MOOC filmed at the Zoo


Have you ever taken a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course? MOOCs are open access, unlimited participation courses that you can take from many leading Universities.

University of Edinburgh lecturers Dr Kenny Smith and Dr Suilin Lavelle filmed here at Edinburgh Zoo this summer to highlight many aspects of their course.

The full online MOOC entitled Philosophy and the Sciences is 8 weeks long and is split in 2 parts.

1.Philosophy of Physical Sciences

2.Philosophy of Cognitive Sciences

The discussions and topics in Part 2 are wonderfully highlighted by our capuchins and chimpanzees here in Living Links and the Budongo Trail.

Kenny and Suilin discuss how animals  have not only evolved by physically adapting to their environment but also mentally.  In addition they discuss how social learning can create animal traditions or cultures. Cultures such as different means of using tools in various chimpanzee or capuchin groups.


Click on the link below to sign up to the MOOC!

Baby Squirrel Monkeys are quick to learn the ropes at Living Links

squirrel monkey babies 2014

The Living Links staff and researchers are enjoying the youthful energy of the four newest members of the West troop of squirrel monkeys.

Loki was born in June and Norrisaur, Sofia and Gonzo were born in September this year. Loki has already been showing her cheeky personality by swinging through the enclosure and trying to get the scientists’ attention by jumping into research areas whenever they open the doors.  In fact her personality is what inspired her name ‘Loki’ is the Nordic God of mischief.

It is wonderful to see such enthusiasm for the research from the young monkeys, in fact Loki made her first appearance in the cubicles when she was only 3 days old when her mother Jasmine brought her in. There is no doubt in our researchers’ and keepers’ minds that she will be a keen student and participate well in our learning tasks in the future.

Some of our past squirrel monkey projects have involved learning shapes on touch screens, simple monkey maths and the use of food puzzle boxes. Keep an eye on this blog, our twitter account or now our brand new facebook page to hear more about the amazing monkeys and the research work.

RZSS Living Links Facebook

RZSS Living Links Twitter


Animal Cultures at the Great British Bioscience Festival

From the 14th to the 16th of November the Living Links and St Andrews University researchers attended the Great British Bioscience Festival held in London.

Our stand entitled Animal Cultures demonstrated a wide variety of cultural research conducted with many species including; humpback whales, crows, meerkats and of course our Living Links monkeys.

Don’t worry if you didn’t make it to the festival many of our videos from the stall are available online

animal cultures chimps video shot






and the ‘When in Rome…’ interactive is also available

when rome screen shot 2






The event was a huge success with over 6,500 people visiting the marquee over the 3 days. Click on our gallery to see our researchers in action.

erica at gbbf


Monkey Personality in Glitter Poo?

glitter poo montage

Fig 1 surveysAn animal’s personality can be defined as a consistent pattern of behaviour and thinking.

Twenty of our squirrel monkeys have been personality surveyed by our keepers. This entails the keepers giving our monkeys scores on certain characteristics in their behaviours. For example they look at traits such as sociability, curiousity and timidity (Fig 1).fig 2 factor charts

These traits can then be categorised into broad personality factors. For humans we have five recognised personality factors, whereas the squirrel monkeys are seen to have four (Fig 2).

Some of our squirrel monkeys like Ellie and Georgette (Fig.3) have scored high in assertiveness, whereas others like Toomi and Salvador have scored higher in impulsiveness.

fig 3 monkeys assertive


You are probably wondering ‘when does the poo come into this story?’ And the answer is now.



Vanessa Wilson from Edinburgh University has gained the personality profiles of our monkeys from the zoo keepers’ surveys. What she can now look to see is if these match up with specific genes in the monkeys’ DNA.  The way we get the DNA from the monkeys is by sampling their faeces.glitter poo sandwiches 2

To be sure we match up the right monkey to the correct faecal sample we need to add a marker to their food. Glitter is perfect for this, in fact silver and green glitter seem to work the best (Fig. 4).

What we are looking for in the DNA fig 5of our monkeys are variations in some very specific genes. The ones in question are named DRD4, 5HTT and MAOA.  These genes are directly linked with either dopamine or serotonin systems in the brain (Fig 5).

Dopamine and serotonin play a large role in animal behaviour and personality, so differences in these genes may allow us to see why some of our animals have different personality types.

2 pink beads east PelusaSimilar research has taken place with other animals too, including elephants, orangutans, and dogs. The more species we study, the greater understanding we will have on the connections between animal genes and behaviour. This knowledge can then help us to ensure genetic diversity in captive breeding programmes as well as tailoring or animal care procedures for specific personality types.




Chimp culture seen in ‘real time’

Photo by Cat Hobatier

Researchers, including Dr Catherine Hobaiter from the University of St Andrews, have observed the spread of a new tool being invented and used by a group of wild chimpanzees. This is the first time that researchers have been able to track the spread of a natural behaviour from individual to individual in the wild.

Whilst watching chimpanzees in the Sonso community in the Budongo Forest extracting water from a hole in the forest, the researchers noticed two things that they had never seen before in that group – the use of moss to form sponges and the reuse of leaf sponges. Chimpanzees in the Sonso community regularly form bundles of leaves to soak up water, but the use of moss was novel. By using a statistical technique called network-based diffusion analysis the researchers were able to track the spread of the behaviour from the alpha male who first used it, to other individuals who had been watching him.

The study is published in PLOS Biology and can be found online here. There will be more information about chimpanzee cultures and how we can trace the spread of new behaviours using social networks on the Animal Cultures stand in November.

Animal Cultures at Edinburgh Zoo

P1010604This week the science exhibit Animal Cultures is at Edinburgh Zoo. It is based in the Budongo Trail, where you will also see our resident chimpanzees (including the two-month old baby – Velu) Have a go at a chimp puzzle, while they watch you. Will you be as good as a chimp at learning how to find the hidden food?

