Meet The Team

Current Researchers and Students


Frauke Olthoff

Researcher & Project Manager

December 2020 - present

Since December 2020 I have been the project manager at Issa, supporting 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 became 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.


Seth Phillips

PhD student, University of California, Santa Cruz

September 2021 - Present

I am a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Department at the University of California Santa Cruz. I am returning to the Issa Valley to complete data collection for my investigation into how the seasonal ecology of Macrotermes termites influences Issa chimpanzee termite-fishing behavior. Myself and my field assistant will be monitoring daily changes in termite activity at Macrotermes mounds and experimentally termite-fishing in the style of Issa chimpanzees. Additionally, I am closely analyzing chimpanzee termite-fishing behavior from camera trap footage at these mounds over multiple years. This data will help us to assess how fluctuations in Macrotermes activity near the surface of mounds may influence the ability and manner in which chimpanzees exploit this ephemeral resource. I am thrilled to have to privilege to return to the Issa Valley and work alongside friends old and new.


Sam Baker

Msc student, University College London

September 2021 - Present

I am a Msc student in the Department of Anthropology at University College London. The main goal of my research is to categorise the distinct styles and variations of the Grooming Hand Clasp (GHC) in the Issa community, whilst identifying any associations between social variables (sex and rank). 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. A community-wide proliferation inevitably produces clasp variation, variants that occur not just between but also within communities. At Issa, I will use behavioural observation and video documentation to investigate the broader context of GHC.


Payton Sime

Research student, University of California, Santa Cruz

September 2021 - Present

My name is Payton Sime. 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.


Natasha Ereira-Guyer

Msc student, University College London

September 2021 - Present

I am a Human Evolution and Behaviour MSc student at University College London (UCL). I work in sustainable social development and I’m interested in how a good understanding of humans (and their closest living relatives) can be leveraged to create effective policy. For my dissertation, I am looking into the space-use patterns of female chimpanzees at Issa Valley Research Station in Western Tanzania. 

     In rain-forested study communities, females’ core areas have been shown to vary in quality, with more dominant females having ‘higher quality’ core areas. However, it is not well-understood whether this takes place in a savannah landscape like Issa: even though the ecological conditions bear more similarity to what is thought to be the evolutionary conditions of early humans, chimpanzees are rarely studied in a mosaic environment like Issa, which comprises woodlands, grasslands, and riverine forests. My study will investigate the foraging quality of female's ‘core areas’.