A black Howler Monkey climbing on a tree branch

Panama Primatology

Hone your wild primate research skills in an immersive and engaging setting! 

The University of Calgary’s Primatology program is widely recognized as the best in Canada and among the best in North America. At this long-standing field site in Panama, you will study 3 unique primate species. Mantled howlers and white-faced capuchins can be observed in the jungle by day; later in the evening, you will traverse a mangrove swamp to track owl monkeys, the only nocturnal monkey species in the world. 

During this program, you will learn the fundamentals of wild primate research design through first-hand observation and practice sampling techniques to collect behavioural and ecological data. In developing your own research proposal, you will gain the necessary skills for successful fieldwork, including teamwork, individual problem solving, flexibility in the face of changing circumstances, field safety, and generally coping with working in another country. 

This field school is located at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC)'s Bocas del Toro research station on Isla Colón, a remote tropical island embedded in historic Afro-Caribbean culture. Trips to Panama City’s famous Biomuseo, the Agua Clara Locks on the Panama Canal, and the beautiful Cosmic Crab resort will round off your experience!

Key information




Spring 2024

Program type

Group Study 

Application information

Application status


Apply Now!

Application deadline

Limited space remaining! First come, first considered

Eligibility requirements

This program is open to students from all majors. See the Eligibility section below for more details.


Info sessions

Wednesday September 27 at 4 PM

Location: Earth Sciences 859

Student experience

ITEC Research Station in the trees

Research Station at Isla Colón

Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation

Have questions?

For program information, please contact Dr. Mary Pavelka at pavelka@ucalgary.ca or Dr. Hugh Notman at hgwnotma@ucalgary.ca

For application and registration support, please contact the Group Study Team at group.study@ucalgary.ca.

Other useful links: 

Recorded Info Session. Subtitles are automated; please contact us with any questions

Program details

Questions about these courses should be directed to the program instructor.

Please note: course descriptions are tentative and subject to change.

  1. Courses offered

    Students on this program are required to enroll in three courses:

    ANTH 505: Conference Course: Panama Primatology Research Proposal (3 units) 

    ANTH 552: Field Studies in Primatology (6 units) 

    ANTH 553: Primate Behavioural Research Design: Research methods for the study of neotropical primate ecology & behaviour (3 units) 

  2. Prerequisites

    All course offerings require ANTH 311 and consent of the program instructor.

  1. Pre-departure

    November (date TBD), Calgary: Welcome meeting for accepted students

    March (date TBD), Calgary: Mandatory pre-departure orientation facilitated by UCalgary International

    March (date TBD), Calgary: Mandatory Group First Aid training and Travel Clinic

    May 1 – 4, Calgary: Mandatory classroom block week & field preparation; full days starting at 9 a.m.

  2. In-field

    May 5, Calgary/Panama City: Travel to Panama City; evening tour of Casco Viejo

    May 6, Isla Colón: Travel to Isla Colón; orientation at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC) and evening discussion

    May 7 – 18, Isla Colón: Fieldwork at ITEC; alternating days will include evening discussions

    May 19, Isla Carenero: Transfer from ITEC to the Cosmic Crab Resort

    May 20 – 22, Isla Carenero: Coursework & presentations (full days 8:30-4:30)

    May 23, Panama City: Transfer to Panama City; group meeting

    May 24, Panama City: Visit the Biomuseo; Ancon Hill hike

    May 25, Colon: Day trip to Colon. Drive along canal, tour Colon, stop at the Agua Clara Locks visitor centre; return to Panama City before dark

    May 26, Panama City/Calgary: Return to Calgary (or continue on independent travel)

  3. Post-field

    June (date TBD): ANTH 505 research proposal will be due following the program

  1. Costs

    The estimated cost of the Panama Primatology Group Study Program includes tuition for 12 units (2 half courses + 1 full course), airfare, field trips, local transportation, accommodations, and meals. The program cost is $9,173.

    For the full cost breakdown and payment deadlines, please see the program Student Cost Summary (click here).

