Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Think about Gorillas this Holiday Season

Christina Ellis posted this statement on her Virunga Mountain Gorilla page:
"For those of you who have never seen mountain gorillas in person, it an experience which changes your life.
Here are some photos to plant the seed of your own commitment to protecting the mountain gorillas. Knowledge leads to compassion which leads to ACTION."

To read more about her experiences in the Virungas, her work with the Jane Goodall Institute and the WWF on Great Ape protection and to donate to Mountain Gorilla protection please visit to her site. If you have a facebook account, then join her event "Think about GORILLAS"

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit

Image from The Coffee House
Article From the New York

When considering the behavior of putative scam operators like Bernard “Ponzi scheme” Madoff or Rod “Potty Mouth” Blagojevich, feel free to express a sense of outrage, indignation, disgust, despair, amusement, schadenfreude. But surprise? Don’t make me laugh.

Sure, Mr. Madoff may have bilked his clients of $50 billion, and Governor Blagojevich, of Illinois, stands accused of seeking personal gain through the illicit sale of public property — a United States Senate seat. Yet while the scale of their maneuvers may have been exceptional, their apparent willingness to lie, cheat, bluff and deceive most emphatically was not.

Deceitful behavior has a long and storied history in the evolution of social life, and the more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games, the more cunning their contours.

In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.

Much evidence suggests that we humans, with our densely corrugated neocortex, lie to one another chronically and with aplomb. Investigating what they called “lying in day-to-day life,” Bella DePaulo, now a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues asked 77 college students and 70 people from the community to keep anonymous diaries for a week and to note the hows and whys of every lie they told.

Tallying the results, the researchers found that the college students told an average of two lies a day, community members one a day, and that most of the lies fell into the minor fib category. “I told him I missed him and thought about him every day when I really don’t think about him at all,” wrote one participant. “Said I sent the check this morning,” wrote another.

In a follow-up study, the researchers asked participants to describe the worst lies they’d ever told, and then out came confessions of adultery, of defrauding an employer, of lying on a witness stand to protect an employer. When asked how they felt about their lies, many described being haunted with guilt, but others confessed that once they realized they’d gotten away with a whopper, why, they did it again, and again.

In truth, it’s all too easy to lie. In more than 100 studies, researchers have asked participants questions like, Is the person on the videotape lying or telling the truth? Subjects guess correctly about 54 percent of the time, which is barely better than they’d do by flipping a coin. Our lie blindness suggests to some researchers a human desire to be deceived, a preference for the stylishly accoutred fable over the naked truth.

“There’s a counterintuitive motivation not to detect lies, or we would have become much better at it,” said Angela Crossman, an assistant professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But you may not really want to know that the dinner you just cooked stinks, or even that your spouse is cheating on you.”

The natural world is rife with humbug and fish tales, of things not being what they seem. Harmless viceroy butterflies mimic toxic monarch butterflies, parent birds draw predators away from the nest by feigning a broken wing, angler fish lure prey with appendages that wiggle like worms.

Biologists distinguish between such cases of innate or automatic deception, however, and so-called tactical deception, the use of a normal behavior in a novel situation, with the express purpose of misleading an observer. Tactical deception requires considerable behavioral suppleness, which is why it’s most often observed in the brainiest animals.

Great apes, for example, make great fakers. Frans B. M. de Waal, a professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory University, said chimpanzees or orangutans in captivity sometimes tried to lure human strangers over to their enclosure by holding out a piece of straw while putting on their friendliest face.

“People think, Oh, he likes me, and they approach,” Dr. de Waal said. “And before you know it, the ape has grabbed their ankle and is closing in for the bite. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

Apes wouldn’t try this on their own kind. “They know each other too well to get away with it,” Dr. de Waal said. “Holding out a straw with a sweet face is such a cheap trick, only a naïve human would fall for it.”

Apes do try to deceive one another. Chimpanzees grin when they’re nervous, and when rival adult males approach each other, they sometimes take a moment to turn away and close their grins with their hands. Similarly, should a young male be courting a female and spot the alpha male nearby, the subordinate chimpanzee will instantly try to cloak his amorous intentions by dropping his hands over his erection.

Rhesus monkeys are also artful dodgers. “There’s a long set of studies showing that the monkeys are very good at stealing from us,” said Laurie R. Santos, an associate professor of psychology at Yale University.

Reporting recently in Animal Behavior, Dr. Santos and her colleagues also showed that, after watching food being placed in two different boxes, one with merrily jingling bells on the lid and the other with bells from which the clappers had been removed, rhesus monkeys preferentially stole from the box with the silenced bells. “We’ve been hard-pressed to come up with an explanation that’s not mentalistic,” Dr. Santos said. “The monkeys have to make a generalization — I can hear these things, so they, the humans, can, too.”

One safe generalization seems to be that humans are real suckers. After dolphin trainers at the Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Mississippi had taught the dolphins to clean the pools of trash by rewarding the mammals with a fish for every haul they brought in, one female dolphin figured out how to hide trash under a rock at the bottom of the pool and bring it up to the trainers one small piece at a time.

