The Kibale Chimpanzee Project, established by Dr. Richard Wrangham in 1987, is a long-term field study of the behavior, ecology, and physiology of wild chimpanzees. Our researchers and field staff conduct daily behavioral observations on a group of approximately 60 chimpanzees in the Kanyawara region of Kibale National Park, southwestern Uganda. This research contributes to our understanding of primate behavioral diversity, human evolutionary ecology, and chimpanzee conservation. Please see our publications page for information about this research. On a daily basis, KCP field staff and researchers collect data on chimpanzee social behavior, party composition, ranging, feeding, and health. These observations are supplemented by collection of specialized data, including detailed records of play, tool use, hunting, aggression, and forest phenology. We also conduct non-invasive urine sampling, for hormonal analysis, and fecal sampling, for genetic studies.
What is it like to study wild chimpanzees? Kanyawara researchers wake before dawn to find chimpanzees in their sleeping nests. Chimpanzees range over a large area, so it can sometimes take more than an hour to reach the nest site on foot. If the research team does not know where the chimpanzees slept the previous night, they listen for calls or visit trees containing fruits that chimpanzees enjoy. Once a group is located, researchers choose a focal individual to follow for the entire day. Like humans, chimpanzees differ widely in their facial features, body shapes, and coloration, permitting individual recognition. Chimpanzees do not travel in a cohesive group, but change their companions throughout the day. A chimpanzee may eat breakfast with a close relative, lunch with a friend, and dinner with a rival. Chimpanzees know every member of their extended social community, however, and are hostile toward most strangers. While one researcher closely observes the focal chimpanzee, recording its behavior in detail, others take data on the group as a whole — who is present, where they are, and what they are eating. If a chimpanzee urinates, observers try to catch some of the stream on a sheet of plastic, saving it in a small tube to be frozen in camp. Researchers maintain a distance of at least 5 meters from the chimpanzees, to minimize the potential for disease transmission or behavioral disruption. The Kanyawara group has been followed for more than 25 years, however, so most are unconcerned by the presence of researchers, often ignoring observers completely. Researchers normally leave their focal between 6 and 7 pm, safely ensconced in a new night nest. Some days with chimpanzees are unbelievably tedious, with nothing to fracture a dreary cycle of eating and napping. Other days are enlivened by the unforgettable thrill of a monkey hunt, a lethal battle between groups, or the birth of a new infant.
Our long-term research team is supervised by Dr. Emily Otali, who received her PhD from Makerere University. She coordinates the staff of talented field assistants whose intricate knowledge of the forest and the chimpanzees makes our research possible. Dr. Otali also acts as a field coordinator for our conservation and education programs. KCP is housed at the Makerere University Biological Field Station. Research is performed under the auspices of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology, and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees of the researchers’ home universities.
Long-term research at Kanyawara has been supported by the National Science Foundation (awards 9807448, 0416125, and 1355014), the National Institutes of Health, the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the National Geographic Society, Harvard University, and the University of New Mexico.