UCL Anthropology


Towards the "Complete Chimpanzee" – enabled by UCL's Gashaka Primate Project

14 March 2019

Whatsuphere? Gashaka chimpanzees looking at a video-trap

The Gashaka Primate Project in Nigeria is helping chimpanzees to stay in the news – whether uplifting or sad. Founded 20 years ago by UCL Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, Volker Sommer, data collected at the project's field station at Gashaka Gumti National Park (www.ucl.ac.uk/gashaka) are systematically combined with those from other ape study sites across Africa. The resulting publications – in journals such as Science and Current Biology – require cooperation across large international teams that include other primatologists, geneticists, microbiologists, statisticians and conservationists.

Whatsuphere? Gashaka chimpanzees looking at a video-trap

Of particular importance is the "Pan African Project" conceived at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at Leipzig / Germany (panafrican.eva.mpg.de/). "PanAf" alludes not only to the genus name for chimpanzees and bonobos – Pan –, but also to the panafrican collection of standardized records across 30–40 ape populations, which include camera traps and gathering of biological samples.

The findings – which at times include research on the other African apes, gorillas and bonobos – are unparalleled in their breadth, as evidenced by the following summaries of recent and current findings. (Full bibliographical information including the names of all co-workers can be found at the bottom of the page.) 

Research collection of tools discarded by Gashaka chimpanzees


Chimpanzee Culturecide

Humans, depending on where they live, develop different traditions, abilities and customs. Chimpanzees exhibit a similar degree of "cultural variation", with respect to behaviours such as tool use, communication or feeding habits. A comparison of 31 chimpanzee behaviors across 144 social groups or communities covering the entire geographic range of the species revealed the sad fact that behavioral diversity was reduced by 88% when human impact was highest – compared to locations with the least anthropogenic impact. (Kühl, Kalan et al. 2019. Human impact erodes chimpanzee behavioral diversity. Science)

Candid Camera

When confronted with video-trap devices installed by researchers, wild apes may react to them either alarmed or curious – with interesting differences between species. Compared to chimpanzees and gorillas, who exhibit a stronger looking impulse towards the lenses, bonobos were neophobic, i.e., reacted more fearful and cautious. This may because bonobo societies are female-centered and rather egalitarian compared to the other apes where a dominant male may default as the leader. However, the three species also showed similarities with respect to the novelty response, as the apes looked at cameras longer when they were young, were associating with fewer individuals, and did not live near a long-term research site – which would have increased familiarity with human activity. (Kalan et al. 2019. Novelty response of wild African apes to camera-traps. Current Biology)


Despite decades of often close-up observations, chimpanzees can still surprise – as researchers had to realize when they sifted through thousands of video-records. Thus, in four locations in West Africa, the apes exhibit the rather bizarre habit of banging and throwing rocks against trees or tossing them into trunk cavities. Over the course of time, heaps of stones may form. The accumulations are similar to cairns – human-made stone mounds found in many parts of the world. While the reviewers of the paper cut out the suggestion that chimpanzee stone throwing is a precursor of human rituals, archaeologists will have to revisit the idea that every heap of stone has been produced by thoughtful humans. (Kühl et al. 2016. Chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing. Scientific Reports)

Sleepless Nights

"In the jungle, the mighty jungle / The lion sleeps tonight". While the king of the jungle dreams, chimpanzees might move through the dark – as evidenced by camera-traps planted at 22 sites across Africa. At 18 locations, the apes were at least occasionally up to something, most frequently during twilight. They are leaving their night nests with greater probability when it's hotter and when surrounded by dense jungle. Still, night-walking is rare – which places chimpanzees into the human-like pattern of adhering to a "consolidated sleep". (Tagg et al. 2018. Nocturnal activity in wild chimpanzees: evidence for flexible sleeping patterns and insights into human evolution. American Journal of Physical Anthropology)

