When I was a child I didn’t fantasize about being a fireman or policeman or president or movie actor. I didn’t fantasize about material possession or wealth either. What I fantasized about were wild animals and wild people in wild places. I fantasized about photographing birds and writing their stories. I fantasized about water buffalo and rice paddies and houses on stilts. I fantasized about living in rain forests and walking on frozen seas. I’ve been very, very fortunate in having been able to live out many of those childhood fantasies.
When I was five my father told me about the carabao, or water buffalo my grandfather had given him when he was seven years old, in the Philippines. The carabao pulled the plow my father guided through the family rice paddy. While some kids may have dreamt about dragons and unicorns, I dreamt about water buffalo. I’ll never forget the day in 1944 that my father told me that story, or the day in early June of 1967 when I saw my first carabao. Back then the Bangkok Airport was nearly an hour’s drive from town, and on the way in I sat in awed ecstasy as we passed farmers plowing roadside paddies with carabao. But it was another ten years before I got to see carabao on the farm on Luzon where my father lived as a child.
When I was seven I saw the gorilla diorama in the African Hall of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. That big stuffed gorilla male made me long to see gorillas in the wild, and finally I did; forty years later, when my graduate student Lorna Anness was studying behavior of wild mountain gorillas at Karisoke, Rwanda. I think the joy I experienced the first time I saw a gorilla in the wild wasn’t too different from my childish awe 42 years earlier, the first time I looked up at the stately stuffed silverback in African Hall.
When I was nine I saw an animated movie cartoon in which two men were singing while floating on a block of ice with some penguins. From that day on I longed to see penguins in their icy homeland (not yet knowing that not all penguins live around ice). In October of 1967 that too came to pass, when I went to Antarctica to begin studying behavior of Adelie penguins at a place on the Ross Sea called Cape Hallet. Consequent to that, in 1971 the USGS Committee on Antarctic Names named a mountain near Cape Hallet Tenaza Peak in my honor.
I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from San Francisco State University in 1964 and my Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California at Davis in 1974. My Ph.D. orals committee included faculty members from the departments of zoology, psychology, anthropology, and environmental studies, and each queried me on subjects in his own discipline. Upon completing my thesis I had the choice of receiving my doctoral degree in either Zoology or Environmental Studies; I chose Zoology.
From the time I as a little kid following my father to work in farm fields I’ve been interested in all kinds of animals. I’d spend hours watching ladybird beetles, every passing bird caught my eye, and I loved to watch dad pull perch from the surf, edible seaweeds from intertidal rocks, and crayfish from the coastal Pescadero Creek. My academic interest was deeply inspired when I took Dr. John Hensill’s Invertebrate Zoology class at San Francisco State. For a couple years after that, every low-low tide would find me at Duxbury Reef, Moss Beach, or Pillar Point, collecting and identifying invertebrates, fishes, and algae of the tide pools. During that time I was an undergrad at SF State, working nights at United Parcel Service to support myself.
My interest in marine invertebrates was superseded by an interest in birds after I took ornithology from Professor William J. Maher. Bill Maher moved on from SF State to UC Santa Barbara, and the following year he wrote inviting me to spend the coming summer working as his field assistant studying lemmings and their avian predators on Banks Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It wasn’t an easy decision because I’d been working at UPS for over six years and depended on it for my living. (I started working at UPS when I was 17, and had to fib about my age to join the Teamsters Union.)
Finally, in early May, I accepted Bill’s offer and notified UPS that I was quitting. As soon as the school term was over I left for Pt. Barrow, Alaska, to meet Bill and Steve at the US Navy Arctic Research Laboratory. Steve MacLean, Bill’s other assistant, was a student at UCSB. Two former WW-2 pilots flew the three of us and our camping equipment to Banks Island in the Lab’s DC-3. The pilots located a dry river bed to land in, helped us unload our gear, and then they left. A month later they brought us a re-supply—two weeks late—and at the end of the second month they picked us up to return to Pt Barrow. Back at the Arctic Research Lab Dr. Hank Childs invited me to return the next year to assist him on a project comparing aggressive behavior of several species of lemmings and voles at three sites on Alaska’s Arctic slope; I accepted.
When the 1963 summer was over I landed three half-time jobs at SF State; together they paid as much as I’d been making at UPS, so it worked out well.
Summer of 1965 I spent on the Farallon Islands studying cormorant behavior and land-bird migrations, summer of 1967 I worked on a project studying primates for the US Army in Thailand, the winter (austral summer) of 1967-68 I studied behavior of Adelie penguins at Cape Hallet, Antarctica, spring and summer of 1968 I worked for the California Department of Fish and Game studying salinity effects on eggs and larvae of fishes in the Salton Sea, and in fall 1968 I entered a Ph.D. program at UC Davis.
My interest had shifted from bird behavior to primate behavior, and my Ph.D. thesis ended up being a study of the behavior and ecology of gibbons and leaf monkeys in the Mentawai Islands, off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. After 37 years, I am still involved with conservation in Mentawai.
Dr. Tenaza teaches: Marine Birds and Mammals, Animal Behavior, and Conservation Biology & Ecology.
Rich Tenaza, Ph.D.
Professor, Biological Sciences
Email - Phone: 209.946.3150
Office: Biology Room 226
University of the Pacific
3601 Pacific Avenue
Stockton, CA 95211
Area: Animal behavior and the ecology and conservation of birds and mammals, especially primates