Link: Long-read on Cayo Santiago

The New York Times Magazine today has a long-read article about Cayo Santiago, the island just off Puerto Rico where a large colony of rhesus macaques was introduced back in the 1930s to supply the medical research trade. The island became a laboratory where researchers could study every aspect of the free-ranging macaques’ lives.

In 2017, Puerto Rico was hit hard by Hurricane Maria, with enormous effects on the people of the island. Cayo Santiago was also hit, stripping much of its forest. The macaques weathered the storm relatively well, but researchers have found longer-term effects. The article explores these effects on the macaques, explains the research and its history, and highlights the struggles of the people of Puerto Rico: “Primal Fear: Can Monkeys Help Unlock the Secrets of Trauma?”

In October 2018, Lauren Brent began analyzing some of the preliminary poststorm observational data and began to notice unexpected patterns. There seemed to be two things going on. One, the monkeys seemed to be expanding their social networks, increasing the number of individuals that they had meaningful relationships with. Two, the monkeys appeared to become more tolerant of one another. They were living under radically diminished circumstances, competing for resources that had never been in such short supply, like edible leaves and the temperature-reducing shade that those leaves produced, but the amount of inter- and intratroop violence had seemed to taper off significantly. It was as if the hurricane had bonded even former foes against a common enemy and made the monkeys much more tolerant of life’s everyday frustrations, at least in the early days.

I’ve chosen to quote a passage that is monkey-centric, but the article really is about the human stories – researchers, local research assistants, and other people caught in an extraordinary and often tragic set of circumstances.