Research in Sanctuaries

JGI’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center works primarily to rehabilitate orphaned chimpanzees. But the sanctuary also offers researchers the unique opportunity to study our closest relative – chimpanzees – in a controlled environment but more natural setting than a laboratory. Orphans at the sanctuary live in groups much as they would in the wild. This setting allows for organic social development and learning, and can provide researchers insights into a young wild chimpanzee’s growth. In addition, researchers are able to observe the chimpanzees without impacting the subjects.

Tchimpounga hosts several research groups studying the evolutionary links between humans and chimpanzees. Even though we share approximately 98% of our DNA with chimps, there are several important differences ranging from the physical – for example, humans are bipedal while chimpanzees are quadrupeds – to the cognitive. JGI’s research partners, the Max Planck Institute and Duke University, use non-invasive research methods to study the links between human and chimpanzee development. They make behavioral observations of young chimpanzees, bonobos, and human children and pose challenges designed to test individual ability to problem-solve. By comparing the results of these tests, researchers can help shed light on the evolution of human social cognition.

Researchers also examine the importance of individual personalities and emotional responses in problem-solving abilities. Does one individual’s sharp temper or level-headedness enhance or reduce their ability to solve an issue? This is a relatively uncharted territory within non-human primate cognitive science.

Past research performed at Tchimpounga has also included genetic studies. DNA collected from fecal samples was analyzed to perform paternity tests and to determine the sub-species structure of chimpanzee across Africa. Conservationists wondered if the genetic difference between sub-species was great enough to warrant separate conservation plans; so far, no data has shown that the sub-species are significantly different.

Photos: Top, Jennifer Krogh; Bottom: JGI




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