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Gabriela Daly, Ph.D

Gabriela Daly photographed by Marilisa Santos

Hi Folks! 

I'm a social anthropologist with training in primatology 

           I research human-ape interaction and communication

I'm a visiting scholar at the University of St Andrews (UK) &

           my work is mainly funded by Fyssen Foundation (France) 

I belong to the Wild Minds Lab led by Cat Hobaiter

           part of the Centre for Social Learning & Cognitive Evolution 

I'm engaged in The Great Ape Dictionary (Wild Minds Lab)

           I also belong to the research team Anthropology of Life 

                                                           based at Collège de France (Paris, France)

I am an international collaborator of the Leading Graduate

          Programme in Primatology & Wildlife Science (Kyoto University, Japan)


                                                                        I am a member of the American Anthropological Association 

                                                                The American Ethnological Society & Society for Cultural Anthropology

                                                                                           My PhD research received honorable mention in the 

                                                                         international PSL Dissertation Prize  (2018-2019, France)  

                                                                                                                in the category Science-Humanities Interface

                           I'm currently working on transforming my thesis into a book 

Yet another challenge!


Where are you from? 

I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and I was lucky to grow up in a multicultural environment, with part of my family being from the USA. I spent most of my grown-up years studying abroad and doing research in Europe, Americas, Asia, and Africa. BUT.... it was not all chic and luxurious as most people imagine! I've held scholarships during most of my academic path and had to work really hard to become the researcher and the person I wanted to be. 

What is your research about? 


I work with humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. I research how different species communicate with each other and how they learn from each other.  This is what I call "interspecies socialization" (Daly 2019). Besides, I am a photographer and video maker being active in visual anthropology. At present I conduct comparative fieldwork in different places. My most recent fieldwork was at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative with language-trained bonobos, that is, bonobos who have been taught symbols to communicate with humans. This is is temporarily interrupted due to the pandemic. I'm hoping to resume my fieldwork when this is all over! In the meanwhile, I'm working on writing projects.... Wanna hear more about my current research? Click here! Wanna hear more about my love story with research ? Scroll down :)

Which outreach or volunteer work do you do?   

I currently develop a project with a Tupi-Guarani Nhandeva community in Brazil to support their linguistic and cultural survival. You can follow the updates on that project here. I try and make space to share as many funding opportunities and resources through social media. I also try and post short fun facts about apes that people have been asking me over the years, and educational topics such as welfare.

Where have you done research & where have you studied? 

Short answer? This map! But if you want to hear more about my story scroll down :)







What's your love story with research? 

My love for research was set in stone when I was fourteen and decided between becoming a cellist or a researcher. It was a tough decision process in which I had to figure out where my talent and inner calling was. But I'm glad I did!


Bachelor - Human cultural diversity & how to study it 

I started off my journey at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in social sciences, somehow fascinated about human cultural diversity.  A little later I flew to Denmark for a 1 year exchange at the University of Copenhagen, where I specialized in genocide studies (why would we brutally kill off this diversity?!). I finished up my bachelor focusing on anthropological methodology (how is our know-how in dialogue with disciplines?).

Master -  Primate traditions & how we know them


After that, I decided to study history, philosophy, and sociology of science. I was drawn to better understand how we produce scientific knowledge and how our worldview, place, and time impact that knowledge. So I jumped into an amazing binational Master program, dividing my time between Germany and France, at Bielefeld University & École Normale Supérieure. In the middle of it I even got to do a research internship in Rome in the field of processes of innovation at the Italian Nacional Research Council. A little before that, I had seen  a presentation about culture in primates, and I thought - Wait, weren't humans the only ones to "have" culture? And so I spent the rest of my Master tackling how primatologists understood and conceptualized primate cultures, more specifically, capuchin monkeys' traditions.  

PhD application - Learning what was meaningful 


Well, with all that in mind, I became increasingly interested in chimpanzee cultures and non Western primatology, more specifically, Japanese primatology given that they pioneered cultural primatology. After reading and hearing about how chimpanzees and humans interacted in a Japanese non-invasive laboratory, I knew I would love to do ethnographic work there. But it made more sense to me to approach the topic in terms of an anthropology of nature, which focuses on human relations to the natural and animal world in a comparative perspective. And so, I applied to do my PhD with Philippe Descola and hoped for the best. Plus, even though I wanted to be a sociocultural anthropologist in the end, I felt that the philosophical perspective would push my work further. In that case, it would make sense to have philosophy as my adjacent discipline. Considering the concept of hybrid communities was powerful to understand my future topic, Dominique Lestel became my co-advisor. I also needed the approval of the laboratory in Japan where I would do my fieldwork (yes, fieldwork in the lab!). Luckily, it turned out well - three times - and everybody was interested. Within my affiliation options, I chose to be once again a student at École Normale Supérieure and was very grateful to become a member of the Laboratory of Social Anthropology at Collège de France, which was originally founded by Lévi-Strauss. 


