Meet the Team

PI: Dr. Sofia Forss

I received my PhD with Prof. Dr. Carel van Schaik at the University of Zurich in 2016, where I worked on culture, cognition and curiosity and novelty response in both wild and captive orangutans. Since then, I have indulged in a variety of different – research projects: at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, University of Lausanne and University of Zurich. In 2021 I became a Junior Research Fellow at the Collegium Helveticum, The joint Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) of the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and Zurich University of the Arts. Excitingly in 2022 I start my own research team at the Animal Behaviour Group at the University of Zurich with the funding of an AMBIZIONE Grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Forss Sofia

The Meerkat Cognition Project


Tommaso Saccà (PhD Student)

Tommaso received his master’s degree in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands in 2021. His degree incorporates two distinct projects. First, he studied wild and domestic Ungulate dynamics under different livestock management the African Savanna of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. He then worked on the role of male intrasexual aggression and female dominance in vervet monkeys under the supervision of Professor Charlotte K Hemelrijk (University of Groningen) and Professor Erica van de Waal (University of Lausanne). This year he joined the Animal Behaviour Group at the University of Zurich to start his PhD adventure and study how social life, motivation, and ecology influence cognitive abilities and fitness in meerkats.


Zoe Turner (MSc student)

Zoe has a long history with the Kalahari Research Centre as she has been both a volunteer here as well as manager for the Zurich research team. This time around she will focus on research herself and join us for her master’s degrees. For her thesis Zoe will focus on social interactions, network analyses and how sociality affects behaviour and cognition in wild meerkats.


Martina Andersson (MSc student)

Martina’s home university is in Sweden at the University of Lund where she is enrolled in the master’s program of Zoology. For her master thesis she will join our meerkat cognition team and spend her time investigating behavioural flexibility and innovativeness in wild meerkats at the Kalahari Research Centre.

The Urban Vervet Project


Dr. Stèphanie Mercier (Project coordinator)

The long-term experience working with wild vervet monkeys, her love for this sometimes-naughty species and her desire to take a turn in her carrier brought Stef to the Urban Vervet Project, of which she is the on-site coordinator. Besides habituating this new study population and collecting data on the urban monkeys Stef is also the data manager of the Inkwau Vervet Project (IVP), playing an important role for our data to be comparable between the two field-sites of Simbithi Eco Estate and Mawana Game Reserve.


Lindsey Ellington (MSc student)

Lindsey has a BSc degree in both Biology and Political Sciences from Wellington New Zealand. After leaving her home country, Lindsey now studies at the University of Groening in the Netherlands and is part of our start up team at the Urban Vervet Monkey project as the major topic of her master thesis. Her research with the monkeys will focus on personality traits and motivational variables underlying variation in cognitive skills among urban monkeys.


Paige Barnes (MSc student)

Paige completed a BS degree from Michigan State University in both Statistics and Zoology with a concentration in Animal Behaviour and Neurobiology along with a minor in Computer Science. Her behavioural and cognitive experiences include working with mountain gorillas in Uganda and studying chimpanzees in Africa while a lab manager at the University of Michigan. From June 2023 Paige joins the UVP as a Master student from the University of Zurich. Her research will focus on cognitive abilities in urban monkeys as well as their innovative behaviours arising in this human transformed habitat.


Manon Desaivres (MSc student)

Manon has a degree in Ecology and Organismal Biology and is now studying ethology at the Sorbonne Paris Nord University. After an internship on frog behaviour in French Guyana, she joined UVP for her second MSc’s project to research human-wildlife conflicts in South Africa. For her project, she is studying human-vervet interactions, both from the monkeys and the residents’ perspective, using both citizen science data and detailed focal observations.

Ape curiosity & Cognition


Dr. Elisa Bandini

Elisa completed her PhD at The University of Tübingen in 2018 working with Dr Claudio Tennie on the individual learning abilities of captive and semi-wild primates. After her PhD, she started a postdoctoral position at UoT looking into the stone tool-use abilities of wild capuchins (funded by the Leakey Foundation), wild macaques (funded by the Seedcorn Grant), semi-wild chimpanzees and captive orangutans. We are very happy to welcome her to our cognition team at the Animal Behaviour Group starting in April 2023. Elisa will be working on a project studying the effect of research experiments on chimpanzee cognition, funded by The Forschungskredit, University of Zürich.


Saein Lee (Research Collaborator) 

Saein started a combined master and Ph.D. course about social influences and social learning in wild Javan gibbons at Ewha Woman’s University, South Korea, in 2017. She was curious about how immature wild Javan gibbons socially learn from family group members, so she collected almost two years of data from the field in Indonesia. She also wanted to look at the social networks of gibbons, and now She is at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland as an invited researcher to work on social network analysis (SNA) with Prof. Erica van de Waal. Her research interest in social learning and influence expanded to other primate species and various contexts. She did a pilot study about the social contagion of curiosity with human participants. The next step is to see how curiosity in non-human primates and human infants is modified by social cues or social influence from other individuals.