We’re desperate to believe that what our loved ones say is true. And now we find otherwise. Oh, Flipper, et tu?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Friends of the Abidjan Zoo

You may have read about Gregoire, Africa's oldest known chimpanzee today. Gregoire, who was 66 years old, lived in solitary confinement in a barren cage at the Brazzaville Zoo for more than 40 years in the Republic of Congo's capital city. In 1997 he was airlifted to Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary where he lived until his passing on Dec 17th, 2008 . For more on Gregoire click here.

Because of this story I would like to direct you to a great organization "Friends of the Abidjan Zoo/Amis du Zoo d'Abidjan" whose mission is: to transform Abidjan Zoo from a place where the animals are starving, depressed and living in prison-like conditions, into an enriched and stimulating environment where the animals are well-fed and content.
Please visit Friends of the Abidjan Zoo today and if you feel moved, donate to a really great cause this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion

Our newest paper "Two-step multiplex polymerase chain reaction improves the speed and accuracy of genotyping using DNA from noninvasive and museum samples" in molecular ecology resources is now online! yay - so go forth and improve your PCRs !!!

Click here for paper
Many studies in molecular ecology rely upon the genotyping of large numbers of low-quantity DNA extracts derived from noninvasive or museum specimens. To overcome low amplification success rates and avoid genotyping errors such as allelic dropout and false alleles, multiple polymerase chain reaction (PCR) replicates for each sample are typically used. Recently, two-step multiplex procedures have been introduced which drastically increase the success rate and efficiency of genotyping. However, controversy still exists concerning the amount of replication needed for suitable control of error. Here we describe the use of a two-step multiplex PCR procedure that allows rapid genotyping using at least 19 different microsatellite loci. We applied this approach to quantified amounts of noninvasive DNAs from western chimpanzee, western gorilla, mountain gorilla and black and white colobus faecal samples, as well as to DNA from ~100-year-old gorilla teeth from museums. Analysis of over 45 000 PCRs revealed average success rates of > 90% using faecal DNAs and 74% using museum specimen DNAs. Average allelic dropout rates were substantially reduced compared to those obtained using conventional singleplex PCR protocols, and reliable genotyping using low (< href="">M. ARANDJELOVIC, K. GUSCHANSKI, G. SCHUBERT, T. R. HARRIS, O. THALMANN, H. SIEDEL and L. VIGILANT (2009)Two-step multiplex polymerase chain reaction improves the speed and accuracy of genotyping using DNA from noninvasive and museum samples

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bonobos Hunt Monkeys

Picture - Caroline Deimel

I totally forgot to post on this when Martin Surbeck and Gottfried Hohmann's paper came out in Current Biology on the discovery that bonobos hunt other primates (Primate hunting by bonobos at LuiKotale, Salonga National Park)...

...BUT today a great op-ed piece came out in the International Herald Tribune by Marlene Zuk
entitled "Nice females also hunt" which puts their paper in an interesting contemporary context.

(Published: December 4, 2008)

What is it about sex and hunting? The recent discovery that among bonobos - those small chimpanzee relatives previously known for their active sex lives and female-dominated societies - females as well as males hunt prey, has taken the pundits aback.

According to at least some conventional primatology wisdom, the leaner, meaner chimpanzees evolved male bonding and thus an aggressive and hierarchical society through the thrill of the chase, while bonobos groomed, hugged or performed other acts not suitable for description in a family newspaper.

Some anthropologists and psychologists take this further, tracing human aggression and male violence to an early history of hunting. Locating a living animal, stalking it and killing it are thought to represent aggressive acts, and because in the hunter-gatherer society, men are supposed to have done much of the hunting, the reasoning goes that natural selection for good hunters gave us, willy-nilly, hostile men.

We humans have certainly made hunting into a masculine avocation, and we like to point to male animals as bolstering that macho stereotype. Even when women hunt, like the moose-chasing Sarah Palin, we emphasize the aftermath, not the killing. Every news item about the vice-presidential hopeful talked not about her ability to bring down that moose, but to "field dress" it. We're more comfortable when women prepare food instead of shooting it in the head. But that's our gender stereotype, not a reflection of anything inherent in the act of bringing down prey.

But hunting is a more widespread - and less glamorous - profession than it is sometimes made out to be. And it has less to do with aggression than you might think.

It's true that competition among males for access to fertile females is common among animals from butterflies to baboons, and the wrangling can be vicious. But the link between being aggressive and predatory is tenuous. We usually think of predators as animals like wolves or eagles subduing large, usually warm-blooded, prey, but why dismiss insectivores like, say, warblers or hedgehogs, from their ranks?

Some biologists refer to any food item as "prey" and talk about animals like seed-eating kangaroo rats as seed predators. Even if that is going a bit too far, why is a hawk swooping down on a rabbit seen as more aggressive than a songbird snapping its bill against the hard shell of a beetle? Hunting is getting food, not waging war.

To be sure, group hunting such as that seen in the chimpanzees and now the bonobos as well as many human societies does involve elaborate behavioral rituals. And in some cultures, hunting, because it requires bravery when the prey is itself dangerous, is used as a test of manhood. But this does not mean that predation itself is aggressive in any form.

Even if predation were aggressive, the fact remains that in virtually all animals that eat live food, males and females both hunt. In lions, of course, females even do most of the hunting; male violence is directed toward the rival males and their offspring. The role of male hunting in human evolution is the subject of hot debate among anthropologists. But except for a few kinds of animals, males do not go out and bring home the bacon (or the caterpillars) while the females stay home with the kittens, pups or chicks. Both sexes share the foraging duties. Any tendencies toward aggressive behavior that evolved out of hunting food would have to occur in both sexes.

