Jessica Hartel, New Postdoc

Jessica Hartel is a primatologist with experience working in both captive and wild environments with a variety of primate species. Her research at the Center for Biocultural History focuses on the Kibale Chimpanzee Project as a test case to objectively quantify and analyze how long-term research projects can promote both natural and cultural heritage and sustainability in the surrounding areas.

2014.11.01 | Jessica Hartel

Jess collecting data on wild chimpanzees at Kanyawara in Kibale National Park, Uganda

Jessica Hartel is a primatologist with experience working in both captive and wild environments with a variety of primate species. For the past 10 years, Jess has focused her research efforts on chimpanzees, employing multidisciplinary approaches to answer behavioral and cognitive questions about our next of kin. Jess has training in (evolutionary and conservation) biology, anthropology, and experimental psychology.

During her master’s, Jess worked with captive chimpanzees who used sign language to communicate with humans and conspecifics at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. Jess was interested in the chimpanzees’ conversational competence and how they might adapt their signing to different human conversational partners. After engaging in daily conversations with chimpanzees, Jess became an even more dedicated advocate for the ethical care of captive chimpanzees, not just in the physical sense, but also for their psychological and cognitive well-being.

During her PhD, Jess studied intragroup aggression and conflict resolution strategies in wild chimpanzees at Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda. Since chimpanzees have high rates of intragroup aggression relative to humans and other species, ways to mitigate that aggression must be important to maintain close social bonds and community cohesion. Jess investigated how personal relationships, contexts, intrinsic variables, and agonistic factors affected the chimpanzees’ aggression and conciliatory (e.g., reconciliation, consolation, appeasement, etc.) decisions.

Jess currently serves as the Director of the Kibale Snare Removal Program (funded by Jane Goodall Institute Austria and Netherlands) for the Kibale Chimpanzee Project (kibalechimpanzees.wordpress.com), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The conservation program focuses on protecting the national park, chimpanzee residents, and other inhabitants. To learn more about KSRP, watch our short documentary, see how you can get involved, or donate, please go to our website (kibalechimpanzees.wordpress.com/snare-removal-program/).

Based on Jess’ passion for conservation and the environment, her research at the Center for Biocultural History focuses on the Kibale Chimpanzee Project as a test case to objectively quantify and analyze how long-term research projects can promote both natural and cultural heritage and sustainability in the surrounding areas. We aim to develop an assessment model that is applicable to all long-term research projects across Africa that will help projects evaluate their overall impact across time. To reach this large goal, we must first focus locally, which is why we are focusing on the Kibale Chimpanzee Project. Our project collaborators from the Bioculture include Peter Kjærgaard, Casper Andersen, Jens-Christ Svenning, and Brody Sandel, along with Richard Wrangham (Founder & Co-Director, Kibale Chimpanzee Project) and Elizabeth Ross (Founder & Director, Kasiisi Project) from Harvard University.

Jess and her colleagues will also focus on educational outreach and research dissemination in Denmark to generate local and global awareness of issues relating to biological, social, and cultural sustainability in Africa, specifically focusing on the great apes. One method of this will be to develop a great ape conservation conference in Copenhagen in 2015. Our primary goal of this conference is to promote great ape awareness and activism in Denmark in the political, private, financial, and local arenas. We aim to attract Danish governmental organizations, politicians, NGOs, college students, and the general public. We also plan to reach out to local schools to develop young children's awareness of apes and create an avenue for them to be actively involved. Following the conference, we hope to publish a collaborative work reporting the information exchanged.

If you would like to know more about Jess’ past or current research, or would like to know how you could be involved in the conference or help promote great ape awareness (in general or in local schools), please do not hesitate to email (hartel@au.dk).

Kibale Sustainability Project, Natural and cultural heritage