    Important information regarding deposit payments: Deposits are non-refundable. Deposits secure your space in the program and allows payment for logistical arrangements to be made in advance.

  2. Funding

    Our office administers several awards, including the Global Access Fund (based on a funding-first model where students apply prior to committing to a global learning program) and the Global Learning Award (students apply after being accepted to a global learning program; the amount varies year-to-year as the money is split among chosen recipients). Students may only receive these awards once. Please see the funding page, linked here, for more information. 

    Faculty of Science IDEAS Fund: All undergraduate students who are in good standing and enrolled in programs offered by the Faculty of Science are eligible to apply for financial support from the IDEAS Fund. Find out more here.

    Faculty of Arts Group Study Program Scholarships - up to 10 awards of $1000 each! For more information, please click here.

    Student loans: If you qualify for student loans, your program should qualify. We are able to provide you with a letter confirming your participation in the program for funding purposes. Please email group.study@ucalgary.ca to request a letter. Please note that eligibility for student loans is determined by your loans provider.

At the start and end of the program in Panama City and Isla Caranero, your accommodations will be at hotels with 2-4 students per room. There likely will not be kitchen facilities available so you will be obtaining your own meals during this time, e.g. local restaurants and street vendors.

During the fieldwork component, which is the majority of the program, you will be staying at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation on Isla Colón in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. The ITEC dormitory holds 3-4 students per room. We anticipate that each student will have their own bunk bed (so that you have one bunk for sleeping and another to store your belongings). There are several private bathrooms at the dormitory for residents to use.

ITEC has kitchen/dining facilities and you will be provided with 3 meals per day with both meat and vegetarian options. The kitchen is able to accommodate some dietary restrictions and allergies, but is not able to accommodate preferences. Please contact our office in advance to discuss any dietary concerns.

More information about what to expect (accommodations layout, the meals typically provided, etc.) can be viewed online here.

Please be aware that the conditions at ITEC are very rustic. The site is well-established and safe, however you will be in close contact with wildlife, insects, and each other (minimal privacy). There is no WiFi and restricted electricity. Water availability depends on rainfall and showering may be restricted to one 3-minute shower per day. We will discuss this in depth and make sure you are well-prepared before you travel, but if you have any concerns or questions, you are welcome to contact the instructors.

This program is open to undergraduate students in good academic standing from all faculties.

Applications will be considered after your online application and supplementary documents have been received in full.

Please read the sections below for information about what your application will include. The application is completed online. Because the online application will time out after 1 hour, we recommend writing out your answers to the application questions in a Word document and preparing any of the supplementary documents you may need in advance.

Once you are ready, click here to access the application system.

Announcements on whether you have been selected to the program will not be distributed until after the November 12 deadline.

  1. Written application questions

    All Group Study Programs have general questions about how the program will meet your goals (academic reasons, personal interest, career prospects, etc.), how you plan to finance your program, and coping skills for travelling abroad. These questions are designed to help narrow down your motivation for applying and why you should be selected.

    Note: Because the online application will time out after one hour, we recommend that you "save" your application, copy the questions into a Word document to compose your answers, check for spelling, grammar and word count, and then paste it into the online application.

  2. Unofficial transcript

    Download an unofficial transcript from your Student Centre. Click here for a step-by-step guide to access your unofficial transcript.

    You will be asked to upload your transcript as a PDF in the online application.

Please ensure that you have read the Group Study Program General FAQs thoroughly before applying.


Program-Specific FAQs

Q: Is Panama safe?
A: Yes, Panama is a safe country to travel and work in. English is spoken at the ITEC field site, and also commonly used in Panama City. Of course, there are always precautions that should be taken whenever one travels in a foreign country, especially when in more isolated or "non-touristy" regions. We will discuss these precautions before we go.

Q: What kind of food will be available?
A: Some meals will be purchased on your own (e.g. while in Panama City). However, during your fieldwork at ITEC, you will receive 3 meals per day. Meals are served buffet-style and follow a traditional Panamanian cuisine. Vegetarian options are offered as well. If you have any dietary concerns, please contact the Group Study Programs team at group.study@ucalgary.ca to discuss whether this program will be able to accommodate you.


