Many Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) staff live on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), an island located in Gatun Lake, part of the Panama Canal watershed. In 1923, the island was set aside as a nature reserve and site for research in tropical biology. The BCI Research Station was run by a consortium of universities and government agencies in its early years. Called the Canal Zone Biological Area (CZBA), it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1946 and was renamed the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in 1966.
This group interview documents life on the island from the perspective of five residents, Brian C. Bock, A. Stanley Rand, Patricia Rand, Nicholas D. Smythe, and Tanis Smythe. A. Stanley Rand received his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University in 1961. After working with Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Secretary of Agriculture in Brazil, he began working at STRI in 1964 as a herpetologist. From 1974 to 1979, Rand served as Assistant Director, and he was appointed Senior Biologist in 1979. His interest in the behavior and ecology of reptiles and amphibians led to pioneering studies of frog communications. Patricia Rand came to live on the island with her husband in 1964 and raised their family there. She conducted research and prepared exhibits on the history of BCI.
Nicholas D. Smythe received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Maryland in 1970. He began working at STRI the same year to develop baseline studies of the rainforest for the Environmental Sciences Program. His research interests centered on frugivorous mammals, and during the 1980s Smythe began a domestication program for the paca, a species of cavy, which is an excellent source of protein and can be raised on forest by-products. Smythe's goal was a large scale paca industry which would prevent further destruction of the rainforest. Tanis Smythe took up residence on BCI with her husband in 1970 and also worked in the STRI library. Brian Bock, a herpetologist at the University of Tennessee, was a visiting scientist in STRI's Biology Program and worked at STRI with the iguana biology and management project.