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Passing of Professor Christophe Boesch

Christophe Boesch passed on January 14, 2024 and left us in deepest sadness and consternation.

Christophe did his master degree with Diane Fossey on the mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) of Ruanda, before continuing with a PhD-thesis under the supervision of Hans Kummer on chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, which he completed in 1984. He became Assistant Professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland in 1991 and director of the then newly founded Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany in 1997.

In his studies, he described how chimpanzees use hammers to crack open nuts of different species of trees and how they cooperate during hunting and share meat. He reported altruistic behavior of adult males when adopting orphans, and was the first one to show how respiratory viruses transmitted by humans had a devastating effect on habituated chimpanzee communities. He spear-headed comparative studies with researchers from other field sites and described for the first time, cultural variation across populations in tropical Africa. He pioneered a novel approach of studying chimpanzee diversity across their range with the creation of the Pan African program where temporary field sites were established at 50 sites across 18 countries and showed among other spectacular findings that human impact eroded chimpanzee cultural diversity.

Early in his career he realized the necessity for researchers to engage in the conservation of this endangered species and together with his wife, Hedwige Boesch-Achermann, he founded the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation in 2000. Starting small, this foundation developed into the major driver of wild chimpanzee conservation in West Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea resulting in the creation of several National Parks.

Christophe was a truly passionate and charismatic person. His enthusiasm, combined with his charm was highly contagious and he inspired generations of students including numerous students from chimpanzee range countries to engage into the study of chimpanzee behavior and conservation. He had an eye for details, allowing him to discover aspects of chimpanzee behavior never having been described before. Often his findings were met with deep skepticism but he never shied away from defending his views, many of which contribute to the knowledge foundation of primatology students today.

His tireless work, enthusiasm and passion to assure the survival and protection of chimpanzees across Africa continues to be carried forward at the two long-term field sites he founded in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire Côte (www.taichimps.org) and in the Loango National Park in Gabon (www.ozouga.org), at the Helmholtz Institute for One Health (www.helmholtz-hioh.de), the Pan African Programme (www.panafrican.eva.mpg.de), and at the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (www.wildchimps.org). Our thoughts are with his family, Hedwige, Lukas, Leonore, their partners and his grandchildren.


Written by Tobias Deschner, Roman Wittig, Catherine Crockford and Simone Pika


“Christophe Boesch, MPI EVAN director, primatologist and conservationist at what he loved the most: Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat in the Loango National Park, Gabon”

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