This episode of Origin Stories is about what it takes to document the daily lives of chimpanzees, what we've learned, and how to handle all the data that's been collected during the longest running study of any animal in the wild.

In the 55 years since Louis Leakey sent Jane Goodall to the Gombe forest to study chimpanzees, we've learned a lot about the lives and behavior of these wonderful animals. This is thanks to the work of around 100 researchers and students and at least 50-70 Tanzanian field assistants who've spent their days watching the chimps and writing everything down. 

PhD candidate Emily Boehm just returned from 8 months at Gombe, where she studied the sexual behavior of female chimpanzees. She tells us what it's like to spend her days following chimps and collecting data on their behavior. 

Immigrant female chimpanzees Chema and Rumumba, engaging in some quality, though rare, bonding time. Photo courtesy of

Immigrant female chimpanzees Chema and Rumumba, engaging in some quality, though rare, bonding time. Photo courtesy of

Anne Pusey, a Leakey Foundation grantee and director of the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center at Duke University, shares the story of the evolution of data collection at Gombe. She also tells us about the origins of the Gombe Chimpanzee Database Project, which archives and organizes this invaluable scientific resource, making it available for researchers to use to answer new questions about chimpanzee behavior.  

Field notes in Kiswahili from the archive. Courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center.

Field notes in Kiswahili from the archive. Courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center.

Thanks to Anne Pusey, Emily Boehm, Joseph Feldblum and Kara Walker from Duke University. You can learn more about the Gombe Chimpanzee Project on their website

Jane Goodall and Anne Pusey with decades of research data. Photo by Megan Morr. Duke University Press Office.

Jane Goodall and Anne Pusey with decades of research data. Photo by Megan Morr. Duke University Press Office.

Since 1968, The Leakey Foundation has awarded 13 grants to Jane Goodall and over 20 grants to other researchers studying chimpanzees and baboons at Gombe. We continue to support primatology research at Gombe and at other sites around the world. 

Origin Stories is made possible by support from Wells Fargo Bank. Transcripts are provided by Adept Word Management.

AuthorMeredith Johnson

New research funded in part by The Leakey Foundation shows that chacma baboons within a troop spend more of their time with baboons that have similar characteristics to themselves: associating with those of a similar age, dominance rank and even personality type such as boldness. This is known as homophily, or ‘love of the same’.

Grooming. Photo courtesy of Alecia Carter.

Grooming. Photo courtesy of Alecia Carter.

This happens in humans all the time; we hang out with people who have the same income, religion, education etc. Essentially, it’s the same in baboons
— Alecia Carter

A team of researchers led by the University of Cambridge and international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London says that this may act as a barrier to the transfer of new social information to the wider troop, as previous research done by the team shows baboons of a certain age and personality type – the younger, bolder animals – are more likely to be information ‘generators’: those who solve new foraging problems.    

Given that information generators spend much of their time in the company of similar baboons, researchers say there is a risk that acquired information may end up exclusively confined to other information generators, thus decreasing the likelihood of new knowledge being disseminated to the wider troop.

Research teams tracked the same two baboon troops from dawn until dusk across Namibia’s Tsaobis Nature Park over several months each year between 2009-2014 to observe patterns of behaviour. The study is the first to monitor baboon social network structures over such a timescale and is published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.    

“Within these big troop networks over time social preferences are generally dictated by age, rank, personality and so on,” said Dr Alecia Carter, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, first author of the study. “This happens in humans all the time; we hang out with people who have the same income, religion, education etc. Essentially, it’s the same in baboons.”

To test for the personality traits of ‘boldness’ – essentially an assertive curiosity – the researchers planted unfamiliar foods on the edge of paths commonly used by baboon troops. These stimuli included hard-boiled eggs and small bread rolls dyed red or green. The research team then measured the time spent on investigating the new foodstuff, and whether they ate it, to determine a scale of boldness for members of the baboon troops.

“Our analysis is the first to suggest that bolder and shyer baboons are more likely to associate with others that share this personality trait,” said Dr Guy Cowlishaw from the Zoological Society of London, senior author of the study. “Previous studies in other animals – from chimps to guppies – suggests that time spent in the company of those with similar personalities could promote cooperation among individuals.

“Why baboons should demonstrate homophily for boldness is unclear, but it could be a heritable trait, and the patterns we’re seeing reflect family associations.”    

Perhaps surprisingly, says Carter, gender was not a particular obstacle to social interaction, with females preferring to groom males. This is, in part, due to the obvious sexual engagements for breeding, but also as a tactic on the part of females to curry favour with particular males for the sake of their offspring.

“Chacma baboon males will often commit infanticide, killing the babies of rivals. Female baboons try and get around this by being as promiscuous as possible to confuse the paternal identity – so males find it harder to tell if they are killing a rival’s offspring or their own,” added Dr Carter.

“They will also try and form bonds with particular males in the hope that they will protect their offspring and let the babies forage in good places with them – although males tend to be fairly lazy when it comes to this; it’s up to the babies to follow the males to good food.” 

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. It was provided by the University of Cambridge.