Not Just Gut Feelings

Faecal samples were collected to extract symbiotic single-celled protists that populate the large intestines of chimpanzees and aid the digestion of fibre. Named after the hair-like vibrating structures that allow for their movements, the ciliate organisms have slightly different genetic markers, reflecting the geographical distribution of chimpanzees. Ciliate genetics can not only shed light on how chimpanzee subspecies might have evolved from a common ancestor. It also suggests that the elimination of these particular organisms in the guts of modern humans might be connected to changes in diet after fire was used to prepare food. (Vallo et al. 2012. Molecular diversity of entodiniomorphid ciliate Troglodytella abrassarti and its coevolution with chimpanzees. American Journal of Physical Anthropology)

Intestines are Eco-Systems, Too

The intestinal microbiome is essential for health, contributing to digestion of foods, immune development and inhibition of pathogen colonization. However, the principles of how animal-associated communities of different bacterial strands are structured is largely unknown. To make progress, the study looked at genetic data of bacterial lineages found in 64 species of bilaterally symmetrical animals – from flies to whales and including chimpanzees. The study was the first to actually document the expected correlation that larger animals harbour a greater number of bacterial lineages per gut sample. This suggests that species richness and thus niche complexity increases with gut size. The analytic methods may be useful in assessing colonization mechanisms in human disease states and in evaluating the invasion of human-associated bacteria into global ecosystems. (Sherrill-Mix et al. 2018. Allometry and ecology of the bilaterian gut microbiome. mBio)

Sustaining the Future...

Human activities are sadly known to threaten the biodiversity of biotopes, even within allegedly protected zones. Based on data for almost 100 tropical forests in 15 African countries, the study assessed which specific human activities influence the survival prospects of these areas. Agriculture and logging were found to be particularly destructive. Protective efforts such as law enforcement, tourism and research can make a difference, but only if tied to a long-term strategy. This corroborates experience from the Gashaka Primate Project which had more impact on conservation once the necessary infrastructure was build up and sustained. The finding quantifies the obvious: Short-term activism is not going to make a difference – only a structured approach will. (Tranquilli et al. 2014. Protected areas in tropical Africa: Assessing threats and the impact of conservation activities. PLoS ONE)

Video-trap still of Gashaka chimpanzees using tools

Bibliography: The Gashaka Primate Project in Panafrican Publications On Chimpanzees (2012–2019)

2012: Vallo, Peter; Klára J. Petrželková, Ilona Profousová, Jana Petrášová, Kateřina Pomajbíková, Fabian Leendertz, Chie Hashimoto, Nicol Simmons, Fred Babweteera, Zarin Machanda, Alexander Piel, Martha Robbins, Christophe Boesch, Crickette Sanz, David Morgan, V. Sommer, Takeshi Furuichi, Shiho Fujita, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Michael A. Huffman & David Modrý. MOLECULAR DIVERSITY OF ENTODINIOMORPHID CILIATE TROGLODYTELLA ABRASSARTI AND ITS COEVOLUTION WITH CHIMPANZEES. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 148: 525–533

2014: Tranquilli, Sandra; M. Abedi-Lartey, K. Abernethy, F. Amsini, L. Arranz, A. Asamoah, C. Balangtaa, N. Barakabuye, S. Blake, E. Bouanga, T. Breuer, T. Brncic, G. Campbell, R. Chancellor, C. A. Chapman, T. Davenport, A. Dunn, J. Dupain, A. Ekobo, G. Etoga, T. Furuichi, S. Gatti, A. Ghiurghi, C. Hashimoto, J. Hart, T. Hart, J. Head, M. Hega, I. Herbinger, T. C. Hicks, L. H. Holbech, B. Huijbregts, H. S. Kühl, I. Imong, S. Le-Duc Yeno, J. Linder, P. Marshall, J. Mba Ayetebe, P. Minasoma, D. Morgan, L. Mubalama, P. N'Goran, A. Nicholas, S. Nixon, E. Nku Manasseh, E. Normand, L. Nziguyimpa, Z. Nzooh-Dongmo, R. Ofori-Amanfo, B. G. Ogunjemite, C. Petre, H. Rainey, S. Regnaut, O. Robinson, A. Rundus, C. Sanz, D. Tiku Okon, A. Todd, Y. Warren & V. Sommer. PROTECTED AREAS IN TROPICAL AFRICA: ASSESSING THREATS AND THE IMPACT OF CONSERVATION ACTIVITIES. PLoS ONE 9: e114154, p. 1–21 (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114154)

