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Report on SAGA2/COE Symposium



Report on SAGA2/COE Joint International Symposium

reported by Dora BIRO (Oxford Univ., UK) and Tetsuro Matsuzawa (Kyoto Univ., Japan)


    The SAGA2/COE Joint International Symposium 1999 held in Inuyama, Japan, brought together some of the most established researchers of the Great Apes as well as an aspiring next generation from all over the world. Much of the focus was given to long-term studies that have contributed a great deal to our understanding in the fields of ecology, sociology, ethology, psychology, neuroscience, molecular biology, anthropology, and paleontology. For this reason, it was perhaps fitting that the country hosting this unique event was Japan, given the long history of primatological research carried out by a distinguished line of scientists from this island nation.
     The meeting was opened by a plenary talk delivered this year by Birute Galdikas. "Paradise in Peril" recounted her journey through the years in search of both knowledge about the orangutan itself and the possibility to preserve this species' natural habitat. Threats to tropical rainforests on Borneo are multiple in origin and a coordination of efforts from all sides is clearly needed to counter recent trends of destruction. The conservation warnings so impressively put forward in this talk echoed through most of the oral sessions that were to follow.
     From the first day onward, poster sessions were held every afternoon, covering a wide range of topics in which all the apes as well as monkeys were well represented. Five-minute talks, which all poster authors were encouraged to give, provided young researchers in particular with an excellent opportunity to practise public speaking and present their work and ideas, in addition to allowing actual faces to accompany often faceless poster titles.

18th November
     Speakers during the first session, "Tools and Culture" (Boesch, van Schail, and Matsuzawa), proposed theoretical frameworks in evolutionary terms for cognitive traits, material culture, and sociality. Findings from experimental work in the laboratory were related to results from the field.
     "Symbols" (Patterson, Boysen, and Savage-Rumbaugh) provided an overview of longitudinal studies of ape cognition in captivity, addressing the advantages and potential drawbacks of raising apes in human environments. Individual subjects' performance was compared to human children's development. Current research on newly-emerging topics was also outlined.
     The "DNA" (Paabo and Shen) session which ended the first day of the meeting presented a synthesis of findings focusing on genomic diversity among primates. Speakers provided insight into the evolution of primate taxa and gene function.

19th November
     "Society" (Blockelman, Yamagiwa, and Wrangham) reassessed ape social structure in the light of new findings. The rules of primate social structure were found to be more flexible than previously envisaged, but could nevertheless be used as models to shed light on human social structure and possible evolutionary scenarios.
     Speakers at the "Molecular and Neural Biology" (Saitou, Ely, and Erwin) session provided a comprehensive review of molecular approaches currently used to explore population genetics and the evolution of genes and DNA in primates. The potential insights generated by the use of chimpanzees as models in the study of human pathogens were also discussed.
     The second day concluded with "Origins" (Thompson and Harcourt) consisting of proposals of bio-geographical models for the evolution of primates using information of past climate and geological changes, and species and habitat characteristics. These models provided explanations for the current distribution of Pan paniscus and for the relative inherent vulnerability of different species of primates to extinction.

20th November
     "Fossils" (Harriosn, Tuttle, and Coppens) incorporated a review of phylogenetic relationships in early catarrhines and early hominids, as assessed using the fossil record and inferred environmental changes. The continuity perceived between humans and apes in terms of morphological, technological, and cultural traits was challenged.
     "Sex" (Fruth, Wallis, and Watts) explored the potential of sex as social tool and a means of communication. Both intra- and inter-sexual patterns were discussed, with particular focus on rank assessments, female cycle synchrony, reciprocity, and reproductive success.
     The final session of the meeting, "Behavior and Cognition" (Van Elsacker and Rumbaugh), once again drew together evidence from captivity and the wild, from different species of primate and humans. A closing speech by Duane Rumbaugh expressed well the heartfelt thanks of the participants to the organising committee, as well as delivering a brief yet impressive compendium of past and present studies of primates, and the assurance that future directions are already crystallising.

     In closing, it is worth remembering that despite the multitude of disciplines from which speakers were drawn - a range perhaps wider than ever before - all sessions agreed on a crucial point. All incorporated, often as final thoughts, a conservation warning. Whether dealing with great apes in the wild or in the laboratory, the necessity for the establishment for national laws on habitat conservation and captive welfare was emphasised by many speakers.
     In the business meetings for three days, the participants discussed a lot about SAGA principles on the conservation and welfare of the great apes, that was first announced in November, 1998 in the first SAGA (Support for African/Asian Great Apes) meeting where Jane Goodall and Jan van Hooff gave plenary talks. SAGA principles consisted of the following three agenda.
     First, we shall undertake action for the conservation of the great apes and their natural habitat. Second, we shall endeavor to enhance the quality of life of the great apes in captivity. Third, we shall not use the great apes as subjects in invasive studies, but promote our scientific understanding through noninvasive techniques.
     For our purposes, the word “invasive” refers to treatment that causes irreversible deficits of normal function. In short, illegal or non-ethical treatment prohibited in the case of human subjects is to be likewise prohibited in the great apes.
     In conclusion, the SAGA principles have been fully approved by the following experts on the great apes (in alphabetical order): James Anderson, Yves Coppens, Cristophe Boesch, Warren Brockelman, Sarah Boysen, Linda Van Elsacker, Barbara Fruth, Birute Galdikas, Jane Goodall, Alexander Harcourt, Terry Harrison, Jan van Hooff, Hidemi Ishida, Junichiro Itani, Takayoshi Kano, Masao Kawai, Tasuku Kimura, Shozo Kojima, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Toshisada Nishida, Francene Patterson, Duane Rumbaugh, Naruya Saitou, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Carel van Schaik, James Shen, Yukimaru Sugiyama, Osamu Takenaka, Jo Thompson, Russell Tuttle, David Watts, Janette Wallis, Richard Wrangham, and Juichi Yamagiwa,



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