Viktoria Oelze

2018 Hellman Fellow

Assistant Professor of Anthropology
UC Santa Cruz

Project Title: Chimpanzee intoxication and the evolution of termite associated tool use

Project Description: Intoxication with environmental substances has deep roots in the evolutionary past we share with our closest living relatives, the great apes. In her current research she discovered toxic defensive compounds in the soldiers of mound-building termite species, which chimpanzees across Africa exploit and consume with the help of tools. Oelze seeks to further explore the effects of termite toxin ingestion on chimpanzee health and propose that termite defense secretions contain toxic compounds which serve chimpanzees as self-medication against parasites. With the generous support of the Hellman Fellows Funds Oelze will investigate termite toxicology levels in different geographical regions of Africa and reconstruct termite ingestion rates as well as their potential health consequences for wild chimpanzees.