AuthorMeredith Johnson
Chimpanzees are wily enough to adapt in some ways when people encroach on their turf. Kimberley Hockings, CC BY-NC-ND

Chimpanzees are wily enough to adapt in some ways when people encroach on their turf. Kimberley Hockings, CC BY-NC-ND

In the mid 20th century, when paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey sent three pioneering women to study great apes in their natural habitats, the Earth’s wilderness was still untouched in many places. Jane Goodall went to Gombe in Tanzania to study chimpanzees; at first she could only study them with binoculars from far away because the chimps would not let her approach. In those days, Gombe was not the tiny island of forest surrounded by villages and crop fields it is today. In the neighboring country of Rwanda, Dian Fossey became the first researcher to be accepted by wild mountain gorillas. In the 1960s, her “gorillas in the mist” had not yet suffered the severe impact of war and refugees. The third of Leakey’s Angels Birutė Galdikas, arrived in Borneo to study the red apes, orangutans. When she started her work in 1971, oil-palm plantations and loggers were just beginning to force orangutans into increasingly small patches of rain forest.

A baby mountain gorilla born today has never known a pristine environment free of threat from people. Bradford Duplisea CC BY-NC-ND

A baby mountain gorilla born today has never known a pristine environment free of threat from people. Bradford Duplisea CC BY-NC-ND

When these pioneering women started studying great apes in their pristine forests, the Earth had just entered a time characterized by the tremendous impact of humans on every ecosystem of our planet, what many scientists call a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Hunting, poaching and logging was taking place in the 1960s and 1970s, but the scale of the problem has dramatically increased since then.

As researchers studying great apes in the wild, we’re fully aware that there are few, if any, untouched forests left in tropical Africa and Southeast Asia. Chimpanzee sites across equatorial Africa are suffering human disturbance, but little is known about the ways in which these apes are surviving alongside their human neighbors. The unfortunate situation of declining habitat provides an interesting opportunity for science: we can study these apes in novel situations they’ve never had to deal with before and we can look for clues about our own evolutionary past.

The Bossou chimpanzees employ an old mechanism to adapt to a more recent dangerous situation.

Responding to new pressures

Is the behavior of our closest evolutionary cousins changing as human settlements and roads push into their habitats? We’ve observed that the chimpanzees of Bossou (Guinea), a field site under severe human pressure, increase their waiting time when they have to cross a large road with heavy human and vehicle traffic and wait less time before crossing a narrow, quieter road. Adult male chimpanzees are more likely to lead and bring up the rear when crossing the larger, more dangerous road with a group, in an attempt to protect vulnerable individuals in the road-crossing party, such as infants.

Apes now also need to cope with increased competition from human beings for resources such as fruits. Chimpanzees are developing new strategies to access resources that are shared with people. Adult males are more likely to take the risk to enter the village to raid human crops than females and younger individuals are; sometimes they bring these crops back to the safety of the forest to share with females. Researchers in Uganda have recorded nocturnal crop-raiding by chimpanzees. Typically, they haven’t previously been observed in activities after dark and this suggests that they are aware that the risks are lower under the cover of darkness.

Chimpanzee in Bossou demonstrates how to carry nuts and stone tools with just two feet on the ground. Jules Dore CC BY-NC-ND

Chimpanzee in Bossou demonstrates how to carry nuts and stone tools with just two feet on the ground. Jules Dore CC BY-NC-ND

Novel situations appear to trigger novel behaviors on the part of great apes. For example, we’ve recently reported how chimpanzees in Bossou exhibit bipedal behavior when they need to transport unpredictable and valuable resources, including fruits. Normally chimpanzees move around on four legs. When chimpanzees go to a village to crop-raid papayas, it’s a risky behavior since frequently the fruits grow very close to people’s houses. To minimize their exposure, chimpanzees try to carry as much as possible at once, sometimes as many as three large papayas. By running on two feet, they can carry more of a resource that might not even be available next time they return.

When apes are confronted with new human-induced challenges, we’re able to study the flexibility of ape cognition. Can they figure out how to solve problems they would never encounter if people weren’t a part of their lives? Bossou chimpanzees, for example, have been seen deactivating snares that hunters place in the forest to catch animals that will be eaten as bush meat. They’ve figured out how to free themselves from these traps, and even more amazingly it appears that they transmit the knowledge throughout their group. It’s a surprising and intelligent way of solving the problem, and something researchers haven’t observed in many other animals.<

Villagers in Bossou watch chimps carrying out a papaya raid mission.                                      Susan Carvalho CC BY-NC-ND

Villagers in Bossou watch chimps carrying out a papaya raid mission.                                      Susan Carvalho CC BY-NC-ND

Different apes living side by side

The study of how these apes face new challenges may also teach us about our own evolutionary past. Researchers René Bobe and Bernard Wood, at George Washington University’s Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, are focused on understanding living primates and ancient human fossils to learn about our origins and evolution. They work closely with us and our colleagues studying ape responses to modern-day threats to learn about our own evolution.

For example, how do modern ape species living in the same habitats at the same time interact with one another? During the course of our evolution over many millennia, we know that human ancestors faced severe climatic and environmental changes. Some species survived and continued to evolve. Others went extinct. At various times human ancestors and close evolutionary cousins shared the same environments, much like chimpanzees and gorillas do today in parts of Africa. But we know little about how some of these ancient species competed for space and resources.

Our own species survived these challenges to become the only ape able to colonize the entire planet, and to have in its hands the survival of all other remaining apes. By looking at how great apes coexist now, we might find clues into our own evolutionary past. For instance, the chimpanzees who choose to run on two feet when rushing back to the forest with village crops hint at which pressures may have contributed to our ancestors becoming bipedal.