2016: Kühl, Hjalmar S.; Ammie K. Kalan, Mimi Arandjelovic, Ekwoge E. Abwe, Floris Aubert, Annemarie Goedmakers, Sorrel Jones, Sebastien Regnaut, Alexander Tickle, Joost van Schijndel, Samuel Angedakin, Anthony Agbor, Emmanuel Ayuk Ayimisin, Emma Bailey, Mattia Bessone, Matthieu Bonne, Gregory Brazolla, Valentine Ebua Buh, Rebecca Chancellor, Chloe Cipoletta, Heather Cohen, Katherine Corogenes, Charlotte Coupland, Lucy D’Auvergne, Theophile Desarmeaux, Tobias Deschner, Karsten Dierks, Paula Dieguez, Emmanuel Dilambaka, Orume Diotoh, Dervla Dowd, Andrew Dunn, Henk Eshius, Rumen Fernandez, Yisa Ginath, John Hart, Martijn Ter Heegde, Thurston Cleveland Hicks, Inaoyom Imong, Kathryn Jeffery, Jessica Junker, Parag Kadam, Mohamed Kambi, Laura Kehoe, Yasmin Moebius, Ivonne Kienast, Deo Kujirakwinja, Kevin Langergraber, Vincent Lapeyre, Juan Lapuente, Kevin Lee, Vera Leinert, Amelia Meier, Giovanna Maretti, Sergio Marrocoli, Tanyi Julius Mbe, David Morgan, Bethan Morgan, Felix Mulindahabi, Mizuki Murai, Protais Niyigabae, Emma Normand, Nicola Ntare,Lucy Jayne Ormsby, Alex Piel, Jill Pruetz, Aaron Rundus, Crickette Sanz, Volker Sommer, Fiona Stewart, Nikki Tagg, Hilde VanLeeuwe, Virginie Vergnes, Jacob Willie, Roman M. Wittig, Klaus Zuberbuehler, Christophe Boesch. CHIMPANZEE ACCUMULATIVE STONE THROWING. Scientific Reports 6, 22219 (DOI: 10.1038/srep22219)

2018: Sherrill-Mix S, McCormick K, Lauder A, Bailey A, Zimmerman L, Li Y, Django JN, Bertolani P, Colin C, Hart JA, Hart TB, Georgiev AV, Sanz CM, Morgan DB, Atencia R, Cox D, Muller MN, Sommer V, Piel AK, Stewart FA, Speede S, Roman J, Wu G, Taylor J, Bohm R, Rose HM, Carlson J, Mjungu D, Schmidt P, Gaughan C, Bushman JI, Schmidt E, Bittinger K, Collman RG, Hahn BH, Bushman FD. ALLOMETRY AND ECOLOGY OF THE BILATERIAN GUT MICROBIOME. mBio (American Society for Microbiology) 9: e00319-18 (DOI: org/10.1128/mBio.00319-18)

