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Department of Primatology

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (0)341 3550 - 200
fax: +49 (0)341 3550 - 299


March 2017:


February 29, 2016: Why do chimpanzees throw stones at trees?
Chimpanzee West Africa

Newly discovered stone tool-use behavior and accumulation sites in wild chimpanzees reminiscent to human cairns

Chimpanzees often use tools to extract or consume food. Which tools they choose for which purpose, however, can differ depending on the region where they live. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have thus initiated the ‘Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee’ and, since 2010, have collected data on chimpanzee behavior, demography and resource availability across Africa following a standardized protocol. This is how the researchers encountered a thus far unknown behavior: In West Africa chimpanzees throw stones at trees resulting in conspicuous accumulations at these sites. Why exactly the animals do this the researchers do not yet know, yet the behavior appears to have some cultural elements.

Link to press release

Original publication

February 25, 2016: 'Cocktail' orang-utans leave researchers shaken and stirred
Borneo orang-utans

Reintroduction of genetically distinct subspecies has led to hybridization in an endangered wild population

As their natural habitats continue to be destroyed, increasing numbers of displaced endangered mammals are taken to sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres worldwide. The ultimate goal of these centres is often reintroduction: to return these animals to wild populations. In a new study published today in Scientific Reports, however, Graham L Banes and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, caution that such reintroductions can act as a form of genetic translocation. By using genetic analysis to assess a subset of historical reintroductions into Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia, they found that orang-utans from a non-native and genetically distinct subspecies were unwittingly released and have since hybridized with the Park’s wild population. As orang-utan subspecies are thought to have diverged around 176,000 years ago, with marked differentiation over the last 80,000 years, the researchers highlight the potential for negative effects on the viability of populations already under threat.

Link to press release

Original publication

January 21, 2016: Fleeting fruit in a tropical rainforest
Chimpanzee and fruit

To find energy-rich food, like tropical ripe fruit, is a challenge for chimpanzees

In our supermarkets we buy raspberries in winter and chestnuts in summer. But how challenging would life become, if we needed to consume large amounts of fruit for our daily meal and had to collect them ourselves? With a largely plant-based diet, simple stomachs, and the additional cost of maintaining relatively large brains, chimpanzees face a serious challenge in their daily search for energy and nutrients. Using data on the monthly availability of young leaves, unripe and ripe fruits in three tropical rain forests in East, Central and West Africa, a consortium of researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Harvard University, McGill University, the University of St. Andrews and the Université Félix Houphouët Boigny, estimated how difficult it is for chimpanzees to find food and to predict its availability in individual trees. This study reports which cognitive strategies chimpanzees can use to gain privileged access to the most energy-rich but ephemeral food.

Link to press release

Original publication

September 11, 2015: Female bonobos: Pointing it out

In order to communicate their intentions wild bonobos use referential gestural communication

Pointing and pantomime are important components of human communication but so far evidence for referential communication in animals is limited. Observations made by researchers Pamela Heidi Douglas and Liza Moscovice of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, make important contributions to this research topic: To solve social conflicts female bonobos invite other females to engage in a socio-sexual behavior by using pointing gestures and mimicking hip swings. This observation raises new questions about the evolution of referential communication and human language.

Link to press release

Original publication

September 01, 2015: Orang-utan females prefer cheek-padded males
Male orang-utans

Dominant, cheek-padded orang-utan males are significantly more successful at fathering offspring – except in times of rank instability

Unlike most mammals, male orang-utans express one of two distinct morphological forms: some develop large “cheek pads” on their faces; others do not. A team of researchers led by Graham L. Banes and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studied the reproductive success of Kusasi, the former dominant male at Camp Leakey in Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park and compared it with that of socially subordinate, non-cheek-padded males from the same area. To this aim the researchers collected faecal samples and performed paternity testing. They found that, during his decade as “king” of the jungle, Kusasi fathered significantly more offspring than any other male. Only during periods of rank instability, in the beginning and at the end of Kusasi’s dominance, did other males succeed in fathering offspring. The findings are published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Link to press release

Original publication

August 25, 2015: Chimpanzees coping with forest loss

A genetic survey finds an unexpectedly large population of chimpanzees in forest fragments

By collecting faecal samples and analysing them genetically a team of researchers found three times more chimpanzees than expected in a series of patchy forest fragments near villages in Uganda. This finding suggests that chimpanzees can cope with habitat degradation better than expected, at least in the short term, but also highlights the importance of conservation strategies focused on protecting chimpanzees outside established national parks or reserves.