Human beings and chimpanzees currently share the same habitats, as do human beings and orangutans. Studies of modern sympatric apes – that is, different ape species that live in the same area and encounter one another frequently – can help us answer crucial evolutionary questions: which apes can adapt to rapid environmental change? What characteristics help them do that? How do apes avoid conflict when they must share resources with other apes?

Researchers are interested in whether a more or less specialized diet could be a barrier for adapting to a changing habitat. We also wonder about how apes avoid conflict when facing the need to share resources with other apes. One study in Congo reported interesting cases of chimpanzees and gorillas eating in the same tree at the same time. What is their way of avoiding conflict and sharing resources and space? They feed at different heights of the tree and eat different parts of the plants!

Eating and sharing papaya after crop raiding. Susana Carvalho CC BY-NC-ND

Eating and sharing papaya after crop raiding. Susana Carvalho CC BY-NC-ND

Apes' ability to adapt doesn’t mean they should have to

The problem of apes adapting to human-dominated ecosystems has to be approached carefully. We dedicate our lives to trying to save these fascinating animals, and the last thing we want is to misuse the ability of apes to survive as a justification to continue the destruction of their remaining habitats. Some might argue that if wildlife can survive in highly human-influenced areas, then why put so much effort into conservation?

However, for apes to survive this new epoch, the Anthropocene, we need to understand how apes modify their behavior under human impact. We need to understand the limits of ape adaptability. Apes cannot adapt to urban areas, unlike some monkeys such as baboons and macaques. They do not survive in cities and towns. It’s imperative to understand the limits beyond which they cannot survive.

Susana Carvalho is a Postdoctoral Scientist in Human Paleobiology at George Washington University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

AuthorMeredith Johnson

Sarie Van Belle and howler monkeys

In December 2014, three time Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Sarie Van Belle, of the University of Texas at Austin, was awarded a research grant for her project entitled "Paternity and kinship in socially monogamous saki and titi monkeys."

This study will examine paternity and kinship patterns in two closely related primate species (the red titi monkey, Callicebus discolor, and the equatorial saki monkey, Pithecia aequatorialis) at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve, Ecuador.  Both species have been described as monogamous, a social system traditionally defined as an exclusive mating relationship between one adult female and one adult male.  However, extrapair paternity, multi-adult groups, and replacements of pairmates by intruders have become increasingly acknowledged in other purportedly monogamous primate species.  Genetic analyses that evaluate rates of extrapair paternity and the associated population genetic structure in socially monogamous species will enhance our understanding of aspects of this social system not readily documented with behavioral observations alone. 

This comparative study has the power to identify social or ecological factors crucial in the functioning and maintenance of pair-living and monogamy, particularly because saki and titi monkeys differ in the nature of male-female relationships, the level of male care provided to offspring, and the participation of each sex to territory defense.  Such analyses can contribute importantly to our understanding of the selective pressures under which monogamy evolved in primates, from which the evolution of monogamy in humans, which emerged in early hominins, can be inferred.  

AuthorH Gregory

In this charming animated interview from the PBS Series Blank on Blank, Jane Goodall discusses her early dreams of studying animals in the wild, and how meeting Louis Leakey in Kenya made it possible for her to start her pioneering chimpanzee research.

AuthorMeredith Johnson

Mackenzie Bergstrom

For her PhD dissertation, Mackenzie Bergstrom of the University of Calgary studied 25 adult female capuchins living in three habituated social groups in a tropical dry forest in Sector Santa Rosa (SSR) of the Área de Conservaciόn Guanacaste (ACG) in northwest Costa Rica. To better understand how ecological and social variables affect the physical condition of these New World monkeys, the goals of this project were to document the dietary profile of these females, measure the extent of the seasonal variation in diet and nutritional intake, determine if seasonal variation in the availability of foods affects the physical condition of females and determine ecological and social correlates of energy balance and stress using urinary C-peptide and fecal cortisol.

Female white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus

Bergstrom conducted 12 months of behavioral observations, phenological surveys and nutritional analyses of food items consumed, radio-immunoassays of urinary c-peptide of insulin as a measure of energetic condition, and enzyme-immunoassays of fecal cortisol as a measure of stress. In the report below she describes the results of her project, providing insight into behavioral strategies employed by females at varying reproductive states and social ranks in response to proximate ecological and social pressures.  

AuthorH Gregory

The deadline approaches! Those interested in applying for a research grant during our Fall 2013 cycle must complete the application by July 15th. Our website is your source for guidelines for applying as well as the place to start the application process.

We received over one hundred applications for the Spring 2013 cycle, and we expect a similar number for Fall 2013. Here are a few suggestions to help your application stand out from the others and maximize your chances for funding:

‣ Present a clear correlation to human origins. We fund research into human origins, including paleoanthropology of the Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene; primate behavior; and the behavioral ecology of contemporary hunter-gatherers. Other areas of study are generally not considered.

‣ State your hypotheses clearly with ways and means of testing them.

‣ Review and accurately cite related literature thoroughly.

‣ Submit a tight budget (Do a lot with a little). Find out from other researchers what they have spent on lodging, food, and transportation in your study area.

We understand you may have questions about the application process, so we've included a few frequently asked questions here: Q: I've received a previous award from The Leakey Foundation. Am I eligible for another? A: Yes, as long as you are fully compliant with the terms of your previous award. You may email us at to find out what, if any, requirements are outstanding.

