Sysmex Nederland

Sysmex and the chimps

Laura Gielen

It all started in March of this year when our colleague, Hans Heijmans, received an urgent order for an Atago PAL-10S reractometer. The order had to be delivered very quickly and Hans asked the question: why? So he personally contacted Kelly Mannion, who had ordered the refractometer. And what turned out? The refractometer was urgently needed for research into the behavior of chimpanzees in Uganda! Therefore we were also very curious about the role of the refractometer in this research and we talked to Kelly about this.

Kelly is a PhD student at the University of Geneva. She is originally from the United States but has since lived, studied and worked in various places. She enjoys working with wildlife and conservation, especially primates, which made the research on chimpanzees very appealing.

What does your research involve? 
‘I am doing research with wild chimpanzees. Specifically, I am investigating drivers of tool use behaviors. So, to do this, I spend time at a field site in Uganda where I work with local assistants to collect all sorts of data. My research involves long days hiking through a forest, observing chimpanzees and collecting chimpanzee urine samples. For those who don’t know, in order to collect wild chimpanzee urine we use non-invasive methods. Basically, when a chimp is up in a tree feeding or otherwise undisturbed, I get a long stick which I attach a plastic bag to the end of, then I wait under the chimp until it urinates in the hopes that I can catch some falling urine in the bag. It takes a lot of patience and a bit of coordination to catch the falling drops as they splash through the leaves in many directions, but these samples are able to tell us so much about the chimps.’

Kelly Mannion urine collection
Kelly at work in Ugandan forests with her urine collector stick

Why did you choose a study on chimpanzees and why is this particular study so important? 
‘Why not? I am interested in primates so this a great opportunity. And of course, it’s fascinating to learn more about their behavior because they are so similar to us! Tool use is fascinating to study and we see tool use behaviors happening in species other than humans. It is really cool to try and understand why and how such behaviors occur in some populations of chimpanzees and not in others. Not only is it interesting, but it can maybe tell us a little more about us as humans.’

Why did you decide to use a refractometer in your research?
‘It’s important to use a refractometer in my research because I want to know more about the chimpanzee’s biological status and how this influences their behavior. I aim to use behavioral, ecological and biological data to give a broader picture of what can be prompting certain chimpanzee behaviors. The refractometer is vital to use in coordination with other analyses that we perform on the urine samples to gather further incite on chimpanzee energetics and physiology.’

What kind of research results do you expect to get from the urine of the chimpanzees?
‘Urine samples can tell us some much about the chimpanzees. We can assess various things like stress levels, illness, and hormones levels. These are great to monitor and investigate over time or in relation to certain events. It gives us an idea of what is going on internally in the animals and it helps us to better understand what we are seeing when we observe them in the wild.’

How do you like working with the refractometer and why did you choose the Atago brand?
‘I like using the refractometer. It is simple to use and very travel friendly which is important because we need to take equipment to remote areas. Because of this we can also take it in the forest and use it right then when we collect samples from the chimps! Aside from the faulty battery screw cap, this is an excellent piece of equipment ;-). I chose Atago because I received recommendations from other people who have used it in the field, so it felt like a trustworthy and reliable investment.’

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