Link to press release

Original publiation

May 20, 2015: Mountain gorilla mamas sidestep having inbred offspring

Genetic study shows that dominant males never sire the offspring of their daughters

Some mountain gorilla females linger into adulthood in the group into which they were born. In the process they also remain in the company of their father, who is often their group’s dominant male. To curb inbreeding, though, they appear to tactically avoid mating with their fathers. This strategy works so well that the chances of alpha gorilla males siring the offspring of their own daughters are effectively zero, according to Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology in Germany. The findings are published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Link to press release

Original publication

April 23, 2015: 2015 Winner Announced - Chimpanzee Conservation
Christophe Boesch (left)

A multi-level conservation project, which aims to protect the largest remaining population of wild chimpanzees on the Foutah Djallon-Bafing River (FDBR) region in Guinea, West Africa has won this year’s St Andrews Prize for the Environment. At a ceremony at the University of St Andrews today, Christophe Boesch from the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), and director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, was presented with the winning prize of $100,000 USD.

Download press release (pdf)

The St Andrews Prize

The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation

April 21, 2015: Participation sought! New citizen science project

Volunteers will screen video footage filmed by camera traps and identify wild African animal

With Chimp&See, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee are embarking on a new citizen science project hosted by the online platform Zooniverse. Anyone wishing to help biologists evaluate video sequences taken from camera traps in Africa can find general information and watch short clips at http://www.chimpandsee.org; with a little luck, they will spot chimpanzees and other wild animals. In celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd, this special citizen science project will be launched online.

Link to press release

April 16, 2015: Oldest evidence for the use of mushrooms as a food source
Plant fragment

Analyses of old dental calculus show that humans consumed plant foods and mushrooms as early as the Upper Palaeolithic

The human diet during the Magdalenian phase of Europe’s Upper Palaeolithic between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago is poorly known. This is particularly a problem regarding food resources that leave little trace such as plant foods. An international research team, led by Robert Power of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now explored diet in the period through dental calculus analysis on Magdalenian individuals found at El Mirón Cave in Cantabria, Spain. The researchers found that already Upper Palaeolithic individuals used a variety of plant foods and mushrooms, in addition to other food sources.

Link to press release

Original publication

March 18, 2015: Eavesdropping on the forest to monitor wildlife
King colobus monkey

Researchers develop a novel passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) method for the automated detection of chimpanzees and two monkey species

Traditionally, censusing of wild primates has been conducted using transect methodology where teams of human surveyors walk kilometers of line transects to collect data on primate sightings and vocalizations. Motivated by the increasing availability of cost-efficient audio-visual technologies, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT) in Ilmenau, investigated to what extent autonomous recording devices, combined with an automated data processing approach, could be used to monitor wild forest primates. To achieve this goal they used an interdisciplinary team of sound engineers, biomonitoring specialists, statisticians, and primate vocalization experts.

Link to press release

Original publication

February 25, 2015: Detection dog efficacy for collecting faecal samples from the critically endangered Cross River gorilla for genetic censusing

The critically endangered Cross River gorilla inhabits a region of high  biodiversity on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon but has been poorly  studied due the rugged terrain they inhabit, their cryptic behaviour and  low population densities. We used scat detecting dogs to find gorilla  feces for genetic analyses at two sites in Cameroon and compared the effectiveness of dog- andhuman-directed searches. Dog-directed surveys  resulted in more reliable population estimates. To realize the full  potential of dog-directed surveys and increase cost-effectiveness,  dog-detection teams should be based in the countries of operation and  the dog detection targets should be expanded.

Link to original publication: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/2/140423

Download press release (pdf in German)

05. Februar 2015: Gesellschaft für Primatologie tagt in Leipzig

Die 14. Konferenz der Gesellschaft für Primatologie (GfP) findet vom 11.-13. Februar 2015 am Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie und an der Universität Leipzig statt.