Q: Does the Foundation offer scholarships for undergraduate and graduate studies? A: No, Foundation grants are limited to funding for expenses directly related to research projects. Eligible applicants must either hold a PhD or equivalent qualification in anthropology (or a related discipline) or be enrolled in a doctoral program with all degree requirements fulfilled other than the thesis/dissertation.

Q: If I'm not affiliated with a school or research institution, may I apply for a grant? A: No, we do not award directly to individuals.

For a complete listing of frequently asked questions, please click here, and if you have further questions concerning the application process, feel free to contact us at

AuthorBeth Green

ATHENS, Ohio (May 15, 2013) — Two fossil discoveries from the East African Rift reveal new information about the evolution of primates, according to a study published online in Nature today led by Ohio University scientists. The team's findings document the oldest fossils of two major groups of primates: the group that today includes apes and humans (hominoids), and the group that includes Old World monkeys such as baboons and macaques (cercopithecoids). Geological analyses of the study site indicate that the finds are 25 million years old, significantly older than fossils previously documented for either of the two groups.

African Oligocene primates

African Oligocene primates

Both primates are new to science, and were collected from a single fossil site in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania. Rukwapithecus fleaglei is an early hominoid represented by a mandible preserving several teeth. Nsungwepithecus gunnelliis an early cercopithecoid represented by a tooth and jaw fragment.

Read the full media release

Ohio University

Ohio University

This study was funded in part by The Leakey Foundation

The researchers have shared photos from the field and their thoughts on the Foundation:

Funding from The Leakey Foundation has been pivotal in establishing and sustaining our international, interdisciplinary project, and instrumental for providing rich opportunities field and laboratory training for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Authors on the Nature article are Nancy Stevens, Patrick O'Connor, Cornelia Krause and Eric Gorscak of Ohio University, Erik Seiffert of SUNY Stony Brook University, Eric Roberts of James Cook University in Australia, Mark Schmitz of Boise State University, Sifa Ngasala of Michigan State University, Tobin Hieronymus of Northeast Ohio Medical University and Joseph Temu of the Tanzania Antiquities Unit. We thank The Leakey Foundation for supporting our research.

Nature article, May 15, 2013  |  Science article, May 15, 2013  |  Animations of the fossils

AuthorBeth Green
Jarman, age 4

Jarman, age 4

Did you know that grantees of The Leakey Foundation, as well as project sites funded by the Foundation, were part of this summer's Disneynature documentary Chimpanzee?

The lead scientific consultant to the movie, Dr. Christophe Boesch, has been studying wild chimps for 30 years. During Boesch's early years of research, The Leakey Foundation funded his work in Tai National Forest, where the film crew spent three years filming for this movie.

Today, Dr. Boesch is the Director of the Department of Primatology at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Germany. In 1999, he founded the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), with the mission "to enhance the survival of the remaining wild chimpanzee populations and their habitat, the tropical rain forest, throughout tropical Africa." WCF hopes to reach this goal for 20-25,000 chimpanzees in the 17 countries in which they still exist in fairly intact habitat and to cover thereby the behavioral diversity of the species, still widely unknown today.

The Leakey Foundation has also helped fund the work of Dr. John Mitani, who served as a scientific consultant to the film. The film features footage of the chimpanzees Mitani has been studying in Kibale National Park, Uganda for nearly 20 years.

Dr. Mitani, who also serves on The Leakey Foundation's Scientific Executive Committee, has said "the chimpanzees that I study are a large troop, about 180 strong, and with so many males, they frequently interact aggressively with other chimpanzees who live in neighboring groups". This is why it was so unexpected that the film documents a special relationship between Oscar, "the star" of the film and Freddy the alpha male of Oscar's group. Oscar, a young chimpanzee who is orphaned and left to fend for himself, is adopted by Freddy. This is a very rare occurrence that has never before been caught on film before now. Mitani explains that "orphaned infants are often adopted by older siblings, or by other members in their groups. But Freddy has no relationship that we know of to Oscar. That's the mystery."

Research like Dr. Boesch's and Dr. Mitani's has given us much insight into chimpanzee behavior. With continued research at long-term study sites like Tai and Kibale, researchers might be able to delve deeper into what set us apart from our closest living relative, the chimpanzee.

If you didn't catch Chimpanzee in the theatre, you'll soon be able to buy it. On August 21, 2012, Chimpanzee, debuts as a Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD), Digital and On-Demand viewing. To celebrate the in-home debut of the film, Disneynature will continue the “See Chimpanzee, Save Chimpanzees” conservation program which was initiated with the film’s theatrical release.

For every purchase of the movie through August 27, 2012, Disneynature will make a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute to conserve chimpanzee habitat, educate the next generation, and provide care for orphaned chimpanzees. Check the official Chimpanzee website for details.


University of Michigan Press Release

Internet Movie Database

Wild Chimp Foundation

Disneynature Press Release

AuthorBeth Green

Q: How did you first come to study human origins?

A: During my first semester [of college], I participated in a program in which a small group of freshmen took several classes around one interdisciplinary theme. Knowing that I was interested in science, I chose the one science-oriented theme available at the time – evolution. I had learned next-to-nothing about evolution in high school, and was fascinated with the explanatory power of evolutionary theory.