It is undeniable that aggression, violence, dominance and war are all "gendered" in our society; that is, they all have connotations with maleness and femaleness. And I am not suggesting that human aggression is just as common in women as it is in men. But the idea that hunting somehow signals a tendency toward violence should be as much of a surprise to us as it would be to the bonobo.

Marlene Zuk is the author of "Riddled With Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

DNApes one of the top 100 Anthro blogs! has a list of the top 100 Anthropology blogs (categorized by field) and the DNApes blog is on it! Woohoo!

from the article by Christina Laun:

It doesn’t matter if you’re studying capuchins in South America or the social interactions in American college bars, there is a blogger out there who shares your interests. University students, academics, professors and those who just love anthropology have helped to create a great assortment of online discourse about the field. We’ve compiled a list of 100 that are definitely worth a read.

check out the full list here!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Very Important Scientist of the Month - Katja Guschanski

In this week's issue of current biology, Katja Guschanski, Damien Caillaud, Martha Robbins and Linda Vigilant from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, present their work on how females are shaping the genetic structure of the Bwindi Mountain gorillas.

Females Shape the Genetic Structure of a Gorilla Population

Katerina Guschanski, Damien Caillaud, Martha M. Robbins and Linda Vigilant

SUMMARY: Dispersal, one of the key life-history features of a species, influences gene flow and, consequently, the genetic structuring of populations. Landscape characteristics such as rivers, mountains, or habitat fragmentation affect dispersal and result in broad-scale genetic structuring of various mammalian species. However, less attention has been paid to studying how dispersal is influenced by finer-scale microgeographic variation in a continuous habitat. Here we investigate the genetic structure of a closed population of ~300 endangered mountain gorillas living in multiple groups in a small (331 km2) forest in southwestern Uganda. In a species in which both sexes routinely disperse, population genetic structure in females was influenced by distance, altitude, and plant community composition, whereas males were not geographically structured. The effect of distance fits the observed tendency of females to transfer to neighboring groups, whereas the effects of altitude and vegetation reflect the changing species composition of locally available food resources. These results suggest that individual dietary preferences are important even in a highly mobile species living amid abundant food, and we propose that preference for natal habitats will influence dispersal decisions in many other vertebrate taxa.

click here for current biology paper

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alarming decline of West African chimpanzees in Côte d'Ivoire

A new paper came out today on the insanely low numbers of West African Chimpanzees remaining in the wild. Click on this link to read the paper by Genevieve Campbell, Hjalmar Kuehl, Paul N'Goran Kouamé, and Christophe Boesch.

Côte d'Ivoire is thought to be one of the final strongholds of the endangered West African chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus). In a recent assessment of their conservation status, Côte d'Ivoire was estimated to support between 8,000 and 12,000 individuals, accounting for almost half of the remaining world population [1]; however, this estimate was based primarily on a nationwide chimpanzee survey that was conducted in 1989–1990 [2]. Since then, information on chimpanzee abundance and distribution within this region has been sparse. To update the status of chimpanzees in Côte d'Ivoire and evaluate their population trend, we repeated the 1989–1990 survey. Our results show that there has been an alarming decline in chimpanzee numbers, and that urgent action is required to prevent them from disappearing entirely.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Darwin coming to the big screen in "Creation"

image from "Beware the Believers"
Real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly will be playing Charles and Emma Darwin in Creation, a biopic based on the book Annie's Box. From THR:
Bettany will play the British father of evolutionary theory, and Connelly will play his wife, Emma, in the big-screen take on the life of the controversial "On the Origin of Species" author.
Amiel's film portrays Darwin as a man torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place. The scientist finds himself caught in a struggle between faith and reason, love and truth.
This film is going to be so adorable with these two--like looking at a gossip magazine, but with Bettany wearing a giant beard. They should have a baby or two to promote it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DNApes EXCLUSIVE!: Two Videos from the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project

The Goualougo Triangle Ape Project (GTAP) is run by Drs. Crickette Sanz and David Morgan and was initiated in an area known as the Goualougo Triangle, which is located in the Sangha region of the northern Republic of Congo. Since the project’s inception in 1999, GTAP has maintained a continuous scientific and conservation presence in the 385 km² study area.

The main goals of GTAP are to enhance our knowledge of the central subspecies of chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and improve the conservation status of this ape throughout central Africa. Although the chimpanzee is a flagship conservation species that has been studied for several decades in eastern and western Africa, very little is known about the central subspecies residing in the Congo Basin.

As a component of their ongoing research and monitoring program, they are also examining the effects of mechanized logging and associated activities on chimpanzees and gorillas. The study area has been subdivided into zones with regard to the Ndoki-Nouabalé boundary, past and future scheduled timber extraction in adjacent regions, and geographical features such as waterways. This unique scenario has the potential to provide new insights to anthropogenic influences on chimpanzee behavior and ecology, and also indicates the rapidly changing context of primatological research and its intersection with conservation efforts in habitat countries.

The Goualougo triangle was also featured in National Geographic magazine in 2003 when Jane Goodall visited the area after a 10 year absence from the forest. The entire story can be read online at

Dave and Crickette have kindly allowed me to post the following two videos, created by up and coming film maker Adrian Melnyk, on the DNApes blog. Enjoy!