Die Fachtagung der Gesellschaft für Primatologie findet im zweijährigen Turnus statt und versammelt etwa 150 national und international tätige Affenforscher und Naturschützer. Ziel der Tagung ist es, den wissenschaftlichen Austausch zwischen Primatologen aller Bereiche und mit unterschiedlicher Berufserfahrung zu fördern. Ab dem 09. Februar und während der Tagung können auch Bilder bestaunt werden, die von Schimpansen gemalt wurden. Diese Bilder stammen aus dem Nachlass von Prof. Robert Glaser.

Link zur Pressemitteilung

Infos zur Ausstellung "Malereien von Menschenaffen"

January 14, 2015: Wild chimpanzee vocalizations can convey information about food patch size
Adult chimpanzee

Chimpanzees modify their food calls with respect to tree size for a high valued fruit species.

The vocalization capabilities of our closest living relatives, the great apes, often pale in comparison to their flexible gestural repertoire. However, the vast majority of literature on great ape communication, gestural and vocal, comes from studies conducted in captivity where the surrounding environment is vastly different from the socio-ecological context in which wild apes naturally communicate. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated a specific call type, the chimpanzee food call, which has already been shown to be produced solely during a foraging context, and a study in captivity has also provided evidence for the call being functionally referential to conspecifics.

Download press release (pdf)

Original publication

January 02, 2015: Cracking the case

Wild chimpanzees select nut-cracking tools taking account of up to five different factors

Are chimpanzees sensitive to the effect of an object’s properties on nut-cracking efficiency and plan their tool selection accordingly? An international team of researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now investigated the selection of hammers used for cracking Coula edulis nuts by wild chimpanzees in the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire, taking into account the availability of potential tools at the site and time at which each tool selection episode occurred. The researchers found that wild chimpanzees select the optimal tool for the task at hand by considering several variables and conditions at once, including the weight, the material and the hardness of the hammer, the location of the anvil and whether they needed to transport it over a distance.

Link to press release

Original publication

December 15, 2014: Education and alternative protein sources may help protect biodiversity in tropical Africa

Information on socio-economic development processes and their impact on the biodiversity in tropical Africa need to be taken into consideration when it comes to designing effective conservation strategies. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated the links between human well-being and biodiversity protection in Liberia, West Africa.

Download press release (pdf)

October 27, 2014: The early chimp gets the fig
young chimpanzee

Wild chimpanzees plan their breakfast time, type and location

How do our close relatives, the chimpanzees, acquire sufficient food when times are lean? By studying wild chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, provide a clear example of how great apes can acquire extra energy needed to maintain large, costly brains. They show that chimpanzees make their sleeping nests more en route to breakfast sites containing fruits that are more competed for by other daytime fruit-eaters than other fruits. Moreover, the researchers found that they leave their nest earlier (and often in the dark when leopards are more likely to attack) for these fruits in order to arrive before others, especially when the breakfast sites were far away.

Link to press release

April 09, 2014: One of the last strongholds for Western chimpanzees

Liberia is home to the second largest chimpanzee population in West Africa

When Liberia enters the news it is usually in the context of civil war, economic crisis, poverty or a disease outbreak such as the recent emergence of Ebola in West Africa. Liberia’s status as a biodiversity hotspot and the fact that it is home to some of the last viable and threatened wildlife populations in West Africa has received little media attention in the past. This is partly because the many years of violent conflict in Liberia, from 1989 to 1997 and from 2002 to 2003, thwarted efforts of biologists to conduct biological surveys. An international research team, including scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now counted chimpanzees and other large mammals living in Liberia. The census revealed that this country is home to 7000 chimpanzees and therefore to the second largest population of the Western subspecies of chimpanzees. As Liberia has released large areas for deforestation, the local decision-makers can now use the results of this study in order to protect the chimpanzees more effectively.

Link to press release

April 03, 2014: Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Guinea - impact on wildlife?

