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Meet The Team

Past Researchers & Students

2021

2022

2021

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Ruth Bowers Sword

Purdue University, USA

May - August 2023

I graduated from James Madison University with an MSc in Biology where I conducted primate surveys and evaluated the spatiotemporal patterns of gun hunting using passive acoustic monitoring in the Ndokbou forest of Cameroon. I’m currently a Ph.D. student at Purdue University where I will be comparing the effectiveness of traditional forest surveys to the use of passive acoustic monitoring for assessing primate abundance and human disturbance patterns (e.g., gun hunting, logging) across a habitat protection gradient using the Issa Valley research station at GMERC as one of my study sites. Overall, I’m excited to explore the potential use of passive acoustic monitoring as a novel and efficient tool for improving primate conservation 

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Nora Bennamoun

Independent Researcher

August 2022 - July 2023

I have a Bachelor in Biology from the University of Paris-Diderot in France, and I recently graduated in 2021 from the University of Oxford Brookes in England, with an MSc in Primate Conservation. My eagerness to work with chimpanzees led me to GMERC and work in the Issa Valley Research station. As fires occur annually over the dry season at Issa, my primary interest is to investigate how burned landscapes affect primate dietary ecology. I am focusing on primate behavioural responses and specifically diet to see if foods consumed in burned areas have different mechanical properties compared to those in unburned areas. ​

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Laura Jessup

Purdue University, USA

April - July 2023

I am a broadly-trained ecologist using systems-level thinking to promote sustainable relationships among ecosystems and the people that rely on them. Miombo woodlands support millions of people across southern Africa; however, human reliance on the woodlands also puts them at risk of degradation and deforestation, for example, through increased fire frequency. Despite the importance of the woodlands to people, we have an incomplete understanding of the effect of fire on miombo woodlands across the region. At GMERC, I am conducting research to better understand the link between natural forest regeneration, fire regime, understory growth, and plant functional traits in miombo woodlands of western Tanzania*. I plan to expand my research in western Tanzania to include forest-based livelihoods and forest governance to better understand miombo woodlands as a dynamic social-ecological system.

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Romane Leten

Maastricht University (The Netherlands)

March-June 2023

I recently graduated from my Bachelor in liberal arts and natural sciences from the University of Maastricht, The Netherlands. I am currently doing an internship at GMERC to gain field work experience, more specifically in the behavior and communication of primates. My admiration and interest for wildlife and animal behavior started at a young age. My main focus during this internship was to gain skills in field primatology, from behavioural to ecological data collection. This allowed me to better understand the complex relationship between behaviour, ecology, and conservation 

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David Meszaros

Independent Researcher

December 2022-February 2023

I graduated from the University of California, San Diego, in 2021 with a BA in Biological Anthropology and a minor in Psychology. My research interests focus on the behavioral ecology of predator-prey interactions in sympatric non-human primates. Specifically, I am interested in behavioral adaptations to spatial variation in perceived predation risk and the influence of habitat structure on the expression of anti-predator behavior. I came to GMERC to run a pilot study to explore whether primate species that inhabit closed vegetation exhibit differential landscapes of fear compared to those living in open vegetation. I will begin a PhD at The University of Southern California in Fall 2023.

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Payton Sime

Research Student, University of California, Santa Cruz (USA)

September 2021 - October 2022


I graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz with a BA in Biological Anthropology and a BS in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. I have been a part of the Chimpanzee Video Coding Team in the PEMA Lab at UCSC for the last three years where our goal is to "code" the camera trap footage captured in the Issa Valley. This entails recording the species, quantity and behaviour of the animals present in the videos and identifying the chimpanzees by name and age/sex whenever possible. Through this work I have become very familiar with the species and individual chimpanzees living there and am thrilled at the opportunity to put this knowledge to use in the field. During my time here, I will be assisting Seth Phillips with his graduate research concerning termite behaviour and availability as well as collecting preliminary video footage of the chimpanzees termite fishing for a future masters or graduate thesis.

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Francisco Rivas Fuenzalida

PhD student, Purdue University (USA)

October 2022

Former music teacher. PhD student in Soundscape Ecology at Purdue University since 2020. My work includes bird and insect (Orthoptera) bioacoustics, soundscape phenology, remote sensing, and human perception of soundscapes, in particular, the role of specific wildlife sounds on the sense of topophilia, or attachment to the homeland.

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Maire Malone

Post-doctoral researcher, Arizona State University (USA)

August 2022

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Paleoecology Lab in Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins. Prior to this, I obtained my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. I am currently beginning a project collecting detailed ecological data (climate, rainfall, soil and vegetation composition, as well as faunal distribution and abundance data) from the mosaic of habitats and vegetation types at Issa in order to build refined models for reconstructing the paleoenvironments of fossil hominin sites. I am using a combination of survey methods and camera trap footage to access these data. My previous/ongoing work uses hard tissue chemical and structural evidence to investigate dietary, biorhythmic, health, and life history variability in numerous primates, including humans.

