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Award Holder: Smone Lemmers
Univerity: Durham University
Title of Research: Stress, Life History and Dental Development in Primates

For my fieldwork in Gabon, my goals were to

  1. collate additional life history documentation from the Primate Centre files corresponding to the crania which I am analyzing
  2. study the living conditions of the mandrill colony to understand group dynamics and social behavior, since these factors influence life history
  3. collect additional hard tissues to increase my sample size
  4. meet the CIRMF veterinarians and researchers.

I achieved all these goals. During my stay, I went through the relevant files and documentation for the specific individuals which I am studying. These consist of individuals that have died and for which the hard tissues have been collected and preserved. The veterinary researchers helped me to go through the documentation and provided me with essential background information for the events described in the documentation. The documentation included information on growth and development and the dates and procedures of the annual veterinary check. The files also include information on reproduction (pregnancy, birth of infants), and medical interference, for example the treatment of wounds. This gave me valuable insights into the life and behaviour of the mandrills from the enclosures, the different life history stages and the corresponding behaviour, and the type of stress that the animals experience during their lives.

Apart from going through the documentation, I made daily observations of the colony. This gave me insights into the social structure of the mandrill colony and mandrill behaviour and interactions. Another goal of my visit was to add hard tissue remains of animals that had passed away recently to my research sample. During my visit I discussed the way in which hard tissues of the deceased primate individuals could best be collected, cleaned and stored for future research. The animal care-takers, researchers, my supervisors I wrote a Hard Tissue Protocol, which explains how to deal with the hard tissues from recently deceased individuals. We put in place methods for how to deal with the remains of deceased animals in the future, contributing to securing a path for future research and I built up a very good relationship with the researchers at the primate centre and the medical research centre.

During my stay, the Primate Centre organised a visit to Lekedi Park, Bakoumba, where I had the opportunity to observe mandrills in wild conditions. This was an excellent addition to my observations of the semi-free ranging colony at Franceville and added to my understanding of mandrill behaviour and social interactions.

I am very grateful to Ruggles-Gates fund for Biological Anthropology and the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland for making this fieldwork project possible.