Q: Once you learned more about evolutionary theory, how did you decide upon a focused area of research?

A: I realized that I loved studying primates in the field and wanted to continue to do so. In order to gain the experience I needed to conduct research in such settings, I took a field position with the Kakamega Monkey Project in Kenya where I managed a team of international and local field assistants. A year later, I entered the graduate program at Columbia and began my doctoral research at the same fieldsite.

Q: What will this grant form The Leakey Foundation help you research and better understand about primates and our own evolution?

A: Sociality is a hallmark of the primate order. The relationship between social and mating systems is an unending source of questions in evolutionary biology. There is an integral connection between social and mating systems, as how individuals are distributed in the environment depends primarily on their strategies for maximizing reproduction. With this research, I want to evaluate the effect of intrasexual competition on male reproduction in primates living in one-male groups.

This project focuses on wild blue monkeys which live in one-male social groups, but in which preliminary genetic evidence suggests (1) a surprising lack of resident male reproductive monopoly and (2) high inter-annual variability in resident and non-resident (i.e. bachelor) male reproductive output.

Male mammals compete with each other for access to fertile females. When animals live in one-male/multi-female groups, the single resident male should have a reproductive advantage over non-residents (i.e. bachelors).

I will investigate this assumption by extracting DNA from fecal samples [which I will non-invasively collect] and assigning paternity to approximately 140 infants born over a ten-year period. Quantifying reproduction by resident and bachelor males will allow me to determine the relative success of reproductive strategies.

I will then use long-term behavioral and demographic records to evaluate how variables including the number of reproductive opportunities, the number of competitor males, dominance rank, and body size affect resident and bachelor reproduction. This model will clarify the relationship between social and mating systems and thereby allow us to better infer patterns of sociality and reproduction in both extant and extinct taxa, including human ancestors.

AuthorBeth Green


2012 Spring Grants Report

Scientists are turning to The Leakey Foundation for funding now more than ever.

During the most recent grants cycle, Spring 2012, we received a record number of applications (the highest number in 44 years). The competition was stiff, and the funding decisions were even more difficult than usual. Here is a breakdown of some statistics for the cycle.

AuthorBeth Green


The Female In Evolution Symposium is now sold out!

Live online streaming

Not in San Francisco? We are very pleased to announce The Female In Evolution Symposium will be streamed live online via For more information and details on how to register for live streaming, please visit the special event page.

Full Schedule, Lecture Abstracts and Speaker Biographies

Saturday, April 28, 2012

at the California Academy of Sciences.

Greeting from the California Academy of Sciences

9:00 AM

Dr. Terry Gosliner, Dean of Science and Research Collections

Symposium Introduction

Dr. Kelly Stewart


9:15 AM

“The Real Females of Human Evolution” by Dr. Adrienne Zihlman

Paleoanthropology Session

10:00 AM


Dr. Leslea Hlusko

Overview Lecture

10:10 AM

“Millions of Years of Moms” by Dr. Daniel Lieberman

Case Study

10:40 AM

“The Role of Prehistoric Mothers in the Evolution of Language” by Dr. Dean Falk


Leslea Hlusko, Daniel Lieberman, and Dean Falk

Behavioral Session

11:30 AM


Dr. Jill Pruetz

Overview Lecture

11:40 AM

“The Natural History of Social Bonds” by Dr. Joan Silk

Case Study

“Primate Social Cognition” by Dr. Dorothy Cheney


12:10 PM

Jill Pruetz, Joan Silk and Dorothy Cheney


1 PM to 1:45 PM

Afternoon Keynote

1:45 PM

“The Evolution of Mothering: How Long Should A Mother Suckle Her Baby?” by Dr. Robert Martin

Hunter/Forager Session

2:20 PM


Dr. Brooke Scelza

Overview Lecture

2:30 PM

“From Men’s Hunting to the Importance of Grandmothers: Lessions About Human Evolution From The Behavioral Ecology of Foragers” by Dr. Kristen Hawkes

Case Study

3:00 PM

“Beyond Woman the Gatherer: Women’s Cooperative Hunting, Sharing, and Social Networks in Aboriginal Australia” by Dr. Rebecca Bird


Brooke Scelza, Kristen Hawkes, and Rebecca Bird

Symposium Wrapup

3:45 PM

Dr. Leslie Aiello


Biographies and Abstracts

Kelly Stewart, Symposium Chairperson

University of California, Davis

Dr. Kelly Stewart is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. During her college summers, Dr. Stewart dug up fossils in northern Kenya with Richard Leakey. She later became a student of Dian Fossey, and has been observing, thinking about, and writing about gorilla behavior and conservation ever since. She is the co-author of Gorilla Society, with her husband and research partner Dr. Alexander Harcourt.



The Real Females of Human Evolution

When woman-the-gatherer was first proposed as a counter to man-the-hunter, we were only beginning to understand the many faces of primate females – their role as teachers, tool users, carriers of tradition, and as the social glue in society. In ensuing decades we have learned about the skills and talents of female primates which have been key ingredients in the evolution of our species.

Adrienne Zihlman

University of California, Santa Cruz

Adrienne Zihlman, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has had major impacts on the field of human evolution. Her critique of the Man-the-Hunter concept made way for understanding the role of women in evolution, an approach that has become mainstream. Her publications cover human locomotion, sexual dimorphism and growth and development. She is author of The Human Evolution Coloring Book, co-editor of The Evolving Female, and is co-authoring a book on comparative ape anatomy.