A team of interdisciplinary scientists arrived in Guinea April 2nd 2014 to investigate a possible epidemic of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) amongst wildlife in the region were human cases occurred. In a joint mission between the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation – Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire (WCF), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the Institute of Tropical Medicine and International Health (ITMIH) of Charité – University Medicine Berlin, and the National Laboratory for Agricultural Development (LANADA, Côte d’Ivoire), the team will systematically monitor wildlife around the outbreak areas.

Link to press release

February 05, 2014: New large population of chimpanzees discovered

Several thousand chimpanzees inhabit a remote forest area in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo

With great ape populations in fast decline, it is crucial to obtain a global picture of their distribution and abundance, in order to channel and direct conservation activities to where they are most needed. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands conducted hundreds of kilometers of chimpanzee surveys at multiple sites in the Central Uele region of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo and discovered a large, continuous population of Eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). The population in the remote Bili-Gangu forest was surveyed in 2005 with line transects and again in 2012, and appears to have remained stable. The total area surveyed, which encompasses about 50,000 square kilometers, is home to several thousands of chimpanzees and, according to the researchers, should be considered a priority site for conservation of the eastern subspecies.

Link to press release

February 05, 2014: Friend or foe

Chimpanzees keep track of other group members’ bonding partners and use this knowledge in conflict situations

To know who your opponents’ family and friends are can be of advantage in a conflict situation. Humans make predictions about other people’s social relationships frequently. Whether other animals also have the cognitive skills to track their group mates’ social relationships across time and beyond close kin has so far not been known. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have now conducted playback experiments with wild-living chimpanzees from Budongo Forest in Uganda. Two hours after a subject attacked or had been attacked by an opponent, the researchers broadcast the recording of a third individual’s aggressive barks from a speaker near the subject. If the call provider was their opponent’s close buddy or kin, subjects looked longer and moved away more often from barks than if the call provider was not a bond partner. This shows that chimpanzees know who their group mates’ kin or non-kin bond partners are and that their behavior may have an impact on them.

Link to press release

New documentation about the Taï chimpanzees

Please do not miss watching this new documentation (in German or French) about the Taï chimpanzees, Dr. Tobias Deschner and Adnan at ARTE: 16.01.2014 at 19:00 pm or 23.01. at 7:45 am


January 15, 2014: The way to a chimpanzee's heart is through its stomach

Chimpanzees who share their food with others have higher levels of the hormone oxytocin in their urine

The ability to form long-term cooperative relationships between unrelated individuals is one of the main reasons for human’s extraordinary biological success, yet little is known about its evolution and mechanisms. The hormone oxytocin, however, plays a role in it. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, measured the urinary oxytocin levels in wild chimpanzees after food sharing and found them to be elevated in both donor and receiver compared to social feeding events without sharing. Furthermore, oxytocin levels were higher after food sharing than after grooming, another cooperative behaviour, suggesting that food sharing might play a more important role in promoting social bonding. By using the same neurobiological mechanisms, which evolved within the context of building and strengthening the mother-offspring bond during lactation, food sharing might even act as a trigger for cooperative relationships in related and unrelated adult chimpanzees.

Link to press release

December 16, 2013: Bonobos stay young longer

Contrary to humans and chimpanzees bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormones well into adulthood

Despite the fact that chimpanzees and bonobos share similar starting conditions at birth they develop different behavioural patterns later in life. These differences might be caused by different hormone levels. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp in Belgium have analyzed thyroid hormones from urine samples of zoo-living chimpanzees and bonobos. They discovered that bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormone concentrations well into adulthood, whereas in humans and chimpanzees thyroid hormone concentrations decline after puberty. The late decline of thyroid hormones in bonobos might have consequences on their behaviour and might also indicate a delayed development of their mental capacities.

Link to press release

October 23, 2013: Long-term memory helps chimpanzees in their search for food
female chimpanzee

Searching for bountiful fruit crops in the rain forest, chimpanzees remember past feeding experiences

Where do you go when the fruits in your favourite food tree are gone and you don’t know which other tree has produced new fruit yet? An international team of researchers, led by Karline Janmaat from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studied whether chimpanzees aim their travel to particular rainforest trees to check for fruit and how they increase their chances of discovering bountiful fruit crops. The scientists found that chimpanzees use long-term memory of the size and location of fruit trees and remember feeding experiences from previous seasons using a memory window which can be two months to three years ago.