2018: Tagg, Nikki; Maureen McCarthy, Paula Dieguez, Gaëlle Bocksberger, Jacob Willie, Roger Mundry, Fiona Stewart, Mimi Arandjelovic, Jane Widness, Anja Landsmann, Anthony Agbor, Samuel Angedakin, Ayuk Emmanuel Ayimisin, Mattia Bessone, Gregory Brazzola, Katherine Corogenes, Martijn ter Heegde, Tobias Deschner, Emmanuel Dilambaka, Manasseh Eno-Nku, Henk Eshuis, Annemarie Goedmakers, Anne-Céline Granjon, Josephine Head, Veerle Hermans, Sorrel Jones, Parag Kadam, Mohamed Kambi, Kevin Langergraber, Vincent Lapeyre, Juan Lapuente, Kevin Lee, Vera Leinert, Giovanna Maretti, Sergio Marrocoli, Amelia Meier, Sonia Nicholl, Emmanuelle Normand, Lucy Jayne Ormsby, Alex Piel, Orume Robinson, Volker Sommer, Alexander Tickle, Els Ton, Joost van Schijndel, Hilde Vanleeuwe, Virginie Vergnes, Erin Wessling, Roman M. Wittig, Klaus Zuberbuehler, Hjalmar Kuehl & Christophe Boesch. NOCTURNAL ACTIVITY IN WILD CHIMPANZEES: EVIDENCE FOR FLEXIBLE SLEEPING PATTERNS AND INSIGHTS INTO HUMAN EVOLUTION. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 166: 510–529

2019: Kühl, Hjalmar S.*, Christophe Boesch, Lars Kulik, Fabian Haas, Mimi Arandjelovic, Paula Dieguez, Gaëlle Bocksberger, Mary Brooke McElreath, Anthony Agbor, Samuel Angedakin, Emmanuel Ayuk Ayimisin, Emma Bailey, Donatienne Barubiyo, Mattia Bessone, Gregory Brazzola, Rebecca Chancellor, Heather Cohen, Charlotte Coupland, Emmanuel Danquah, Tobias Deschner, Orume Diotoh, Dervla Dowd, Andrew Dunn, Villard Ebot Egbe, Henk Eshuis, Rumen Fernandez, Yisa Ginath, Annemarie Goedmakers, Anne-Céline Granjon, Josephine Head, Daniela Hedwig, Veerle Hermans, Inaoyom Imong, Kathryn J. Jeffery, Sorrel Jones, Jessica Junker, Parag Kadam, Mbangi Kambere, Mohamed Kambi, Ivonne Kienast, Deo Kujirakwinja, Kevin Langergraber, Juan Lapuente, Bradley Larson, Kevin Lee, Vera Leinert, Manuel Llana, Giovanna Maretti, Sergio Marrocoli, Tanyi Julius Mbi, Amelia C. Meier, Bethan Morgan, David Morgan, Felix Mulindahabi, Mizuki Murai, Emily Neil, Protais Niyigaba, Lucy Jayne Ormsby, Liliana Pacheco, Alex Piel, Jodie Preece, Sebastien Regnaut, Aaron Rundus, Crickette Sanz, Joost van Schijndel, Volker Sommer, Fiona Stewart, Nikki Tagg, Elleni Vendras, Virginie Vergnes, Adam Welsh, Erin G. Wessling, Jacob Willie, Roman M. Wittig, Kyle Yurkiw, Klaus Zuberbuehler, Ammie K. Kalan*. HUMAN IMPACT ERODES CHIMPANZEE BEHAVIORAL DIVERSITY. Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.aau4532)

2019: Kalan, Ammie K.; Gottfried Hohmann, Mimi Arandjelovic, Christophe Boesch, Maureen S. McCarthy,  Anthony Agbor, Samuel Angedakin, Emma Bailey, Cosma Wilungula Belongelwa, Mattia Bessone, Gaëlle  Bocksberger, Sally Jewel Coxe, Tobias Deschner, Marie-Lyne Després-Einspenner, Paula Dieguez, Barbara Fruth, Ilka Herbinger, Anne-Céline Granjon, Josephine Head, Yves Aka Kablan, Kevin E. Langergraber, Albert Lotana Lokasola, Giovanna Maretti, Sergio Marrocoli,  Menard Mbende0, Jennifer Moustgaard, Paul Kouame N’Goran, Martha M. Robbins, Joost van Schijndel, Volker Sommer, Martin Surbeck, Nikki Tagg, Jacob Willie, Roman M. Wittig & Hjalmar S. Kühl. NOVELTY RESPONSE OF WILD AFRICAN APES TO CAMERA-TRAPS. Current Biology

Copyright of images is with "GPP"