There’s always a great range of innovative and exciting new research going on at Sonso – scroll down for a look through our current projects, or visit the Budongo webpage to check out past studies.

The effect of snare injuries on infant care and parasite infection in wild female chimpanzees – Harmony Yersin, University of Neuchâtel


In recent years, human population near habitats where wild chimpanzees live have been increasing. One consequence is the illegal setting of snares hidden in the forests to catch animals. The chimpanzees are not targeted by poachers, but they are sometimes accidentally caught in the snares. Most survive, but they will suffer lifelong consequences. It is estimated that one third of chimpanzees in Budongo Forest, Uganda, suffer from health problems due to snare injuries.

Various studies have already been conducted on the problem of snaring in Budongo Forest. In this study, I will focus on the relation between snare injuries and female reproductive success by focussing on three aspects that have received comparably little attention so far: (a) behavioural differences in infant care of snared and healthy mothers, (b) differences in intestinal parasite load of snared and healthy mothers and (c) predisposition of contracting human diseases.

Multi-modal communication in male wild chimpanzees, influence of the hierarchy – Nathalie Richi, University of Neuchâtel


For my Master’s Project, I’m looking at the multimodal system of communication between male chimpanzees. Potentially relevant factors within a wild community are the age, sex, and social rank of the signaller, as well as the complexity of the social interactions. I am interested to see if the hierarchy has an effect on the communication between males. My goal is to compare the uni- and multi-modal communication of different males, and the frequency of gestures or vocalizations. The prediction is that the use of different modes of communication will be dependant on their social position within the group.

Multimodal communication in wild chimpanzeesCat Hobaiter, University of St Andrews

Ever seen someone moving their hands while they’re talking, even when they’re on the phone? The integration of gestures, vocalizations, facial expressions and body postures is something that we all do whenever we’re communicating. Chimpanzees also have a rich repertoire of gestures, vocalizations and facial expressions, and, just like us, they don’t use these in isolation but combine them in an integrated multimodal system of communication. At Budongo have now started the first systematic study of multimodal communication in a wild ape; in doing so we hope not only to gain a better understanding of chimpanzee communication, but also to start to understand the origins of the system on which our own human language was scaffolded.

Coordination of attention of human and chimpanzee mother-infant pairs – Tanja KallerUniversity of York


Tanja is conducting pilot work for a study which will combine a mixed observational and experimental approach investigating the shared-attentional skills of both humans and chimpanzees in mother-infant pairs.

Causal cognition and intentional communication in wild chimpanzees Thibaud Gruber, University of St Andrews

They are two sides of a broad cognitive domain which basically requires understanding of “mean-effect” relationships. Therefore, I aim to investigate these relationships from the physical domain side, focusing especially on tool use, and from the social domain side, focusing on the content and the meaning of grunts, as well as different specific contexts such as predator detection or food avertising.

Gestural Communication in Wild Chimpanzees Cat Hobaiter, University of St Andrews

gestural communication is frequently used during play

This Ph.D. study, supervised by Professor Richard Byrne, is looking into the nature of intentional gesturing in a wild population of chimpanzees. While alot of work has been done on captive groups no-one has yet conducted a systematic study of gestural communication in wild chimpanzees and we’re very interested to find out to what extent the findings in captive groups generalize to a wild population. My basic method is the detailed analysis of videotaped observations.

Infant Chimpanzee Vocal DevelopmentMarion Laport, University of St Andrews

For her PhD, supervised by Prof. Klaus Zuberbühler, Marion Laporte is investigating the patterns that underlie the emergence of chimpanzee vocal communication and is more specifically interested in one vocalisation, the pant-grunt.

Study of the alarm calling system of the eastern black and white Colobus (Colobus Guereza) – Agnés Candiotti, M.Sc. student, Ecole Normale Superieur de Lyon, France

The aim of this study is to investigate the meaning of the black and white Colobus monkeys’ alarm calls, naturally emitted in reaction to a predator. Playback experiments are conducted to compare the reaction of the monkeys to vocalisations of their predators and to their own alarm calls.

Detecting changes in the extent of African forests and savannas using satellite images and field studies – Edward Mitchard, University of Edinburgh

We do not know accurately the extent of forest, woodland and savanna ecotypes across tropical Africa, and have even less idea about the rate of change of these ecotypes over the past century, despite the obvious importance of such knowledge for social, ecological and climate research resons. This PhD, supervised by Dr Patrick Meir, aims to use radar and optical satellite imagery dating back to the 1970s, as well as historical aerial photographs and field data, to create and verify methodologies to assess changes in the forest-savanna boundary. Budongo Forest has the oldest permanent sample plots in any tropical forest, and as such is of interest to this project, so Edward Mitchard relocated 5 of these plots, first set up in the late 1930s, in 2008, and remeasured every tree in one in its entirety, in order to help calibrate and validate the satellite change detection. Early results from Cameroon, Gabon and Mozambique, as well as Uganda, suggest that as well as heavy deforestation in some areas, rapid woody encroachment is occurring in many savannas, which has the potential to mitigate climate change.

Effect of matrix habitats and fragment size on the avian composition in fragments around the Budongo Forest Reserve – Maureen Uwimbabazi, Makerere University, M.Sc. student.

The project is looking at the effect of various factors on avian composition in 6 fragments around Budongo, namely: Rwesama, Kasokwa, Kinyara, Tengele, Waki, Ongo and will have controls in the Nyakafunjo and Siba main block.

Chimpanzee Health Monitoring Project

We have recently been joined by vet Tonny Kidega, who is setting up a number of projects designed to monitor the long term health of the Sonso Chimpanzee community. To contact Tonny about the project please leave a message in the forum.

In January 2009 Tonny, in collaboration with other vets and conservation workers, successfully freed a young female chimp from a mantrap snare. To read his full report click here.

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