The first video "Remote Video Monitoring of Fruiting Trees in the Ndoki Forest" demonstrates the utility of camera traps for documenting the diversity of wildlife in areas without the need for more time consuming or disruptive practices.

CLICK HERE to download a high quality version of this video.

The second video "Chimpanzee Tool Technology in the Ndoki Forest" highlights the main tool using behaviours of the chimpanzees in the Goualougo study area, some never documented at other long-term chimpanzee study sites.

CLICK HERE to download a high quality version of this video

For more information on GTAP visit

Monday, August 11, 2008

From the Wildlife Conservation Society: New Census Shows Massive Gorilla Population in Northern Republic of Congo

Photo by Josephine Head

This is great news for gorillas—new figures double all previous estimates

NEW YORK (AUGUST 5, 2008) – The world’s population of critically endangered western lowland gorillas received a huge boost today when the Wildlife Conservation Society released a census showing massive numbers of these secretive great apes alive and well in the Republic of Congo.
The new census tallied more than 125,000 western gorillas in two adjacent areas in the northern part of the country, covering an area of 18,000 square miles (47,000 square kilometers). Previous estimates from the 1980s placed the entire population of western lowland gorillas, which occur in seven Central African nations, at fewer than 100,000. Since then, however, scientists had believed that this number had dwindled by at least half, due to hunting and disease.
The census data were released at a press conference at the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. The WCS scientists who worked on the census include Fiona Maisels, Richard Malonga, Hugo Rainey, Emma Stokes, and Samantha Strindberg.
The new census was the result of intensive fieldwork carried out by the Bronx Zoo-based WCS and the Government of Republic of Congo. The researchers combed rainforests and isolated swamps to count gorilla “nests” to accurately estimate the population. Gorillas construct nests each night from leaves and branches for sleeping. Population densities ranged as high as eight individuals per square kilometer in one particularly rich forest patch, which ranks as among the highest gorilla density ever recorded.
WCS says a combination of factors account for such high numbers of gorillas, including successful long-term management of the Republic of Congo’s protected areas; remoteness and inaccessibility of some of the key locations where the gorillas were found; and a habitat where there is plenty to eat, particularly in some of the swamp forests and the “Marantaceae” forests, which are rich in herbs.
WCS has worked with the Government of Republic of Congo in the northern area of the country for nearly 20 years, helping to establish the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and manage the Lac Télé Community Reserve, while working with logging companies outside of protected areas to reduce illegal hunting.
“These figures show that northern Republic of Congo contains the mother lode of gorillas,” said Dr. Steven E, Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “It also shows that conservation in the Republic of Congo is working. This discovery should be a rallying cry for the world that we can protect other vulnerable and endangered species, whether they be gorillas in Africa, tigers in India, or lemurs in Madagascar.”
The tally of northern Congo’s gorillas incorporates 73,000 found in the Ntokou-Pikounda region and 52,000 from the Ndoki-Likouala landscape, where a previously unknown population of nearly 6,000 gorillas was discovered in an isolated raffia swamp. WCS cautioned that many of the gorillas live outside of existing protected areas, though the Government of Congo has committed to creating a new national park in the Ntokou-Pikounda region.
“We knew from our own observations that there were a lot of gorillas out there, but we had no idea there were so many,” said Dr. Emma Stokes, who led the survey efforts in Ndoki-Likouala. “We hope that the results of this survey will allow us to work with the Congolese government to establish and protect the new Ntokou-Pikounda protected area.”
Mr. Claude Etienne Massimba of the Government of Republic of Congo’s Department of Wildlife and Protected Areas said, “We hope that these results will speed up the classification of the Ntokou-Pikounda zone into a protected area.”
Across Central Africa, gorillas face the looming threats of hunting for bushmeat and the spread of the Ebola virus, which is lethal to gorillas as well as humans. WCS is working with partners to combat Ebola, eliminate commercial hunting, and secure this last stronghold for Africa’s apes.
Many gorilla conservation projects are funded through two primary programs of the federal government—the Congo Basin Forest Partnership at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Great Apes Conservation Fund at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Both of these programs are at risk of being cut in the Fiscal Year 2009 federal budget. Although the budget process in Washington has stalled, WCS is calling for Congress to restore and grow these programs by completing work on the Fiscal Year 2009 budget before the end of September.
Western lowland gorillas are one of four recognized gorilla subspecies, which also include mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and Cross River gorillas. All are classified as “critically endangered” by the IUCN, except eastern lowland gorillas, which are endangered. The Wildlife Conservation Society is the only conservation group working to safeguard all four subspecies. WCS’s conservation work in Central Africa was funded in part from admission fees to the Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit, which has raised more than $8.5 million for conservation in Central Africa since the opening in 1999.

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lab chimps show same stress symptoms as tortured humans

Photo: © Michael Nichols. From Brutal Kinship (Aperture)

(Note: If you haven't already please sign the Manifesto for Apes & Nature (MAN) at:

By Jeremy Watson
CHIMPANZEES subjected to laboratory experiments suffer similar levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as humans who have been tortured, according to a new study.

The study, which will be presented to a scientific conference in Edinburgh tomorrow, will fuel calls for a Europe-wide ban on the use of primates in medical and pharmaceutical trials.