Link to press release

July 15, 2013: Attractive and successful

In bonobos, attractive females are more likely to win conflicts against males

Female social dominance over males is rare among mammal species. Bonobos, one of our closest living relatives, are known for females holding relatively high social statuses when compared to males; though this is puzzling as the males are often bigger and stronger than the females. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now analyzed the dominance relations between male and female wild bonobos and took particular interest in the high social status ranking of some females. The result: It is not female alliances that help females win conflicts. The context of the conflict does not seem to be relevant for its outcome either. Instead, the attractiveness of females plays an important role. If females display sexually attractive attributes, including sexual swellings, they win conflicts with males more easily, with the males behaving in a less aggressive way.

Link to press release

May 29, 2013: Malaria protection in chimpanzees

Researchers found that adult wild chimpanzees have developed a certain immunity against malaria parasites

Wild great apes are widely infected with malaria parasites. Yet, nothing is known about the biology of these infections in the wild. Using faecal samples collected from wild chimpanzees, an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin has now investigated the effect of the animals’ age on malaria parasite detection rates. The data show a strong association between age and malaria parasite positivity, with significantly lower detection rates in adult chimpanzees. This suggests that, as in humans, individuals reaching adulthood have mounted an effective protective immunity against malaria parasites.

Link to press release

April 10, 2013: Botanists in the Rainforest
Inspection for fruit

Chimpanzees use Botanical Skills to Discover Fruit

Fruit-eating animals are known to use their spatial memory to relocate fruit, yet, it is unclear how they manage to find fruit in the first place. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated which strategies chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, use in order to find fruit in the rain forest. The result: Chimpanzees know that trees of certain species produce fruit simultaneously and use this botanical knowledge during their daily search for fruit.

Link to press release

March 25, 2013: In chimpanzees hunting and meat-eating is a man’s business
Gifted adult male hunter Brutus holds out meat for the less successful, and uninterested, hunter Kendo while a female looks on. © MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology/Christophe Boesch

Max Planck researchers find stable isotope evidence of meat eating and hunting specialization in adult male chimpanzees

Observations of hunting and meat eating in our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, suggest that regular inclusion of meat in the diet is not a characteristic unique to Homo. Wild chimpanzees are known to consume vertebrate meat, but its actual dietary contribution is often unknown. Constraints on continual direct observation throughout the entire hunting season mean that behavioural observations are limited in their ability to accurately quantify meat consumption. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now compared stable isotope data of wild chimpanzee hair keratin and bone collagen with behavioural observations and found that, in chimpanzees, hunting and meat-eating is male-dominated. These new results support previous behavioural observations of chimpanzees in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire.

Link to press release

Taï chimpanzees featured in Hollywood movie

Oscar, Freddy and Isha are the stars of the new Disneynature film CHIMPANZEE which opens in France on February 20th, 2013 and in Germany on May 09th, 2013! This marks the first time ever that a feature film was shot entirely in the wild, and uses footage from the chimpanzees living in the Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire and in the Ngogo area of the Kibale National Park, Uganda. The 3 main stars, Oscar, Freddy and Isha, belong to the chimpanzee groups that Max Planck Director Christophe Boesch and his team have studied for the last 33 years in Côte d’Ivoire.

For more detailed information go to:


30. April 2013: Und die Geschichte ist eben nicht erfunden / and the story has not been made up

press release (german)
press release (english)

September 25, 2012: Dwindling space for Africa's great apes

press release (english)
press release (german)


May 10, 2012: Chimpanzee cultures differ between neighbors

press release (english)
press release (german)

April 26, 2012: Taï chimpanzees featured in Hollywood movie

press release (english)
press release (german)

June 17, 2009: "One million people for Apes"

press release (english)
press release (german)
press release (french)

January 24, 2009: Fewer mountain gorillas than believed

article in New Scientist (pdf)
publication (pdf)

October 14, 2008: Alarming decline of West African chimpanzees in Côte d’Ivoire

press release (pdf)

April 04, 2008: Let us stop the ecocide and disappearance of great apes! Launch of the manifesto mAn

press release (pdf)
manifest (pdf)