Department of Psychology

Animal Field Research

Field research allows us to examine the behaviours and abilities of primates and other animals within natural ecological and social settings.

Great Apes

Field research on great apes, our closest living evolutionary relatives, is known to provide special insight to why humans behave the way they do, where evolutionary scenarios can be reconstructed and predictions on the adaptive significance of primate traits can be tested with methods of high ecological validity. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (in Borneo, Malaysia) and Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage (in Zambia) offer a special research opportunity to closely study free-ranging orangutans and semi-wild chimpanzees, respectively, in their natural forest environments. Our projects focus on emotion, communication, personality and foraging cognition. A series of field studies have been conducted since 2007, which led to a large video collection on great apes. Projects are currently funded by The Royal Society and The Leakey Foundation.

Great apes#

Animal Conservation

As a result of deforestation, there is much need to improve reintroduction programs where rehabilitant animals are released back into their species-typical environment. A main challenge here is that too little is known about the behaviours and abilities of the species and the needs of the individuals. The Psychology Department collaborates with the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) to carry out a large research project specifically designed to improve rehabilitation and releases of orangutans and sun bears (the world’s smallest bears!) in Sabah, Borneo. In addition, one-year placements at BSBCC are offered to students with a strong interest in animal behaviour and conservation research, animal welfare and public engagement.


Field Course

The Primate Behaviour and Ecology field course takes place each summer in Borneo, specifically in the midst of Kinabatangan’s rainforest, where wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, as well as other animals are studied. During the course, basic field concepts and observational methodologies are introduced to students, to learn how to systematically assess behaviours of animals in the wild. The students carry out their own research projects, while they are closely supervised by the course coordinators. Boat trips take place each morning and evening to observe the primates nearby the riverbanks of the Kinabatangan River. This rainforest has a high biodiversity in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, including nine nonhuman primate species!

Field course

Field Research Opportunities

For queries about field research opportunities or the data collection from previous field studies, please contact Marina Davila-Ross.

In collaboration with: