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Primate Research

Zoo Atlanta is home to a number of highly endangered primate species, including western lowland gorillas, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, golden lion tamarins, drill monkeys and lemurs. We have the largest population of orangutans and drills in the country and the second largest population of gorillas. Having such large collections add considerably to our ability to conduct meaningful scientific studies. Additionally, we often collaborate with other zoological institutions, which greatly increases the number of animals included and thus the impact of our studies. For example, our work on the social behavior of captive male gorillas represents the largest number of males ever studied in gorillas.

The primary aim of the zoo’s primate research program is increasing the basic scientific knowledge of the species in our collection, many of which are not well studied in the wild. Our areas of focus include social behavior and social cognition/social learning. Primates are highly social animals and thus we are interested both in their social interactions as well as what they gain from living socially with respect to learning opportunities. Studies on these topics are particularly relevant in gorillas and orangutans, species that are very understudied compared to their close cousin the chimpanzee.

Although much of our work focuses on captive populations, we are also involved with research on wild populations. Specifically, with work with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to study the social dynamics, reproductive strategies and life history decisions of male mountain gorillas. And we are currently developing social learning paradigms that will be used with reintroduced populations of golden lion tamarins in Brazil.