Erica van de Waal



The transmission of traditions in wild primates:
an experimental approach with vervet monkeys

Branco Weiss Fellow with Professor van Schaik at the
University of Zurich & scientific coordinator of the

Inkawu Vervet Project
field site  

My research focuses on understanding cultural evolution through
studying social learning in primates. I have been working on wild
vervet monkeys since the start of my master degree ten years
ago and I am the research coordinator of the field site:
‘Inkawu Vervet Project’ in South Africa.
My project yields unique insights into tradition formation in wild
primates by adding an experimental approach to the commonly
used observational approach. I will test the effect of a model’s
identity in the extent to which novel innovations spread, and also
examine the spatial and temporal scales on which traditions may
The combined results will assess the role of social learning
for behavioural phenotypes in a wild primate population, which
should help us to better understand what makes our human
culture so unique.



van de Waal E, Claidière N & Whiten A 2015
Wild vervet monkeys discriminate and copy alternative methods for opening
an artificial fruit.
Animal Cognition, doi: 10.1007/s10071-014-0830-4

Pasquaretta C, Levé M, Claidière N, van de Waal E, Whiten A, MacIntosh AJ,
... & Sueur C
Social networks in primates: smart and tolerant species have more efficient
Scientific Reports, 4. doi: 10.1038/srep07600


van de Waal E, Bshary R & Whiten A 2014
Field experiments show wild vervet monkey infants acquire maternal food-
processing techniques.
Animal Behaviour 90, 41-45.

Tournier E, Tournier V, van de Waal E, Barrett A, Brown L & Bshary R 2014
Differences in diet between six neighbouring groups of vervet monkeys.
Ethology 120, 1-12.


Borgeaud C, van de Waal E & Bshary R 2013
Third-party ranks knowledge in wild vervet monkeys
(Chlorocebus aethiops pygerythrus).
PLoS ONE 8(3): e58562. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058562

Renevey N, Bshary R & van de Waal E (in press)
Philopatric vervet monkey females are the focus of social attention
rather independently of rank.


van de Waal E & Whiten A 2013
Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial food
in four groups of vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops).
Animal Behaviour 85, 71-76.

van de Waal E, Borgeaud C & Whiten A 2013
Potent social learning and conformity shape a wild primate’s
foraging decisions.
Science Vol. 340 no. 6131 pp. 483 - 485 DOI:10.1126/science.1232769

van de Waal E, Krützen M, Hula J, Goudet J & Bshary R 2012
Similarity in food cleaning techniques within matrilines in wild vervet
PLoS ONE 7(4): e35694. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035694.
van de Waal E 2012
Selective Attention in Social Learning of Vervet Monkey.
In N.M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning
(Vol. 7, pp. 2988-2989). New York et al.: Springer.
van de Waal E & Whiten A 2012
Spontaneous emergence, imitation and spread of alternative foraging
techniques among groups of vervet monkeys.
PLoS ONE 7(10): e47008. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047008.
Bshary R, Di Lascio F, Pinto A & van de Waal E 2011
How intelligent is Machiavallian behaviour?
Strüngmann Forum: Animal thinking: Cotemporary issues in
comparative cognition
Fruteau C, van de Waal E, van Damme E & Noë R 2011
Infant access and handling in sooty mangabeys and vervet monkeys.
Animal Behaviour 81, 153-161.
van de Waal E & Bshary R 2011
Social learning abilities of wild vervet monkeys in a two-step task
artificial fruit experiment.
Animal Behaviour 81, 433-438 .
van de Waal E, Renevey N, Favre CM & Bshary R 2010
Selective attention to philopatric models causes directed social learning
in wild vervet monkeys. 
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London ‘B’ 277, 2105-2111.
van de Waal E & Bshary R 2010
Contact with human facilities appears to enhance technical skills in wild
vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops).
Folia Primatologica 81, 282-291.



Erica van de Waal

Branco Weiss Fellow

Anthropological Institute
and Museum

University of Zurich
Winterthurerstrasse 190
CH-8057 Zürich

Inkawu Vervet Project
P.O. Box 84, Swart Mfolozi
3115 South Africa
Tel: 0027 826 71 16 91 0027 826 71 16 91