Prof Gillian Forrester – University of Sussex
Prof Kim Bard – University of Portsmouth
Ms Rachel Hogan – Ape Action Africa
Currently, there is a mental health awakening, a growing understanding that well-being is inextricably linked with both physical and psychological health.
Rationale/importance: Currently, there is a mental health awakening, a growing understanding that well-being is inextricably linked with both physical and psychological health. Great apes are critically endangered, often serving as flagship species in conservation efforts, and their welfare is of vital importance. The Face Value project is progressive and translational: rather than using animal models to understand humans, this project uses human models of well-being, made possible by the genetic closeness of apes and humans. In humans, resilience (i.e., recovery from stress) is strongly associated with physical and psychological well-being. We aim to assess this relationship in chimpanzees and gorillas to improve welfare and the success of conservation activities (e.g. releases, re-introductions, surrogate adoptions).
Approaches: The research leverages non-invasive methodological assessments with specialist interdisciplinary expertise (biology to neuroscience and primatology to conservation). UK academics will collaborate with sanctuary partners to test the relation of facial skin temperature with stressors and resilience.
The student will learn how to (1) take thermal-infrared (T-IR) imaging measurements from chimpanzees and gorillas, (2) design and administer experimentally-controlled exposures to socially- and cognitively-arousing stimuli (e.g., assessing physical and social cognition), (3) micro-analyse videotaped behaviour, (4) analyse results, and (5) validate T-IR as an index of great ape welfare. Existing specialised software will be used to compare skin temperature changes within facial regions-of-interest across conditions. Resilience will be measured as the time taken for skin temperature to return to baseline.
Impact: With this studentship, we aim to improve welfare of great apes by inspiring greater attention to psychological wellbeing and individual patterns of stress and resilience. Academics collaborating with sanctuary partners can be mutually beneficial, aiding the welfare of great apes both day-to-day and long-term.
Candidate Qualities: Candidates must possess strong research skills and a wiliness to engage in fieldwork. Candidates with experience of working with thermal-infrared imaging or great apes and/or with prior volunteering/fieldwork experience with sanctuary-based or wild primates are highly encouraged to apply.