Leslea Hlusko, Session Chairperson

University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Leslea Hlusko earned her PhD from Penn State University in 2000. She is currently an Associate Professor Integrative Biology at the University of California Berkeley. Her research focuses on how genes influence skeletal variation and how this has evolved through time as seen in the fossil record, focusing on primates and human evolution. Her lab projects include gene expression studies and quantitative genetic analyses. She co-directs the Olduvai Vertebrate Paleontology Project at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.


Overview Lecture: Millions of Years of Moms

Natural selection was hard at work changing the human body over the last few million years, and much of that selection was driven by the challenges of being a mother. I will present a brief review of the evolution of the human female body, focusing on how natural selection helped mothers cope with the biomechanical demands of being a pregnant biped, with carrying infants and food over long distances, and with giving birth to large-brained babies.

Daniel Lieberman

Harvard University

Dr. Daniel Lieberman is a Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University and Chair of the Biological Anthropology Department, while also serving on the Curatorial Board of the Peabody Museum. Dr. Lieberman is recognized as a leading expert on morphology and is especially interested in when, how and why early hominins first became bipeds, and then became so exceptional as long distance endurance runners. He is a member of the Leakey Foundation Scientific Executive Committee.


Case Study: The Role of Prehistoric Mothers in the Evolution of Language

Clues about the emergence of protolanguage appear every day in the interactions between modern parents and their infants. Parents the world over speak to infants in a special way—known as baby talk, musical speech, or motherese, which helps them acquire their native language. This presentation considers how and why motherese may have been invented by prehistoric mothers and their infants, and the possible role of infant-directed speech in the origin of language.

Dean Falk

Florida State University

Dean Falk is an evolutionary anthropologist who splits her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico where she is a Senior Scholar at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), and Tallahassee, Florida where she is the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University. Her work focuses on the evolution of the human brain and cognition. Recent projects include collaborative research on Homo floresiensis (“Hobbit”) and an investigation of the brain of Albert Einstein.



Jill Pruetz, Session Chairperson

Iowa State University

Dr. Jill Pruetz is the Walvoord Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences (Anthropology) at Iowa State University. As a primatologist, Dr. Pruetz has studied the behavior of non-human primates such as chimpanzees, spider monkeys, howling monkeys, tamarins, patas monkeys, and vervets in various locales. She is interested in the influence of ecology on primate and early human feeding, ranging, and social behavior. She currently has an ongoing research project in southeastern Senegal to study chimpanzees in a habitat similar to that of early hominids.


Overview Lecture: The Natural History of Social Bonds

For female baboons close and stable social bonds are the foundation of cooperation. These relationships help females cope with stress, and also enhance their reproductive success and longevity. These findings parallel evidence that social ties have positive effects on physical and mental health in humans. And as with humans, for female baboons the strength and stability of these bonds are more important than their number.

Joan Silk

University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Joan Silk’s research interests are wide ranging and include biological anthropology, primate behavior, and evolutionary biology. She is especially interested in how natural selection shapes social evolution in primates. Her recent focus is on social strategies of female baboons and the origins of altruistic behavior. Dr. Silk is a prolific writer, an author of over 80 publications and co-author of a biological anthropology text, How Humans Evolved. She is a member of the Leakey Foundation Scientific Executive Committee.


Case Study: Primate Social Cognition

Studies on both animals and humans have shown definitively that individuals who are able to establish strong social bonds experience better health and higher offspring survival. It seems likely that natural selection has also favored the cognitive abilities to monitor and manage social relationships. There is growing evidence that monkeys and other animals are adept at recognizing other individuals’ social relationships and dominance ranks. At the same time, there are also many fundamental differences between animal social cognition and the social cognition of humans.

Dorothy Cheney

University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Dorothy Cheney is an expert on primate social behavior, communication, cognition. In 1977, together with her husband and collaborator Robert Seyfarth, she began an 11 year field study of vervet monkeys in Kenya, which led to the publication of How Monkeys See the World. From 1992 through 2007 Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth studied baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. In 2007, they published Baboon Metaphysics.


Afternoon Keynote

Evolution of Mothering: How Long Should a Mother Suckle Her Baby?

All primates have drawn-out life histories with long pregnancies and extended suckling. Time devoted to individual offspring more than compensates for limited daily investment in reproduction. A key part of intensive maternal care in primates is frequent suckling on demand, reflected in milk composition. In all these respects, humans are typical primates; but we also have special features, notably in brain development. But how long should a mother suckle her baby? Biological comparisons yield clues to the natural breastfeeding period for which women are adapted.

Dr. Robert Martin

The Field Museum

Dr. Robert Martin is A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago. He has devoted his career to exploring the evolutionary tree of primates, as summarized in his 1990 textbook Primate Origins. Dr. Martin is particularly interested in reproductive biology and the brain, because these systems have been of special importance in primate evolution. His research is based on broad comparisons across primates, covering reproduction, anatomy, behaviour, palaeontology and molecular evolution.



Dr. Brooke Scelza, Session Chairperson

University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Brooke Scelza is an assistant professor at UCLA. A human behavioral ecologist, Dr. Scelza is interested in understanding the adaptive nature of behavior as a function of local socioecological context. Her research focuses mainly on questions related to reproductive decision-making and parental investment, and on understanding the social environment as a critical influence on how people negotiate life history trade-offs. She is currently conducting fieldwork with the Himba, a group of semi-nomadic pastoralists living in northwest Namibia.