Explore how researchers from Scotland and further P1010609afield have used  thousands of hours of observations, advanced gadgetry and fun experiments to work out how animals, from guppies to capuchins monkeys, learn from each other and form traditions. You can try your hand at recording the behaviour of vervet monkeys, attempt to hook out some delicious grubs using crow tools and see how meerkats teach their young to catch deadly scorpions.

The stand will be in Budongo Trail lecture theatre from 10.00 to 16.00 until Sunday 28 September. Each day researchers from the projects featured in the exhibit will be on hand to explain what they do and answer all your questions.

Brinkman & Berlin Brain Rap

This week we welcomed some very special guests to Living Links. Science rapper Baba Brinkman, neuroscientist Heather Berlin and a little baby Brinkman too.

The whole family got involved in enjoying some time at the centre and sharing with the zoo visitors their many talents.

Baba broke out a rap on how we all came from a common ancestor in Africa and highlighted the variety of changes that have occurred in our evolution.

baba rapping kids watching







Then Heather jumped in to tease apart what was going on in Baba’s head as he delivered a freestyle rap.

baba and heather together






And finally baby Brinkman (Hannah) wowed the crowds by demonstrating the human evolutionary trait of bipedalism on a tiny platform.

baby brinkman hand stand







Baba & Heather are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until Sunday August 24th

Tickets are still available for their show ‘Off the Top’

Our Research co-ordinator Dr Lewis Dean will also be a guest star in their final performance, unfortunately baby Brinkman will be having a nap at this time.



Wild Medicine Winner!

Lewis Anderson and Lewis Dean2 great throw by Lewis







During the Edinburgh International Science Festival we hosted an exhibit entitled ‘Wild Medicine’. The display highlighted research on how animals use the natural world around them to medicate themselves and/or prevent illness.

There was a stall in town and also activities and a trail in the zoo. Lewis Anderson successfully completed the zoo trail and was entered into a prize draw to assist in giving our capuchins their preferred medicinal item – Onions!

Today Lewis joined our team in delivering ‘wild medicine’ to our monkeys! All primates involved had a great time.

To learn more about animals using natural remedies see our short video entitled ‘Monkey Medicine’

The basic chimpanzee gesture ‘dictionary’ has been translated, are the capuchins next?

kilimi thinkingMembers of the Scottish Primate Research Group from the University of St Andrews, have revealed what wild chimpanzees are trying to say when they communicate with their body and hand movements.

Dr Catherine Hobaiter and Professor Richard Byrne created a ‘dictionary’ of meanings behind chimp gestures such as arm raises, ground slaps and foot stomps by observing over 80 wild Ugandan chimpanzees.

The results have just been published in the journal Current Biology. Although it has been known for some time that apes use gestures to communicate, it wasn’t until now that we have worked out what they are actually trying to say.

Professor Byrne, explained:

“There is abundant evidence that chimpanzees and other apes gesture with purpose. Apes target their gestures to particular individuals, choosing appropriate gestures according to whether the other is looking or not; they stop gesturing when they get the result they want; and otherwise they keep going, trying out alternative gestures or other tactics altogether.’

In a significant first step towards answering this question, the researchers studied the behaviour of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest, Uganda.  They used video to record communicative interactions, and extracted over 4500 instances of gesturing. They looked specifically at non-playful uses (because in play, gestures may not be used with their ‘real’ meaning) and identified specific meanings for most of the chimpanzee repertoire of 66 gestures.

Amongst the meanings discovered, they found that when a chimpanzee taps another it means ‘stop that’; a hand fling or slapping an object means ‘move away’; while an arm raise means ‘I want that’ or ‘give me that’.

Dr Hobaiter explained:

Just as with human words, some gestures have several senses, but importantly the meanings of chimpanzee gestures are the same irrespective of who uses them. Chimpanzees may use more than one gesture for the same purpose – especially in social negotiations, where the final outcome may be a matter of some give and take”.

The next steps will involve the St Andrews researchers investigating possible variations in meaning behind certain chimpanzee gestures.

Dr Hobaiter added, “Now that the basic chimpanzee gesture ‘dictionary’ is known, we can start to tackle other interesting questions. Do some gestures have very general meanings, where their intended sense is understood from the context? Or do subtle variations in how a gesture is made determine which sense was meant?”

Our question at Living Links is will someone try and match this type of study for our capuchins? We do see a variety of gestures from our monkeys that are linked with social responses from the rest of the group, any SPRG members up for this challenge?

   gesture capuchins

The paper, ‘The meanings of chimpanzee gestures’ is published by Current Biology on Thursday July 3. The paper is available online at:

BBC News:

Jane Goodall welcomed back to Living Links

Jane Goodall DBE, who opened Living Links with Sir Michael Atiyah in 2008, revisited the Centre on 30 April 2014. We were delighted to be able to show her how Living Links has flourished in the six years since opening, with our innovative combination of research and public engagement in a zoo setting.

Jane Goodall and Andrew WhitenResearchers from the Scottish Primate Research Group who work at Living Links and the Budongo Trail were on hand to meet Dr Goodall to discuss their research and, despite overcast conditions, Dr Emily Messer was able to give a demonstration of her work on capuchin fur rubbing (see our video Monkey Medicine for more information).

Professor Andrew Whiten, Director of Living Links, said: ‘It was an enormous pleasure to welcome Jane Goodall back to Living Links. We were able to show her the progress we have made in the Centre and we were delighted to have this pioneering primatologist take her place in our “My Primate Family Tree” mural.’

Dr Goodall spent the day at the zoo and gave the first in RZSS’s ‘Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom’ lecture series.

Jane Goodall and RZSS researchers