Advice from past students

"As someone who has managed anxiety for my entire life through the development of routines and support systems here in Canada, it was very difficult to walk away from that and put myself in a completely new situation with new people and no established routine. As the program progressed, our whole group experienced mental & physical exhaustion from the rigours of fieldwork, and I was shocked by how supportive and kind everyone was. We became so close so fast and were so open with our needs that I truly felt like we became a family by the end. So, the resolution to my biggest challenge in the field was also one of the biggest highlights of my trip. In terms of advice for future students, opening yourself up to your classmates and relying on each other for support and reassurance is absolutely essential to your success in this program. Also, set realistic expectations of what the trip will look like in terms of free-time and 'vacationing', and accept that programs like this need to be tackled one day at a time. It was hard, but it is so worth it if you fully commit to the experience."

This program was the best decision I have ever made! It allowed me to experience my future career in a safe way to help me determine that it is the career I want to pursue [...] After meeting amazing people, eating great food and seeing animals that are not familiar on a daily basis, it made coming back home a challenge as I felt like I could have stayed there forever! Travelling abroad also opened my eyes to more of the world and the struggles that people face. Learning about the history and culture of an area is a great way to gain a better understanding of global issues and also a great way to see the kindness that people are capable of.

Kayleigh, Anthropology major

Participant on 2023 Panama Primatology program

Learning in a new environment and discovering that I am capable of more work under less-than-normal circumstances than I ever thought possible boosted my personal confidence and trust in my academic abilities dramatically [...] This trip made my future goals much more clear, and gave me confidence that I can and will be successful working in the field in the future. It taught me a level of mental toughness and how to achieve a work ethic I had never reached before and these are lessons I will use throughout the rest of my academic career.

Abby, Biological Sciences major & Anthropology minor

Participant on 2022 Belize Primatology program

The advisor for this program is: Kathryn Bauer

Getting started

Program-Specific Info Sessions

Info sessions are scheduled for every Group Study Program. Attending an info session is not required to apply, but strongly recommended as it will give you an opportunity to meet the instructor and learn more about the travel experience.

We also recommend watching Global Learning 101 for general information.

Watch Global Learning 101

Global Learning Advising

If you have questions about this program, you can meet with one of our Global Learning Advisors by emailing group.study@ucalgary.ca or booking an appointment through the link below.

1. Select "Advising"
2. Select “Study Abroad”
3. Select “Book by Appointment Type”
4. Select your program advisor to view available times.

Book an appointment

Academic Advising

Before applying to study abroad, you should ask your academic advisor how a Group Study Program might align with your degree.

After you are accepted, you should ask your academic advisor more specific questions about courses/credits. It’s also recommended to follow up with your advisor again once you return to Calgary.

Find your academic advisor

Start your application

Once you have gathered everything you need, you can begin your application!

Please note: Applications will not be considered complete until all required documents are submitted in full.


International travel presents challenges that may not be found when attending classes on campus. There may be a lack of resources, emergency services, hospitals, accessibility issues and/or demands on the physical and the mental self, all of which can challenge individuals when away from their usual support systems and structures. Adequate preparation is essential.

For this reason, it is imperative that you evaluate all aspects of your own physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual condition against the rigors of the particular global learning program you are selecting. If you are unsure of whether or not this program is a good fit for you and/or if you have any circumstances that could impede your enjoyment of the program, please contact us. Our Global Learning Advisors will be happy to assist in finding the best options for you and arrange any supports or accommodations necessary to ensure your success.

If you have or are seeking a certificate from Student Accessibility Services, you should provide this early to your Global Learning Advisor to ensure that the option that you are seeking can support your needs.

Please note: All participants must adhere to COVID-19 and other vaccination-related requirements for the destinations visited on this program. Failure to do so may have consequences such as being denied access to accommodation/housing, program activities, or to the host country itself.