Public Release: 

Iowa State University, Great Ape Trust create world's pre-eminent collaboration for primate studies

Iowa State University

AMES, Iowa -- Last February, Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz made news around the world with her study reporting that savannah chimpanzees at her Senegal research site are using spear-shaped tools to hunt.

Today, Pruetz and her colleagues were beneficiaries as officials from Great Ape Trust of Iowa and Iowa State University signed a memorandum of agreement to establish the world's pre-eminent collaboration for primate studies.

ISU President Gregory Geoffroy and Great Ape Trust founder Ted Townsend signed the agreement during a formal ceremony in The Trust's bonobo scientific research center in southeast Des Moines. The agreement, based on the shared scientific and ethical values of primate research, recognizes multiple benefits to both institutions.

"Iowa State University is delighted to expand our partnership with the Great Ape Trust to create a truly world-class research and educational center for primate studies," said Geoffroy. "Iowa State faculty and students have worked closely with the staff of the Great Ape Trust since it opened in 2004, and we look forward to significantly increasing our efforts with the Trust to better understand primates and doing more to protect the fragile environment that supports them. We are very grateful to Ted Townsend for creating this fantastic educational resource here in Iowa and the opportunity it affords our faculty and students to pursue research and prepare for careers."

"Iowa State University is one of the finest research institutions in the world, and our agreement to create the pre-eminent collaboration for primate studies solidifies Great Ape Trust for the long-term," Townsend said. "This partnership for profound science adds a unique and powerful distinction to our state."

ISU Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Hoffman, Pruetz and several Iowa State students who are currently working at the Great Ape Trust also attended the event.

The agreement sets the stage for Great Ape Trust to take a more active role in the development of future scientists by providing them valuable laboratory and field experiences, and through the development of an interdisciplinary graduate program in primatology at the masters and doctorate levels. It increases opportunities for Iowa State students to collaborate with Great Ape Trust on the origins and future of culture, language, tools and intelligence, The Trust's primary area of scientific inquiry, and to apply that knowledge to humanity and all animals.

Currently there are seven ISU graduate students -- Lindsay Carrothers of Leawood, Kan.; Katie Klag of Coal Valley, Ill.; Susannah Maisel of Des Moines; Janni Pedersen of Ames (originally from Denmark); Caisie Pitman of New Orleans, La.; Itai Roffman of Herzliya, Israel; and Kristina Walkup of Northfield, Minn. -- who are either working full-time, part-time, or in a voluntary capacity at Great Ape Trust.

Two Great Ape Trust scientists -- Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a scientist with Great Ape Trust's bonobo research program; and Robert Shumaker, scientist/director Orangutan Research -- serve as affiliate professors in ISU's Department of Anthropology, as well as on the graduate committees of several Iowa State master's and doctorate degree candidates working at Great Ape Trust. The Trust additionally funded scholarships for two international students working part-time at the facility while they pursue graduate studies at Iowa State.

This summer, Great Ape Trust contributed $71,000 to research conducted by Pruetz -- an associate professor of anthropology -- at her Fongoli field site in Senegal. In addition to reporting tool use by chimpanzees in hunting, Pruetz became the first to report chimps are seeking shelter in caves to get out of the extreme African heat. Hunting tools used in her discovery are expected to be included in a Smithsonian Institution exhibit in 2009, according to Richard Potts, director, Human Origins Program, National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian.

Pruetz just returned from Senegal this summer and says that she witnessed more spearing by chimpanzees at the site -- including a bout on her last day by an alpha male. Her previous research had indicated that females primarily used the hunting tools.

"If I continue to see males engage in the behavior -- they still do it at a much lower frequency than other age-sex classes -- then I would suspect that it is a behavior that is fairly recently developed," she said. "Adult males are normally the last individuals to pick up new behaviors introduced to primate social groups."

The bigger news, according to Pruetz, was witnessing female chimps in possession of a bushbuck -- the biggest prey that chimps eat anywhere.

Pruetz was accompanied this summer by a video crew that will include her research in a future Public Broadcasting System "Nova" documentary on primate intelligence, as well as a reporter and photographer from National Geographic magazine for a future feature story on her work.


Great Ape Trust of Iowa is a scientific research facility dedicated to providing sanctuary and an honorable life for great apes, studying their intelligence, advancing their conservation, and providing unique educational experiences about great apes. When completed, Great Ape Trust will be the largest great ape facility in North America and one of the first worldwide to include all four types of great ape -- bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans -- for noninvasive interdisciplinary studies of their cognitive and communicative capabilities. More information about Great Ape Trust of Iowa is available at

Al Setka, Great Ape Trust of Iowa, (515) 243-3580, (515) 720.7430 (c),

Jill Pruetz, Anthropology, (515) 294-5150,

Dave Gieseke, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, (515) 294-7742,

Annette Hacker, News Service, (515) 294-3720,

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986,

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