An assessment of the behaviour of 116 chimps involved in animal research found that 95% displayed at least one of the distinctive patterns of behaviour that humans show when suffering from PTSD.

Now living in a primate sanctuary in the US, the chimps showed symptoms of depression, anxiety and compulsive behaviours not observed in wild populations.

The study was carried out by American physician Hope Ferdowsian, who will deliver the findings to an international primate conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

Ferdowsian, who has evaluated the mental condition of human torture victims, said: "The high prevalence of mental disorders we observed in these chimpanzees offers a new reason to support proposals to stop using great apes in laboratory experiments.

"We now know that a chimpanzee's mind and emotional well-being are affected by experimentation in ways that parallel the psychological trauma experienced by victims of torture and other forms of abuse."

Experimentation on chimpanzees is still allowed in the US, although there is a ban already in place in the UK.

But Ferdowsian, director of research policy at the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, insisted that the findings would apply to all primates, including monkeys.

Around 3,000 monkeys are still used for scientific trials – mainly for research into human diseases such as Parkinson's, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, HIV and strokes – every year in the UK because of similarities in brain physiology.

Last year, more than 800 monkeys died in laboratory experiments in Scottish research centres.

Around Europe, 10,000 primates are used in experiments every year but some members of the European Parliament are pressing for a ban.

One supporter of a ban is Scottish MEP David Martin, who called for the development of alternatives.

"It is the failure to develop and validate modern non-animal tests that perpetuates the reliance on out-dated animal experimentation, and when these procedures are carried out on our closest animal relatives, people are rightly appalled," he said.

A spokesman for the campaign group Advocates for Animals said: "There is huge political and public support for a European ban on the use of great apes and Dr Ferdowsian's research makes an already strong case unanswerable."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Visit the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary blog

Bala Amarasekaran abandoned his original career as an accountant to establish Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in 1995. Together with the Government of Sierra Leone, he is working to secure the welfare and future of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone.

Go to the site and learn about the great work Tacuguma is doing and donate if you can!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Evidence - How do we know what we know?

The Exploratorium visited the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology here in Leipzig, Germany in 2006 and observed and recorded what it is we do to find out about human origins.

Check out EVIDENCE to see the amazing exhibit they have put together from their visit.

In the section 'Observing Behavior' Linda Vigilant, Christophe Boesch & Svante Pääbo (amongst others) discuss the links between our and the great apes' evolutionary pasts. As Linda talks about male relationhsips in chimpanzees, Romanus Ikfuingei and myself, demonstrate how DNA is collected and extracted from feces.

A great exhibit with wonderful photos and commentary.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Manifesto for Apes and Nature


Tropical forests are disappearing at an excessive speed and with them the last populations of great apes. All specialists are unanimous: if we do nothing gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos will have disappeared by the middle of the 21st century. The situation of orangoutans is even more dramatic; in 20 years time, they might only exist in zoos. Today, it is important to become active in order to stop this Ecocide! We, citizens of the Earth, ask our governments and international authorities to accept as their superior duty to save and protect primates.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Very Important Scientist of the Month - Angelique Todd

Angelique Todd has a little video out on the german beer, Krombacher's, website. In it she talks about the process of habituating gorillas at Bai Hokou in the Dzangha-Sangha National park, central Africa.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Club P.A.N. update

Here are three videos from three of the Club P.A.N.s that are operating around the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast. Julia Riedel recorded these clips when she was in Ivory Coast in February of this year to observe how the project has been running so far.

Visit the club P.A.N. site here

Club P.A.N. Sakré:

Club P.A.N. Petit Tiemé:

Club P.A.N. Ziriglo:

Club P.A.N. is part of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation's (WCF) conservation education program currently operating around the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast.

Club P.A.N. was conceived by the Conservation Group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Department of Primatology. The Conservation Group is made up entirely of graduate students from the department who want to participate in conservation activities in addition to their doctoral studies.

The Conservation Group approached the WCF with the club P.A.N. concept, in order to use their framework, solid infrastructure and strong ties with the Ivorian school system (Ministère de l’éducation National: Inspection de l’enseignement Primaire de Soubré1 (CPE)) to plan and organize the activities of the education program.

see original post about club P.A.N. here

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chimps Eat Dirt, Leaves to Fend Off Malaria

From National Geographic News
by Scott Norris

Chimpanzees in Uganda swallow mouthfuls of dirt to "self medicate" against malaria, according to a new study.

Clay soils consumed by both chimps and humans in Uganda's Kibale National Park contain high concentrations of the mineral kaolinite, a main ingredient in some anti-diarrheal medications.

Experts had previously suggested that chimps ate the fine-grained clay to help ward off intestinal ailments or to obtain added minerals in their diet.

But a French team recently observed that the chimps eat dirt before or after consuming leaves from the Trichilia rubescens plant, which contains potent medicinal chemicals.

Eating the bitter vegetation alone gives the chimps no health benefit, researchers say.

Instead the plant's malaria medicine is activated when fine soil particles bind with chemicals in the leaves.

Chimps often select dirt that has been exposed on the roots of newly fallen trees, added study co-author Sabrina Krief, of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

"This may be to avoid worms, bacteria, and stones," she said.

Krief and colleagues described the research online in the January issue of the journal Naturwissenschaften.

