Where can I study bonobos in the United States?
October 19, 2012 2:48 PM   Subscribe

What U.S. research labs conduct bonobo research, preferably at nearby research facilities? I'm looking into summer internships and graduate schools.

I'm a junior at a top-ten private university studying cognitive neuroscience (undergrad). Over the past two years, I've decided that I almost certainly want to study bonobos (possibly also chimpanzees, but not really chimps by themselves) as a career. I could literally talk about these apes for hours, and I've read much of the current literature and don't ever get tired of it.

Bonobos are rare and relatively unheard of, and there are few labs that study them. I'm having trouble finding labs that have bonobos (or have nearby access to bonobos) because many labs that publish papers about bonobos do their behavioral studies in far-away research facilities or even overseas.

If I want to work with bonobos in the United States, what are some places I can look into for internships (to be sure this is what I want to do / get a foot in the door) and for graduate school? The head of my department is willing to work with me to get what I need to apply, so right now I'm just looking into labs. For summer internships, I would also be interested in chimp labs, but that's not my primary focus. Bonobos are nearly the opposite of chimps in terms of temperament, and I'm not sure I want to study chimps for more than a year or two.

Thanks for your help!

(An additional note: I would prefer to stay in the U.S., but internationally, there are also a few options: The best place, in my opinion, is Lola Ya Bonobo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which welcomes researchers from Duke and Harvard but is, well, in the Congo (which is extremely dangerous even to visit). I also know of two labs in Germany and Japan, which are possible options, but unfortunately I only speak English right now. I don't think I'd be happy in Japan long-term, but if necessary, I would be willing to learn German in order to study bonobos.)
posted by lemoncakeisalie to Education (10 answers total)
Response by poster: I should add that I'm also interested in research in English-speaking countries like England and Australia.
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 2:56 PM on October 19, 2012

What about Great Ape Trust in Des Moines? They have an internship program.
posted by catlet at 3:00 PM on October 19, 2012

Des Moines Iowa seems to have a facility.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:01 PM on October 19, 2012

The Great Ape Trust is probably what you're seeking. It's in the middle of a bit of controversy right now, though that probably won't affect you.

I went to Lola Ya Bonobo (as a visitor not a researcher) and did not die, but that is just one data point of course. Kinshasa isn't the safest place, but the opportunity to study bonobos in the wild might make it worth the risk.

Also, if the lab you're thinking of in Germany is Max Planck, I'm fairly sure that their program is conducted in English.

You could also potentially get your feet wet with non-invasive behavioral observations in zoos. This website seems to have a list of zoos that have bonobos. That might be a bit more primatological and less psychology-based, but it's something to consider.
posted by bergeycm at 3:21 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I mis-typed. Lola Ya Bonobo obviously has captive animals, albeit ones with semi-naturalistic habitats. I meant to type that the Congo isn't the safest place, but the opportunity to study bonobos in the wild might make it worth the risk. Those are two separate possibilities.
posted by bergeycm at 3:23 PM on October 19, 2012

Best answer: Nope, don't go to Great Ape Trust. They are having some serious issues. There are few labs that have access to bonobos because they're endangered and I don't believe it's legal to breed them in the US for research purposes. You might check in the psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology departments at universities near zoos that have bonobos to see if anyone is running projects. Columbus has bonobos, though there's no one studying them in my department (anthropology); San Diego does too. There are likely other zoos with bonobos too, but as a monkey person I tend to keep out of the ape ways. I'm also an anthropologist, so I'm not particularly well-versed in psych stuff.

That being said, for this summer, I would check out the stuff being done at Yerkes Primate Center. Even if it's not exactly what you're interested in, as an undergrad with this under your belt, it'll set you up really really well to do more work in the field. Along similar lines, you should get in touch with Laurie Santos at Yale. Her lab (mostly capuchin monkeys) has summer internships and summer REUs. The Chimpanzee Human Communication Institute has summer internships and things seem to be run much better than at GAT. You can also check out the Primate Info Network - they're sort of a clearinghouse of research and internships and fieldwork.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:27 PM on October 19, 2012

Best answer: Oh - have you spoken with the researchers at Duke and Harvard? I think Brian Hare is in the evolutionary anthropology department, but also seems to be in charge of the Hominoid Psychology research group - he'd likely be able to, if nothing else, direct you somewhere. Victoria Wobber is a post-doc in Harvard's psych department at this lab. You might want to e-mail her and the lab PI to see if they'll have any REUs this summer.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:34 PM on October 19, 2012

How much experience do you have already? As has been mentioned, bonobo research is pretty limited. Have you considered other non-human primates as a way to get your foot in the door with the bonobos? The Oregon National Primate Research Center, affiliated with Oregon Health and Science University, in the Portland area has rhesus macaques, cynomolgus macaques, Japanese macaques, vervets, and some baboons.

Here's a list of the working research groups at ONPRC. Maybe see if any of them catch your eye and then email the PIs?

(Disclosure: I'm in research but not NHP research.)
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:20 PM on October 19, 2012

NIH runs 8 primate research centers.

The San Diego Zoo has a large population of Bonobos.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:38 PM on October 19, 2012

Response by poster: I've observed bonobos in zoos on several occasions. What I'm looking for is a foot in the door to a career studying them hands-on. :)

I'll leave this question open for any more answers, but as a follow-up I've found three programs that look highly promising:

Emory's SURE Program (Frans de Waal is at Emory - he's basically the closest thing bonobos have to a Jane Goodall)
Summer Internship Program (with capuchins) at Santos Lab (CapLab) (I've read a couple really great papers of hers for classes)
Volunteer Summer Internship at Duke's Lemur Lab (Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods are two incredible bonobo researchers affiliated with this group)

I've also contacted Richard Wrangham at Harvard to see if he knows of any avenues to pursue and since I'm planning on taking a class of his in the fall.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 12:49 PM on October 20, 2012

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