Rosati, A. G., Sabbi, K. H., Bryer, M. A. H. et al. 2023. Observational approaches to chimpanzee behavior in an African sanctuary: Implications for research, welfare, and capacity-building. American Journal of Primatology 85(9), e23534.

Research in African ape sanctuaries has emerged as an important context for our understanding of comparative cognition and behavior. While much of this work has focused on experimental studies of cognition, these animals semi-free-range in forest habitats and therefore can also provide important information about the behavior of primates in socioecologically-relevant naturalistic contexts. In this “New Approaches” article, we describe a project where we implemented a synthetic program of observational data collection at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda, directly modeled after long-term data collection protocols at the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda, a wild chimpanzee field site. The foundation for this project was a strong partnership between sanctuary staff, field site staff, and external researchers. We describe how we developed a data-collection protocol through discussion and collaboration among these groups, and trained sanctuary caregivers to collect novel observational data using these protocols. We use these data as a case study to examine: (1) how behavioral observations in sanctuaries can inform primate welfare and care practices, such as by understanding aggression within the group; (2) how matched observational protocols across sites can inform our understanding of primate behavior across different contexts, including sex differences in social relationships; and (3) how more robust collaborations between foreign researchers and local partners can support capacity-building in primate range countries, along with mentoring and training students more broadly.