In humans, soil consumption—or geophagy—has often been viewed as a sign of metabolic disorder or even mental illness.

But the practice is relatively common among animals and is now understood to yield important health benefits.

In parrots and macaws, for example, clay particles are thought to help neutralize toxins present in some favored food sources.

Soil-eating may also provide a soothing coating to the animals' digestive tracts.

In Uganda, however, Krief and colleagues suspected that the chimps were eating soil for other reasons than simply to combat indigestion.

Like humans, chimps can suffer the potentially fatal effects of malaria, although the types of Plasmodium parasites that cause the disease in chimps are different from the four known to infect people. (See a close-up image of malaria parasites attacking a human's red blood cells.)

In previous laboratory studies, Krief's team had found that extracts of the Trichilia plant were effective in fighting the parasite that causes malaria in chimps.

"I noticed that the chimps often eat soil just before or after eating Trichilia leaves," Krief said. "I wondered what might be the effect of mixing the two substances."

To investigate, Krief and colleagues constructed a laboratory model that duplicated chimpanzees' chewing and digestion.

The researchers ground up leaves and soaked them in an acid solution similar to the chimps' digestive fluids. The mixture was then tested for its ability to kill the malarial parasite.

Solutions of artificially digested leaves without soil showed no anti-malarial activity.

But when samples of the soil consumed by the chimps were added to the mix, the researchers found a strong disease-fighting effect.

Chimps and other apes may treat themselves for a variety of ailments by consuming plants, earth, and other materials, experts say.

In another part of Africa, chimps are known to swallow certain leaves to help rid themselves of intestinal parasites.

Previous work by Krief and others had shown that of the 163 plant species Kibale chimps are known to eat, at least 35 are used in humans' traditional medicine.

"The shared use of plants by humans and apes shows how the tropical forest is a unique resource for wildlife, local communities, and western medicine," Krief said.

Jim Moore is an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved with the new study.

"It's been known for a long time that chimpanzees selectively eat certain plants in ways and at times that only really make sense if they are self-medicating," Moore said.

"This paper is the first I'm aware of to suggest synergistic action of soil and a putatively medicinal plant, and that's important."

But Moore noted that the anti-malaria effect has only been shown in the researchers' model and not yet in living chimps.

"It isn't clear that chimpanzees are seeking the synergy [between leaves and soil]," Moore said. "The paper isn't persuasive in eliminating other hypotheses for geophagy."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

First Observed Birth of a Western Lowland Gorilla in the Wild

Here, Mowane is seen riding her mother Malui's back.
Picture © Kate Bracewell, Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas

(Congo Basin > Updates)
January 22, 2008

Just last month, staff of the WWF-funded Dzanga-Sangha Primate Habituation Programme witnessed the birth of a new infant into the Makumba group of western lowland gorillas, which lives in the Central Africa Republic's Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. The newborn was named Mowane - meaning "gift of God" in the local Bantu language.

Malui gave birth to Mowane in a tree nest as Makumba - her father - fed nearby. Malui was then observed biting Mowane's umbilical cord free, after which she climbed down and made three more nests on the ground. At this point her other offspring came and watched Malui groom their new sister. Like other mother-offspring pairs, Mowane has inherited her mother's unique nose pattern - v-shaped nostrils with distinct line-markings above.

The mother and infant are doing well and staying close to Makumba, who is taking his protective role seriously - a week after the birth he was observed leading his group away from the threat of a solitary male. Mowane is getting stronger by the day and has graduated from being carried on Malui's belly to being on her mother's back, and more recently on her arm.

Makumba's group is one of four in varying stages of habituation, along with a group of agile mangabey monkeys. Established in 1997 and funded by WWF, the Dzanga-Sangha Primate Habituation Programme (PHP) works to gradually acclimate western lowland gorillas to human contact for tourism and research. Through habituation, the program can help increase the economic values of parks in the Dzanga-Sangha region, generate ecotourism income for local communities, and increase support for gorilla conservation. The PHP is part of a larger Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas Ecotourism Programme, managed in partnership with the government of the Central African Republic, WWF and German nongovernmental organizations.

WWF's support of PHP is part of our work in the Congo Basin region, whose dense forests extend almost 500 million acres and span the boundaries of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. WWF has worked for more than 30 years to protect the Congo Basin and continues to be active in the field, engaging conservation partners and protecting great apes for future generations.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nerd Music

microsatellites - electropherogram images translated into sound by coagula light
by Molecular code

molecular code - annoying labnoise turned into music
based on milkcrate, the idea is two use noise & sounds produced by devices/images/animals from a lab and modify those to create some nice electronic music

To check out more tunes by molecular code (including an ABI Prism 310 & drosophila) visit their myspace page

Friday, February 15, 2008

Very Important Scientists of the Month: Thomas Breuer & Mireille Hockemba

Doin' it gorilla-style
from New
Michael Marshall, online editorial assistant

Well, we had to have a Valentine's Day post, so here it is. For the first time, scientists have photographed wild gorillas mating face-to-face (see Photo).

Thomas Breuer & Mireille Ndoundou Hockemba, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, observed the behaviour during a long-term study of western gorillas in the Republic of Congo. They reported their findings in the April 2007 issue of Gorilla Gazette, but the photos have only now been released.

Face-to-face mating is unusual among primates. It's technically called ventro-ventral copulation, and is only frequently observed in bonobos and, of course, humans. Most primates prefer the dorso-ventral position, which our more plainly spoken readers may know as doggie-style.

