Monkeys, Apes and Me: Research Talks at the Zoo

Guest Blog Post by Emmie Bryant, PhD student and the University of St Andrews

Emmie Bryant

Emmie Bryant

Here at Living Links and Budongo Trail, we are proud that our research is visible to our visitors, demonstrating that our work is not invasive or detrimental to our primates and engaging the general public with current scientific research. However, in the short time a visitor spends in Living Links, only a snapshot of what we do can be seen.

That’s why on Wednesday 1st July 2015, a group of researchers at Living Links and Budongo Trail took to the Budongo Lecture Theatre to discuss their findings. Opening with an introduction from the Director of Living Links, Professor Andy Whiten, and chaired by the Deputy Director, Dr Amanda Seed, the event went on to enlighten all attending about the variety of research taking place at Living Links.

Dr Lara Wood, the Research Coordinator at Living Links and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of St Andrews, gave a visual tour of cubicle research at Living Links and explained how a series of puzzle-like tasks may help to find out if capuchin monkeys could build upon their existing knowledge to solve more complicated problems. Zita Polgár, an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh, introduced her observational work on the squirrel monkeys. Does squirrel monkey personality influence the interaction time with visitors at the viewing window? Although no specific effects of personality were apparent, a greater level of interaction between monkeys and larger groups of visitors was observed, suggesting that the monkeys might enjoy visitors!

Dr Lewis Dean, another postdoctoral researcher at the University of St Andrews, took a different approach and introduced us to a lesser-known form of research we do here: work with children! Thousands of children visit Edinburgh Zoo every year, and it is interesting for researchers to look at how essential human cognitive skills develop in our early years, potentially giving us insight into the minds of our primate relatives. Lewis’ experiment involved giving a large and complicated puzzle to small groups of children at a time, then gradually swapping new children into the group to see if the information gained would be passed along and help the group solve the more complicated levels.

A slide from Hannah Buchanan-Smith's talk concerning possible Living Links with wild field sites

A slide from Hannah Buchanan-Smith’s talk concerning possible Living Links with wild field sites

Rounding off the event, an exciting and promising new enterprise was pitched by Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith and her PhD student, Sophia Daoudi, from the University of Stirling. Our Budongo Trail research facility is twinned with a wild chimpanzee research field station in the Budongo Forest of Uganda. As yet, Living Links has no wild counterpart. Hannah and Sophia described plans for a potential field site in Suriname, where researchers could go and study wild brown capuchins and squirrel monkeys. Subject to support from appropriate bodies, this could be a fantastic new avenue for us. We are very excited at the prospect of “Living Wild Links”, so watch this space!

This event is held annually, so if you missed it this time around, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s talks when we’ll have a fresh batch of research to tell you about!


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