Overview Lecture: From Men’s Hunting to the Importance of Grandmothers: Lessons About Human Evolution from the Behavioral Ecology of Foragers

Beginning my ethnographic work with hunter-gatherers I assumed that most distinctive human features evolved as a consequence of ancestral females pairing with hunting males to form nuclear families with men provisioning their wives and dependent offspring. Challenges to that “hunting hypothesis” have mounted in paleoanthropology and archaeology, but it was behavioral findings that forced my own paradigm shift. I’ll review some of those findings, including evidence of the important role of grandmothers, and some life history comparisons between humans and chimpanzees.

Dr. Kristen Hawkes

University of Utah

Kristen Hawkes is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah. Her ethnographic projects with hunter-gatherers investigate sex and age differences in foraging strategies to improve hypotheses about human evolution. The importance of grandmothers’ help for youngsters when their mothers have newborns focused her attention on the evolution of human longevity, and prompted continuing comparisons of human and chimpanzee life history. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Scientific Executive Committee of the Leakey Foundation.


Case Study: Beyond Woman the Gatherer: Women’s Cooperative Hunting, Sharing, and Social Networks in Aboriginal Australia

Gender roles among foraging peoples are usually considered to be nearly universal: that men are hunters and women gatherers of plant foods, that men are more productive than women and that women cooperate mainly with spouses in a division of labor designed to care for dependent offspring; a pattern that is rooted in our evolutionary past. I describe an alternative perspective of women as hunters who cooperate extensively in acquiring small animals, sharing food and caring for children.

Rebecca Bliege Bird

Stanford University

Dr. Rebecca Bliege Bird is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University. She is an ecological anthropologist interested in the socioecology of subsistence in small scale societies. Dr. Bird pursues such topics as the gender division of labor in hunting and gathering, cooperation, costly signaling, indigenous conservation/land management, and fire ecology. She’s currently involved in a long-term ethnographic and ecological research project with Martu people in Australia’s Western Desert.


Symposium Wrap Up

Dr. Leslie Aiello

Wenner-Gren Foundation

Dr. Leslie Aiello is the President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation of Anthropological Research, which is largest private foundation in existence devoted solely to the support of international anthropological research. She is evolutionary anthropologist with special interests in the evolution of human adaptation as well as in broader issues of evolutionary theory, life history and the evolution of the brain, diet, language and cognition. Previously Dr. Aeillo was head of University College London’s Anthropology Department and Graduate School. She is a former editor of the Journal of Human Evolution.

Produced in partnership with the California Academy of Sciences, this special symposium is generously sponsored by Jean and Ray Auel, Gordon Getty, and with support from Wells Fargo Bank.

AuthorBeth Green

Live Video Stream Available!

Symposium:The Female in Evolution

Saturday, April 28, 2012 A human female is born, lives her life, and dies within the span of a few decades, but the shape of her life has been strongly influenced by 50 million years of primate evolution. Join leading scientists for a special symposium, in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences, as they discuss the The Female in Evolution.

AuthorBeth Green
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During The Leakey Foundation 2011 Annual Auction and Dinner, Foundation Trustee Mrs. Carolyn Farris bid on and won the "naming rights" for the next chimpanzee born at the Fongoli site in Senegal. Fongoli, which is run by Leakey Grantee Jill Pruetz, is home to a unique group of chimpanzees that have adapted to living in a savanna environment, often seen by Pruetz and her team hunting bush babies with "spears". Mrs. Farris chose the name "Pistache" for the newest male chimp at Fongoli, born to Natasha sometime in April of this year.

In a letter sent to the Foundation, Mrs. Farris remarked:

"I would like to name Natasha’s baby “Pistache” (French for pistachio nut), after my long hair Chihuahua. I adopted her from the Helen Woodward Animal Center and she was named after a character in a book. The chain of events that led to her adoption started on Bastille Day, so I thought a French name would be appropriate for her. The name is pronounced Pee-stash. My little dog is popular with everyone she meets, as she is loving, cuddly and playful. She is also tall for a Chihuahua, just as Natasha and her son are tall."

You can read more about Natasha and Pistache in Dr. Pruetz's newest post on the Fongoli Chimps Blog. Once there are photos taken of Pistache, we will be sure to post them!

Above photo courtesy of Kambiz Kamrani, editor of and

AuthorBeth Green

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Sosthene Habumuremyi's dissertation research on the hormonal correlations of socio-sexual behaviors in female mountain gorillas.

Sosthene's research project combines behavioral data collected in the field with hormonal data analyzed in the lab. The results of this study will characterize the specific behavioral patterns around the time of ovulation in Mountain Gorillas; specifically mating behavior, patterns of mating solicitations, and any evidence of coercion (aggression) by the silverbacks directed towards the females.

We asked Sosthene a series of questions about his work and here are some of his responses.

Sosthene in the field.

Sosthene in the field.

Q. Do you prefer working in the field or the lab? Please explain.

A. I prefer to work in the field because each day is different! I experience difficult and easy times which are both useful and part of the job! Mountain gorillas are exceptional primates which show many varieties in their way of living. When I am with them, I see more than I'm expecting to see. So, it is important for me to appreciate how our field protocol is still working and progressing; being in the field helps a lot with monitoring the project and profiling (in my mind) the potential findings. Besides, the field work is for me an opportunity to get an exact image of the work done in biodiversity conservation. As a researcher, it is an excellent occasion to bring a personal perspective.