The gorilla shown in the picture, who researchers call Leah, is something of a celebrity. In 2005 she was the first wild gorilla observed using a tool - she dipped a long stick into a pool of water to test its depth before wading in.

The story got me wondering about the evolutionary reasons for these different mating behaviours. On the face of it, you could argue that one sexual position is pretty much as good as another (unless you're endangering yourself by performing weird contortions, which seems to be a purely human preoccupation). After all, the point is to deliver the sperm to the egg in as efficient a way as possible, and so long as the male is fully inserted, what difference can it make?

However, some species copulate for reasons other than breeding. Famously, bonobos engage in large quantities of sex, partly as a way of forming and maintaining social bonds. They have also been observed having sex face-to-face, not to mention a whole catalogue of other activities including (and before we get complaints, this is the official term) penis fencing.

That suggests to me that face-to-face mating could have evolved to help strengthen emotional and social bonds, and promote teamwork. Focusing on your partners face would presumably emboss it in your memory, helping you to form a relationship with them. It has also been shown that eye contact makes you more attractive. Why this is so is unclear, but might it be a marker of openness and interest?

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the third gorilla (on the right of the picture) is Leah's young daughter Nancy. So probably not a gorilla peeping Tom - though given the range of sexual behaviours observed in primates, I won't be surprised if some of them engage in voyeurism as well.

more reports on Thomas & Mireille's work can be found at the links below:

* Gorillas in the missionary position
* Unique Mating Photos Of Wild Gorillas Face To Face
* Gorillas caught in face-to-face love action
* Gorillas Photographed Mating Face-to-Face -- A First
*NY Times blog: The Ultimate Valentine Card: Full-Frontal Gorilla Love

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Great Apes Endangered By Human Viruses

(Photo Credit: Sonja Metzger/Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)


ScienceDaily (Jan. 26, 2008) — The opening of gorillas and chimpanzees reserves for tourism is often portrayed as the key to conserving these endangered great apes. There are also however serious concerns that tourism may expose wild apes to infection by virulent human diseases.

Commercial hunting and habitat loss are major drivers of the rapid decline of great apes, the researchers said. Ecotourism and research have been widely promoted as a means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats. While close contact between humans and habituated apes has raised concerns about disease transmission, previous studies had only demonstrated the spread of relatively mild bacterial and parasitic infections from humans to wild apes.

A new study by researchers of the Robert Koch Institute (Berlin), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and the Centre Suisse des Recherches Scientifiques (Ivory Coast) confirms the disease threat, finding the first direct evidence of virus transmission from humans to wild apes. The study also showed however that research and tourism projects strongly suppressed the poaching of chimpanzees. This protective effect outweighed the substantial chimpanzee mortality caused by human disease introduction.

Respiratory disease introduction by humans has long been suspected at sites where apes in the wild have been in close contact to humans but this is the first study to diagnose the disease agent and quantify the population impact. "We need to be much more proactive about instituting strict hygiene precautions at all ape tourism and research sites", says Fabian Leendertz, senior author of the paper and a wildlife disease epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. "One possibility for promoting compliance is a certification process similar to the green labelling system now used in the timber industry."

The study used a multidisciplinary approach involving behavioural ecology, veterinary medicine, virology and population biology to track human disease introduction into two chimpanzee communities at Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, where researchers first began to habituate chimpanzees to human presence in 1982. Tissue samples taken from chimpanzees that had died in a series of outbreaks dating back to 1999 tested positive for two human respiratory viruses that are major sources of human infant mortality in the developing world, namely human respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus.

Viral strains sampled from the chimpanzees were closely related to pandemic strains concurrently circulating in human populations as far away as China and Argentina, suggesting recent introduction from humans into the chimpanzees. The authors also used clinical observations and demographic analyses to infer that similar respiratory outbreaks could date as far back as 1986.

The research project has however also had strongly positive effects. Longitudinal surveys showed that the presence of researchers had suppressed poaching activities in the surrounding area. Consequently, chimpanzee densities at both the research study site and a nearby chimpanzee tourism site were much higher than would be expected given their accessibility to poachers. "Researcher presence is confirmed to have a major positive impact on the protection of an area," says co-author Christophe Boesch of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig, who directs the research project at Taï. "However, it comes with some hygienic problems which need to be addressed."

"The study confirms that multidisciplinary research is needed to investigate different issues involved in ape conservation", said Paul N’Goran, a researcher at the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire. "Our study shows the critical role that scientific research can play in monitoring the impact and effectiveness of conservation strategies."

Journal reference: Sophie Köndgen, Hjalmar Kühl, Paul K. N’Goran, Peter D. Walsh, Svenja Schenk, Nancy Ernst, Roman Biek, Pierre Formenty, Kerstin Mätz-Rensing, Brunhilde Schweiger, Sandra Junglen, Heinz Ellerbrok, Andreas Nitsche, Thomas Briese, W. Ian Lipkin, Georg Pauli, Christophe Boesch, and Fabian H. Leendertz. Pandemic Human Viruses Cause Decline of Endangered Great Apes. Current Biology, January 2008

Adapted from materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Very Important Scientist of the Month: Olaf Thalmann

Meet the Relatives
Robert Langreth 01.07.08
From Forbes magazine

Gorillas are among our closest living relations. For $500 you can make a one-hour house call in their jungle habitat. Hunters, disease and habitat loss are decimating our closest living relatives--chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos. In West Africa the Ebola virus killed 5,000 gorillas in just one corner of the Republic of the Congo. Chimpanzees are hunted for their meat, considered a luxury in some parts. In Asia orangutans are being overrun by palm oil plantations and coffee farms.

