Primates in Flooded Habitats

Photo: Phyllis Lee

Kate Nowak ’01 in the Uzi Island mangroves of Zanzibar.
by Susan Lindt

Monkeys aren’t known for their water sport, but that may change.

In her recent book, Primates in Flooded Habitats: Ecology and Conservation, Katarzyna “Kate” Nowak ’01 shows there is such a thing as the secret aquatic life of primates.

“Primates are a high-profile group, and we know a lot about them in a typical terrestrial tropical forest,” Nowak says. “But there weren’t any books that combined the subjects of primates and water-logged habitats.”


Nowak edited researchers’ previously unpublished observations about the water-oriented habits of gorillas, baboons and other primates. Among the book’s international contributors are Mike Gumert M’01 and Alex Piel ’01, as well as Nowak.

“These are systems that haven’t been studied in a comprehensive way in the primatology sphere,” says Nowak, a fellow at New York’s Safina Center and a research associate at South Africa’s University of the Free State, Qwaqwa campus. Contributors described all types of nonhuman primates that inhabit or use flooded habitats, such as mangroves, year-round or seasonally.


Nowak planned to become a veterinarian until she found Bucknell’s undergraduate animal behavior program. Next came a semester abroad in Zanzibar. “That’s where my love affair with East Africa and Tanzania started — I was hooked,” she says.

Nowak returned to Zanzibar for her Ph.D. research, during which she learned about red colobus monkeys that eat from mangrove trees containing high salt and tannins. The resulting constant thirst showed Nowak an unfamiliar side to red colobus monkeys in upland forest.

“It was so unusual to see this species needing to drink,” she says. “They would lick dew from leaves or drink rain water from tree trunks and crevices. I wrote a paper about the monkeys spending so much time looking for water daily.”


Nowak hopes exposing primates’ reliance on watery habitats will direct conservation efforts, especially as climate change occurs.

“As we prioritize for conservation, I hope this book points us to the areas we may have missed as habitats and refuges for primates and other threatened wildlife.”

Primates in Flooded Habitats: Ecology and Conservation. Edited by Katarzyna Nowak, Adrian A. Barnett and Ikki Matsuda. (Cambridge University Press, 2019.)