I can not say that I do not like the lab, as our field data will be deciphered with the lab results! This combination of field work and lab analysis is the strength of this project.

Q. Is there one question from your list of research questions that you are most excited to find the answer? Can answering that question tell humans something about themselves?

A. It's difficult for me to choose one question that I'll be excited to answer! I'm really interested to find answers for all of our research questions. Those findings will raise certainly some curiosities in human reproduction biology. For example humans should be interested in knowing: what hormonal profiles exist during the conception in young and adult women; how this evolved from the common ancestor of primates; and what are normal profiles corresponding to critical fertility periods.

Q. Tell us about some interesting behavior you have witnessed by the gorillas while in the field.

A. The most impressive moment of my field work was the last week of October 2010 when the three silverbacks from Kuryama's group were competing rashly for access to the females. Kuryama is a dynamic group of 15 individuals: Kuryama (chief, 24 years old), Kirahure (19 years old) and Vuba (17 years old) are all very large silverbacks! (They were also all born in the month of August.) The 3 suffered serious injuries due to the intra-group fights. We were thinking that Kuryama was loosing the dominance in the group, as he was aggressed by Kirahure, and even by the young Vuba. All of this behavior began when I was collecting behavioral data on a cycling female called Mahirwe.

She successfully solicited copulation to Kirahure, and after, Kirahure followed Mahirwe displaying incessantly. In one hour, I recorded 12 displays of Kirahure toward Mahirwe! At a certain time, Mahirwe climbed a tree, and Kirahure waited for her until she came down the tree! He went on following her, displaying and soliciting copulation...however, unsuccessfully!

From this day, me and other researchers recorded lots of aggressive behavior between those three males, and in addition when one silverback tried to solicit copulation to a favorite female of another male. In mountain gorilla groups, while females are rivaling for food and protection, males are actually challenging for access to the females!

Q. Are you noticing different results, trends or date between the nine social groups? Is one group of females more successful with producing offspring? Is one group less fertile?

A. There's no clear difference in key-behavioral data from the target groups that we're sampling. We will wait for statistical analysis to confirm or reveal what we can not be able to perceive now. However, we're seeing that the small groups are growing and that one-male groups are well reproductively managed.

Q. Are there data, trends or conclusions you can share with the general audience?

A. Many conclusions will emerge after the lab analysis. But, we can say that reproductive behaviors are not restricted only in fertile window in mountain gorillas as it is the case in humans.


AuthorBeth Green

Sosthene's research project combines behavioral data collected in the field with hormonal data analyzed in the lab. The results of this study will characterize the specific behavioral patterns around the time of ovulation in mountain gorillas; specifically mating behavior, patterns of mating solicitations, and any evidence of coercion (aggression) by the silverbacks directed towards the females.

Sosthene (center) with research assistants. 

Sosthene (center) with research assistants. 

We asked Sosthene a series of questions about his work and here are some of his responses. In a few days we will post another round of Q and A with Sosthene.

Q. How do you identify the gorillas in your group?

A. Some primates, like gorillas can be identified by their faces. In particular, mountain gorillas can be recognized and named individually by looking at their nose-prints! Each of the 480 mountain gorillas found in the Virungas has a different nose print, similar to human fingerprints!

In some cases, experienced trackers help with rapid identification because nose-prints are not always visible. We use additional tips like the gorillas' group; the group/lone individuals' home range; the body size; the status and darkness of hair; the other mountain gorilla individuals found often in proximity (for example: individuals from the same mother, infants or a favorite female around the dominant silverback).

Other ways for identification include abnormal gestures (for example: Gutangara, a female from Pablo's group, is always nudging her left shoulder); and also malformations (for example: Umwana, a female from Inshuti's group has a straightened finger).


Q. Are there any former poachers working as Karisoke field assistants now? How does this transition work?

A. Recruiting former poachers was among the initial strategies to get effective information on illegal activities in the National Park of Volcanoes, Rwanda. By recruiting former poachers, they helped us gather a lot of information on the poachers' networks; the types of snares; the other materials used and from where they got those materials; the target animals; the time of entering and getting out from the forest; the tracks used; the most frequented areas; and the time that they spend in the forest.

Karisoke and national authorities use the resulting information to reinforce the anti-poaching patrols and to efficiently sensitize local communities on biodiversity protection. Karisoke recruited one exceptional former poacher, who is now retired. We still have some former poachers working as trackers in with the gorillas' groups monitored by the Rwanda government for tourism. The recruited former poachers are welcomed by gorilla trackers! They are still considered as an asset to their daily work of gorillas' protection.

In addition, they have excellent experience in the forest! Some days, the tracking of gorillas is too hard or even unsuccessful, but the former poachers are consulted to find easy and right tracks! On other side, the resulting collaboration ended the friendships of the former poachers with their former colleagues, as they no longer share trust.

Today, the number of poachers has decreased. Most of them have been integrated in local organizations like traditional dancing troupes, handcrafts small-enterprises, and farming associations. But, some persisting poaching activities are observed; in 2010, Karisoke reported 1,927 snares.

AuthorBeth Green