One unlikely success story amid this gloom are the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By the late 1970s poaching and deforestation had reduced the gorilla population to 250. The late American naturalist Dian Fossey brought their plight to world attention, but it was two researchers working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bill Weber and Amy Vedder, who pioneered the idea of using ecotourism as a way to save the animals.

Thanks to ecotourism, 700 of these giant beasts are alive today, wedged into small parks surrounded by subsistence farms in one of the most populated parts of Africa. Park rangers even protected them during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. "There is no doubt the mountain gorillas would have been wiped out, were it not for ecotourism," says Allard Blom, a primatologist at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. Threats, though, remain ever present. In July four mountain gorillas were shot execution-style.

Last year in Rwanda 14,000 visitors paid $500 each for a one-hour guided tour to see the primates. Virunga Lodge, completed on a hilltop near the gorilla park in 2005, gets several hundred customers a year, who typically pay $4,825 for an eight-day trip with multiple gorilla viewings in Rwanda and Uganda. "Rwanda is very much the flavor of the month," says safari operator Aris Grammaticas. "The gorillas are very sought after." He operates the $650-a-night (per person) Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, which opened in September adjacent to the gorilla park.

Getting to Rwanda isn't easy. From Europe there are only a few flights a week to the
capital city of Kigali. You'll need lots of cash (there are no ATMs, and only a handful of hotels accept credit cards), a yellow fever vaccination, malaria preventatives and bug spray. Plastic bags are banned to prevent litter, and modern hotel rooms are in limited supply. But Rwandans are to a person courteous and friendly. Expatriates swear it is one of the safest places in Africa.

Sightseeing opportunities in Kigali are few and grisly. A well-done genocide museum pays tribute to the kids who died. At one massacre site near the capital, Nyamata Church, thousands of skulls, some with gaping holes in them, are piled high on basement shelves. Pink-uniformed prison work gangs, many of them former "genocidaires," are a common sight in the countryside.

Gorilla day begins for me with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call at the Serena Hotel, then a
two-hour drive to the Volcanoes National Park, where gorillas live on the
Rwanda-Congo-Uganda border. There are seven gorilla families in Rwanda that tourists can visit. Each can be visited for only one hour a day and by a group of no more than eight people. Four other gorilla families can be seen in Uganda.

I'm angling to see the 38-member Susa family. But after the guides confer in Kinyarwanda, I end up assigned to the 9-member Sabyinyo clan. I'm cured of any disappointment, though, when our guide, Francis Bayingana, explains in broken English that this group boasts not just the biggest silverback, Guhonda, but also an infant only days old.

Gorillas are our closest relatives, after chimpanzees and bonobos, having diverged from our common ancestors 8 million years ago. Only 1.6% of their DNA differs from ours. The gentle vegetarians eat up to 45 pounds a day of things like bamboo shoots, wild celery and berries. They live in stable harems led by a male silverback, with several females and several children. Females have three to six kids over a lifetime and copulate every three hours when in heat. In the wild they live to about age 40.

They are thought to have once ranged across equatorial Africa. But about 1 million years ago the mountain gorillas were cut off from their cousins in West Africa, perhaps by drought, says Olaf Thalmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

To get to the gorillas, my fellow tourists and I walk through farms to a low stone wall that marks the entrance to the park. There's no buffer zone between human and gorilla. Armed guards follow to protect both us and the gorillas. (In 1999 rebels murdered eight tourists in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.)

We climb over the fence and enter a thick bamboo forest, heading steeply uphill. Francis tells us to tuck our socks over our jeans (lest driver ants swarm up our legs) and to avoid touching the stinging nettles that are everywhere. One of the guides uses a machete to clear the way. The thick mud nearly sucks off my shoes. After half a mile we reach a clearing, where Francis points out elephant tracks. I try to tie my shoe on what looks like a big rock. It turns out to be a pile of dung.

We continue uphill for 500 yards. Suddenly there is a rustling of bamboo, and one gorilla appears; then another and another. The adults pay us no heed and are mostly interested in finding the next piece of roughage. But a curious youngster comes right up to us; he gets so close that the guards hurriedly tell us to back away. Then the gorillas disappear again into the woods, leading us on a slow-speed chase through the dense foliage for half an hour. Finally the family settles down for a midmorning rest on a vine-covered hill.

The 500-pound silverback, Guhonda, sits 15 feet away. He chews on a bamboo shoot and eyes us with world-weary boredom, as if we were tiresome in-laws. The youngsters somersault down the hill, some bouncing so close to us that we have to jump out of their way. Then, for the briefest moment, a mother gorilla opens her arms, revealing her tiny baby.

To read the original paper by Thalmann et al. cited in this paper go here or here
Thalmann O, Fischer A, Lankester F, Pääbo S, Vigilant L (2007) The complex evolutionary history of gorillas: insights from genomic data. Molecular Biology and Evolution 24: 146-158.