was able to work with a long-tailed weasel named Slinky (pictured with Miranda), along with a bobcat, skunk, porcupines, foxes, and other species native to California. She was responsible for wildlife educational talks to inform visitors about the species onsite at the non-profit’s wildlife center. “During my time at Turtle Bay, I definitely felt the absence of primates,” she said. Thus, at the start of 2018, Miranda decided to look into graduate programs and reacquaint herself with primates.

        She was excited to learn that the only primatology program in the country was in her home state, and she decided to apply to CWU right away.  “What really stood out to be about the program was the hands-on experience available. Hands-on experience is everything in this field, and it was my top priority,” she said. Miranda has already begun interning at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW), a sanctuary that provides care for seven chimpanzees while advocating for all great apes. CSNW works closely with CWU to allow students to receive credits and training at the sanctuary. Many undergraduate and graduate PBE students volunteer at CSNW as partial fulfillment of the Captive Care Certificate Program, along with the accompanying course requirements. With a sanctuary just 20 miles west of CWU’s campus, the opportunity to gain captive care experience was a major selling point for her. “I love the workplace environment at CSNW. Everyone is so friendly, and their top priority is providing excellent care for the chimps,” said Cays. In addition to the warm atmosphere at the sanctuary, she also appreciates that it is a young facility that is still growing and changing. She plans to stick with it and hopes to work up to a Level III Volunteer, the most advanced volunteer position at the sanctuary that involves serving meals and engaging in physical and non-physical interactions with the chimpanzees in a controlled and protected setting.


     As a double major in Psychology and Primate   Behavior, Miranda has already taken classes in Primate Social Behavior with Dr. Sofi Blue, and introductory Psychology courses in her first quarter. Since starting at CWU she has noted some shifts in her perspectives regarding captive animal care. Having worked at multiple zoos in the past, she really appreciates the benefits of sanctuary work and she has developed a better understanding of philosophical differences across captive settings. In the future she hopes to combine her experience with training and research with conservation, citing the success of the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Programme as an inspiration. “I am hoping to utilize my training experience to aid rehabilitation and conservation programs by training captive primates to develop the skills necessary to survive in the wild, similar to the practices that allowed golden lion tamarins to successfully be released into the Atlantic Forest in Brazil", she said. The incorporation of professionals at the intersection of training and conservation will likely allow passionate primate caregivers like Miranda to play a pivotal role in future conservation programs and the rehabilitation of captive primates.

         Miranda is taking every opportunity available to learn about ways to enhance animal care and training. She is a member of the Animal Behavior Management Alliance and will be attending their conference in Portland, Oregon this Spring. With everything she’s accomplished in just one quarter so far at CWU, the program faculty and students are excited to see what Miranda accomplishes during her time in the PBE Program and beyond. Keep up the great work!


By Alex Sacco

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