David Pettifer

University of Birmingham


Locomotion, manipulation and musculoskeletal disease of elderly chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes sp.) in wild and captive environments


Susannah Thorpe, Jackie Chapell, Alice Roberts, Kevin Hunt

PhD Summary

My project is trying to understand the morbidity associated with ageing in captive chimpanzees. Much like humans, chimp populations housed in zoos have longer life spans due to veterinary care, food availability and a lack of predation, but they are also prone to sedentism. Consequently they suffer the same age and motility associated diseases as we do, namely osteoarthritis. I will collect data on the activity of elderly chimps across European zoos, and in their home ranges of Africa, in order to quantify the differences in locomotor patterns between them. I will also analyse cadavers to learn more about the disease’s onset and progression, and finally will assess how increasing natural locomotor behaviour in captive individuals can act to reduce the prevalence of musculoskeletal disease in our ageing populations of chimps.

What inspires you?

My fascination with the natural world actually began indoors. When I was growing up I remember watching Natural World, Walking with Dinosaurs and Jurassic Park and being completely enthralled. The Natural History Museum in London was by far my favourite place to visit, and when asked what I wanted to be when I grew older, I would firmly state that I wanted to be a palaeontologist.

Previous Activity

I studied for a BSc in Biology and an MRes in Biological Sciences at The University of Manchester. Here I completed projects on species identification of European fish from archaeological remains, parental investment in mice, and computational gait selection in primates. The latter piece of work was the one I enjoyed most, and lead me to this PhD project. Afterwards I worked in a neuroscience lab as a research technician whilst applying for PhDs. Having never studied more than the basics of neuroscience, this was quite a leap for an aspiring behavioural ecologist.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

I knew I wanted to stay in academia, the actual process of research and discovery being something I actively enjoy. I had experience of working in industry, and while I valued that experience, I knew that I needed the freedom to follow my own lines of research and to see where it took me.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

The CENTA studentship had a fantastic emphasis on training and support for its students. After speaking to others who were currently on a CENTA studentship, and enjoying every aspect of it, I knew that I would gain a lot from being a part of this program.

What are your future plans

Studying here will provide me with a host of new opportunities and contacts that may hopefully lead to jobs as a post doc. I would like to carry on with academic research, but am aware that it is a highly competitive area in our current economic climate.