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Julia Whelan

Msc student, University College London

April - July 2022

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Marilen Gabel

Bsc student, Unviersity of Hall Van Larenstein (The Netherlands)

February - July 2022

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Seth Phillips

PhD student, Unviersity of California, Santa Cruz

September '21-January 2022

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Natasja Ereira-Guyer

Msc student, Unviersity College London

September-November 2021

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Sam Baker

Msc student, University College London

September-November 2021

A Master’s dissertation on the chimpanzee social custom, Grooming Hand Clasp (GHC) has given me the opportunity to visit this remarkable location in Western Tanzania. Follow days consist of cool morning, and hot afternoon expeditions into the Issa Valley to observe this unique behaviour. The GHC is a culturally transmitted custom whereby two individuals engage in a grooming bout with one arm raised and linked, whilst the other is used to groom. It has been observed in communities of common eastern and western chimpanzees, as well as bonobos of the DRC. A community-wide proliferation inevitably produces clasp variation, variants that occur not just between closely located communities, but also within. Clasps are broadly categorised into palm-to-palm and non-palm-to-palm styles, with further variations subsetting into specific wrist and elbow variations. The main goal of my research is to categorise the distinct styles and variations of the Issa group, whilst identifying any associations between social variables (sex and rank). The GHC is said to be a signal of who-is-who, and my investigation will, with any luck, contribute to this hypothesis. Research aside, to experience days amongst wild chimpanzees is one of the most extraordinary experiences. Combined with an almost therapeutic atmosphere at camp, my time so far, although short, is one of unending amazement. 

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Frauke Olthoff

Project Manager (2020-2021)

Since December 2020 I am the camp manager of the research station in Issa Valley, Tanzania, with a focus on the field management and the support of ongoing and new research projects. 

In 2016 I obtained my Master’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Leipzig and continued my work as a research assistant for the biobanking of the long-term database of the Taï Chimpanzee Project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The opportunities lying in the combination of field work, good data management and new technologies, intrigued me. In 2019/2020 I took up the opportunity to become a field research assistant for the Taï Chimpanzee Project in Ivory Coast focusing on behavioural data collection and data editing.

I am interested in the behavioural ecology of chimpanzees and how they respond to challenging habitats. Understanding behavioural adaptions of wildlife will play a key role in future conservation work. My goal is to continue this path in applied conservation and field management while supporting international research. 

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Gal Badihi

PhD student, University of St. Andrews (Scotland)

June - August 2021

I’m a PhD researcher from the University of St Andrews. My main interest is in the ways animal sociality shapes behaviour. Currently, my research focuses on the use of gestural communication of East African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). I am particularly interested in how individual differences in socio-ecology influence the use of gestures within and across different chimpanzee communities in Tanzania and Uganda.

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Simon Stringer

Researcher

June - September 2021

My background is in Conservation Biology and Ecology. My research interests are wide and varied, however I have a particular interest in African forest systems and primate-plant interactions. My PhD focussed on seed dispersal services of samango monkeys (Cercopithecus
albogularis schwarzi) in South Africa. My research at GMERC aims to expand on my PhD and I hope to delve into fire ecology of Miombo woodlands and how the fires affect animal behaviour.

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Giacomo D'Ammando

Researcher

November 2020 - May 2021

I am a conservationist “in the making”, with a specific interest for the behaviour and ecology of large African mammals. I started my field work in 2013 as an undergraduate at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, investigating the foraging behaviour of eland antelopes in the Magaliesberg mountains of South Africa. I then moved to the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), where I completed my Masters in Animal Ecology on ungulate seasonal movements and landscape-scale resource selection. I have recently completed my PhD project at the University of Liverpool (UK), which focused on the vocalizations of impala, topi, and other antelopes. Over the course of my doctoral studies, I have led the field component of the Maasai Mara Herbivore Project (Kenya), and taken part in other projects across East and southern Africa, targeting large carnivore conservation, human-wildlife conflicts, and community outreach. 

At Issa, I coordinate the on-going behavioural research on chimpanzees, yellow baboons, and red-tailed monkeys, and take care of the overall ecological monitoring of the study area. In particular, I am developing a large-scale camera trap project aimed at estimating the abundance and distribution of large mammals (lion, leopard, hyena, buffalo, roan antelope, etc.), in order to inform suitable conservation and management strategies for these species in the Greater Mahale Ecosystem. 

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Rhianna Drummond-Clarke

Researcher, Chimpanzee positional behaviour

January - November 2020

Rhianna’s fascination with apes started whilst studying for a masters in Palaeobiology at UCL, where she studied ape dental morphology as a means to place fossil apes into ape taxonomy. After graduating in 2013, she wanted to explore the relationship between form and function further, leading her to seek work opportunities with living apes. She has since worked in chimpanzee conservation and research in Guinea and The Ivory Coast, and is now undertaking her own project at Issa, studying our chimpanzee’s positional behaviour and habitat use. She is also investigating how/if their habitat use and behaviour changes in response to seasonal fires

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Christian Howells

Research and Project Manager

December 2019 - September 2020

Christian has an MSc in Primate Conservation from Oxford Brookes University. Carrying out his thesis research in Uganda's Budongo Forest Reserve, he focused on chimpanzee stress hormone responses to fragmented, anthropogenic landscapes. Before completing his MSc, Christian worked with the Borneo Nature Foundation contributing to biodiversity surveys and long-term orangutan, gibbon and red-langur behaviour projects. From 2016 onward Christian has worked as the Research Officer for a zoological park and as a Lecturer in Higher education, specialising in wildlife conservation. His particular interests revolve around the anthropogenic impacts humans can present to wild primates and how humans may alter zoo-housed primate behaviour, both impacting species conservation status and welfare. Christian currently oversees the research at GMERC. 

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Caroline Fryns

Chimpanzee Project Coordinator

May 2019 - July 2020

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Charlotte Bright

Research and Project Manager

January 2019 - November 2019

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Christopher Lile

Researcher

Red-tailed monkey feeding ecology

August 2018 - February 2019

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Anita Erikson

Researcher, University of Oslo (Norway)

Chimpanzee diet

August 2018 - February 2019

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Lillian Fornof

Researcher, Swarthmore College (USA)

Landscapes of fear in red-tailed monkeys

July - August 2018

I conducted research for my undergraduate honors thesis at Issa Valley. My thesis examined the 'landscape of fear' of red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius), which models the spatial distribution of safe and risky regions from predation in a prey's home range. Working with the GMERC team, I was able to collect data on multiple antipredator behaviors to create distinct LOF models for each behavior, a feat not yet done in LOF research. Antipredator behaviors not only created spatially unique LOFs, but were also predicted differently by other environmental and demographic data. These findings challenge whether only one of multiple antipredator behaviors can accurately portray a landscape of the predation risk prey face.

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Rebecca Ingram

Researcher, Landscape chimpanzee surveys

May - October 2018

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Laura Jessup

PhD student, Purdue University (USA)

Soundcapes

April - June 2018

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Bethan Mason

Msc student; Research and Project Manager, Liverpool John Moores University

March 2018; September 2018 - July 2019

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Samantha Hilty

Researcher, University of Texas, Austin (USA)

May - July 2018

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Russel Delahunty

PhD student, Liverpool John Moores University (UK)

Understanding Issa ecology from aerial (drone) data

May - October 2018

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Camille Giuliano

PhD student, Liverpool John Moores University (UK)

Chimpanzee behavioural ecology

April 2018- May 2019

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Matthew Lewis

Researcher, Liverpool John Moores University

Chimpanzee Distribution, Mahale Mountains National Park

February 2018- February 2019

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Daphne Vink

Msc student, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Chimpanzee party size dynamics

January - May 2018

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Seth Phillips

Researcher, University of California, Santa Cruz

Chimpanzee Termite Fishing Ecology

December 2017 - May 2018

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Elise Koole

Intern, Utrecht University (Netherlands)

September-December 2017

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Kyle Sweeney

Researcher

Chimpanzee habituation

August 2017 - June 2018

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Alison Rogers

Researcher and Project Manager

August 2017 - September 2018

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Anne-Sophie Crunchant

PhD student, Liverpool John Moores University (UK)

Chimpanzee Bioacoustics

May-July 2017; March-December 2018; July-October 2019

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Sonja Greil

Intern, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Science (Netherlands)

September-November 2017

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Georgia Sanders

Intern, University of Oxford (UK)

June-September 2017

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Alexandra Robison

Msc student, Liverpool John Moores University (UK)

Yellow baboon leadership

April-June 2017

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Kelly van Leeuwen

PhD student, Bournemouth University (UK)

Agent-based modelling and chimpanzee behavioural ecology

April-June 2017

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Finnoula Taylor

Intern, University of Cambridge (UK)

January - March 2017

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Claire Rigby

Intern, Liverpool John Moores University (UK)

January - March 2017

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Ket Forester

Researcher, University of Bern (Norway)

Baboon sleeping site selection

June-September 2016

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Tiffany Volle

Intern, Liverpool John Moores University

Red-tailed monkey vocalisation repertoire

June-August 2016

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Gabriel Mayengo

Researcher, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (TZ)

Nutrient hotspots for woodland ungulates

April-June 2016

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Adrienne Chitayat

Researcher and Project Manager

Survey Leader, Mahale Mountains National Park

March 2016-March 2017

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Michael Kimaro

Intern, Ruaha Carnivore Project

February - May 2016

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Lizzy Yarwood

Intern, University of Liverpool (UK)

September 2016

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Camille Vitet

Msc student, Universite de Poitiers (France)

Red-tailed monkey male tenure

February-April 2016

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