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 2014. 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

Living Links is a Winner in Public Engagement

andy public engagement







Our founding director of Living Links Professor Andrew Whiten from the University of St Andrews, is to be awarded the Senior Public Engagement Prize 2014 from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) for his extensive, creativity and unique forms of public engagement at the Living Links Centre and beyond.

Each year the RSE highlights some of the UK’s most outstanding talent through its Royal Medals and Prize Winner awards. The awards are given to those working at the present time, and include those who have reached the pinnacle of their discipline and are regarded as such internationally.

President of the RSE, Sir John Arbuthnott, said: ‘One of the great privileges of my role is meeting the Royal Medalists and Prize Winners. These are our highest accolades. They reflect the Enlightenment spirit of the RSE’s Royal Charter of 1783 and its remit to advance learning and useful knowledge. My warmest congratulations to all of this year’s recipients.’

To get an overview of our public engagement activities click on the link below

It’s written all over your face!

Guest Blogger – Annabel Scott , BSc Environmental Stewardship –  Glasgow University

In a recent study by Wilson et al. (2013), the facial structure of capuchin monkeys was examined to see whether differences in this link to different personality traits.

Sixty-four capuchins were examined from three institutes: our Living Links monkeys here in Edinburgh Zoo, the Language Research Centre at Georgia University and the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology at the National Institute of Health.  Front facing photographs were used to find the measurements for each capuchin.  fWHR (facial width to height ratio) was determined by the ratio of bizygomatic width to upper face height as shown below.   Lower face/face height (eyelids-chin/height of whole face) and face width/lower face height (bizygomatic width/height of whole face) were also calculated.

wilson et al monkey face




Personality ratings were collected for each individual by a measure used in non-human primates.  These were scored on a 7-point scale, which ranged from no signs of the trait (1) to extreme display (7).  Five traits were looked at; assertiveness, openness, attentiveness, neuroticism and sociability.  Below are photos that illustrate the differences in capuchin face morphology.

capuchin faces



Examinations of lower face/face showed a significant effect of age as the ratio increases, however no sign of sexual dimorphism.  Neuroticism was found to be non-dimorphic in capuchins, but in humans both neuroticism and lower face/face height are sexually dimorphic.  fWHR is not sexually dimorphic in humans.  Capuchins with higher ratios of lower face/face height (longer lower face) were found to be more neurotic and less attentive.  Therefore facial morphology of capuchins determines three personality traits: assertiveness, attentiveness and neuroticism.

figure one face chart The following graph (Fig. 1.) shows how face width/lower face height has a significant age × sex interaction, with males showing a higher face width/lower face height ratio than females.  These sex differences increase across the life span.  Humans also exhibit sexual dimorphism in this facial metric, however women show higher ratios than men and this also increases with age.

fWHR and face width/lower face height both showed a link to assertiveness.  One possible reason that these facial metrics relate to personality is due to the connection with status and leadership traits.  Status in humans can be based on force or friendship, lower face/face height however, may be driven by vigilance and attention span, therefore linked to a social form of status.

Openness and sociability appear to affect sociality and cognition in capuchins.  Sexual dimorphism may be linked to differences in morphology, so future work with these species may help to understand what determines species-specific personality traits and why they are associated with facial structure.

Further studies could look at sex-specific age growth in capuchin facial metrics and could also examine the effects of location and body weight.  Examining the lower face/face height further could tell us the origins of status effects on well-being and emotional traits, which could be linked to status in humans.


Wilson, V., Lefevre, C.E., Morton, F.B., Brosnan, S.F., Paukner, A. and Bates, T.C. (2013). Personality and facial morphology: Links to assertiveness and neuroticism in capuchins (Sapajus [Cebus] apella), Personality and Individual Differences. (IN PRESS)



Young Primatologist Wins Prestigious European Science Prize

Erica van de WaalCongratulations to St Andrews researcher Dr Erica van de Waal who has been awarded the 2014 Niko Tinbergen Award of the Ethologische Gesellschaft, the Society which organises the annual European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB).

Dr van de Waal will give a plenary lecture at the ECBB meeting in July in Prague.

For the past three years, Dr van de Waal has been a research fellow studying social learning in wild African Vervet monkeys, part of an international collaboration between the Universities of Neuchatel, Zurich and St Andrews, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation(SNSF). This year, she begins her own postdoctoral fellowship in St Andrews to continue her collaboration with Professor Andrew Whiten, funded by the SNSF.

FREE Lecture – The Culture of Apes & Other Animals

Primate (37)Professor Andrew Whiten, from the St Andrews University School of Psychology and Neuroscience, will deliver this year’s Sir James Black Prize and Medal Lecture in Edinburgh.

The lecture will highlight recent discoveries in primates and other species, revealing animal culture as a “second inheritance system” that complements the better known results of genetic inheritance.

Admission is free but seats are already being snapped up, so you must be booked in advance via The Cultures of Apes and other Animals

Date : Monday  19th May 2014
Time : 6:00 pm
Location : The Royal Society of Edinburgh
22-26 George Street,

BBC2 – Wild Brazil Researcher at Living Links

Next week we will be welcoming Camila Galheigo Coelho a PhD student from Durham University who has been studying wild capuchin behaviour.

Some of her work will be featured in the BBC2 three part documentary Wild Brazil which airs January 14 – 16th at 9pm.

She has been studying ‘Social dynamics and the diffusion of novel behaviour patterns’ in capuchin monkeys and our monkeys here will now have a chance to take part in tasks that their wild counter parts have done.

BBC2 researcher wild brazil