Cal State LA student awarded Phi Kappa Phi grant
to conduct research in Madagascar
By Margie Low
Cal State LA News Service
Fueled by an adventurous spirit and fascination with animals, Emma Thurau is on a journey to become a professional primatologist.
Thurau, who will graduate on May 20 with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology from California State University, Los Angeles, received a Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grant to spend the summer in Madagascar studying the native bamboo lemurs. Lemurs are medium-size primates that live on the huge island in the Indian Ocean.
“I am looking forward to exploring Madagascar, which is an island off the southeastern coast of Africa, to learn about the behavior of these endangered primates and to understand their natural habitat,” Thurau says.
After her three-month expedition to the rainforests of Madagascar, the Burbank resident will head to Northern Illinois University to start work on a Master of Arts in Anthropology. Her graduate research will focus on wild lemur behavior in Madagascar.
Thurau moved to California from New York, after graduating from Cornwall Central High School. She applied to Cal State LA because of her interest in anthropology and the University's outstanding faculty members.
“During a campus tour, students shared that the anthropology professors and advisors here are very hands-on and they do as much as possible to support their students,” she recalls.
While attending a primate behavior class taught at Cal State LA by Professor Joyce Purga, she became interested in primatology. She was enticed by the professor’s enthusiasm for research on primate behavior and genetics, as well as the opportunity to fulfill her childhood dream.
As a child, Thurau says, she wanted to be like Jane Goodall, one of the world's foremost experts on chimpanzees. She remembers dressing up in a safari outfit and giving presentations to her parents on the need to save primates from extinction.
“But, what really intrigued me is the works of Alison Jolly, who is the first in the 1960s to go to Madagascar to study about the biology, conversation, ecology and social behavior of lemurs,” she says. “I read all of her books.”
To further her interest, Thurau volunteered at the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita and worked as a research volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo. She was a research assistant in Parga's Primate Genetics Lab. She founded and served as president of the Ethology Club, a new student group for Cal State LA students interested in animal behavior.
She also traveled to Costa Rica in the summer of 2016 to complete a field course in primate behavior and ecology. She conducted a research project on howler monkeys.
Thurau presented her research findings from her field study at two professional meetings and a campus symposium. The presentation, “Sex and Age Differences in Prehensile Tail use in Mantled Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata),” is being edited for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
A Dean’s List student, Thurau’s campus accolades include the Golden Eagle Award of Excellence, Associated Students, Inc. Achievement Scholarship, and the Forensic Science Student Association Award of Leadership and Service.
Thurau credits the University with preparing her to succeed in graduate school.
“My Cal State LA advisors and professors are great at helping me work towards achieving my bachelor’s degree and planning out my future career,” she says. “After earning my master’s degree, I plan to continue on to a Ph.D. and to establish my own field site in Madagascar.”