PhD Funding - Facing reality 

The issue was... I had no money. There were only very few grants for which I could apply. At least with these grants I could start right after my Master. Except that... I was told there were "marked cards," in other words, everybody knew non-favorite candidates did not stand a chance. Because the stipendium was also very precarious, I decided not to apply. Instead, I applied for a major but competitive scholarship in Brazil to do my full PhD abroad (CAPES, Brazilian Ministry of Education). For that, I had to wait one year between my Master and PhD, but this time allowed me to begin preparing. I couldn't believe when I was accepted. Many tears of joy! 

Hopping in - The know what & know how

In 2013 I started off my PhD attending classes in Paris at École Normale Supérieure, and its affiliated centers and partner universities. My first year was intense; since my research was interdisciplinary, I had to continue my personal "mission" to cover my own discipline and other disciplines in dialogue. Coming originally from social anthropology, the most difficult part for me was learning the methods commonly used in primatology and statistical analyses. That proved to be a long process. But already in that year I had the feeling I needed a boot camp of a sort in those areas if I was going to make it. It's just that... I couldn't find any available in Paris. After some digging, I enrolled in an intense program during the summer and flew to take courses in the US, at Harvard University. It was a great experience. By September that year all my documents from Japan had arrived with a beautiful ancient seal from Kyoto University. It was time to put to use my broken Japanese... 



Fieldwork in Japan - Discovering a whole new world

In October 2014 I set foot in the small town of Inuyama, where the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University is located (aka PRI). I was welcomed into the legendary lab of Tetsuro Matsuzawa and it was during my 14 months in Japan that I really discovered the fascinating world of primates and human-primate relations. In PRI, chimpanzees live outdoors and come to participate in a non-invasive experiments such as computer tasks or object exchanges. They are called in by their names and they may choose whether they want to come to the laboratory or not; there is no punishment for non participation. There, the relationship between species is a vital part of the research philosophy. To my surprise while I was doing my  ethnography, I received an invitation to design and conduct an experiment to assess the building blocks of categorization and action. This would be a great way to understand how these scientists and chimps interacted. On top of that, the topic sounded very interesting to me, that is, the "grammar of action" in object & color categorization. But, of course, it was not that easy. I had to be trained in non-invasive experiments with primates, become certified, and the trickiest... I had to get the chimps' acceptance as someone worthy of being their experimenter - I kid you not. And no, this is not anthropomorphism, it's a real interspecies social phenomenon that I never thought I'd have to face as an ethnographer. In the end, I became both an ethnographer and experimenter in the same laboratory. This interspecies experience changed my life. 

Going wild - Chimps, researchers, & locals in Africa 

I spent 2015 in Japan but in 2016, my third year, I was back to Paris and buried in data. Especially because I worked with audiovisual material during fieldwork which was great but so time consuming. Unfortunately my scholarship, one of the few OK ones in the market, did not cover the money to hire an assistant... I was all by myself. Another problem was showing - I felt the need for a short-term but multi-sited perspective in the wild so I could disentangle important points in my thesis. Granted, I had visited several different research locations in Japan, which were home to different species, including "wild" areas for Japanese macaques. But I was still missing the human-chimpanzee perspective in the wild... And I knew well where I wanted to go - to the Republic of Guinea, in the village of Bossou where Matsuzawa and colleagues managed  a research station.  In Bossou, the chimpanzees survived because the local Manon people interdict hunting as they consider these chimps to be their totem and the protectors of their ancestors. Somehow, I managed to beat the God of Deadlines, get additional funding and go in time to accompany Japanese researchers to the field station. When we arrived in Conakry, we got the approval from their equivalent National Science Foundation (DNRST) and crossed 922 km/573 miles or the entire Guinea... by taxi. My stay was short but memorable and highly valuable. I don't regret the challenge!

Writing up - Bringing disciplines together 

After Guinea, that is, mid-2016 I resumed my mad data analysis mode. This is something I can't advise students because finishing my thesis was not a very healthy process. In my defense, many non academic problems started to happen. These made me be a firm believer in Murphy's Law -  "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." I had a crazy landlord break in my home while I was sleeping, two computers broken, administrators mixed up my university and diploma, personal losses, medical issues... Yet, this experience helped me to always prepare for the apocalypse but hope for the best. On top of that, I was dealing with the intellectually challenging issue of integrating qualitative and quantitative analyses and all the political issues that unrightfully arise from that. My recipe for success was having taken courses on productivity & time management, but most importantly - bouddhist meditation, Gestalt therapy, and remembering that I've wanted to be a research doctor for more than half of my life. That was it for my 2017. When I delivered the hard copy of my 400+ page thesis to my school's office I looked like a zombie but I was the world's happiest zombie. Phew...


Defending & Beyond

Well, the administrative procedures ended up taking up quite some time but my viva, or better thesis defense, was scheduled for January 2018. On the 10th,  I defended my thesis at Collège de France and I was grateful to count on a top-notch interdisciplinary committee or jury as they say in French. Philippe Descola, bringing  anthropology of nature and his great intellectual generosity, had been my advisor while Dominique Lestel had covered the field of philosophy of animality. Bill McGrew was there for cultural primatology and Bruno Latour for science & technology studies. Vinciane Despret championed philosophy of animal experiments and Sophie Houdart; Japanology and the anthropology of Japanese laboratories. Lucky!  The jury was international and so was the viva, in two languages. On that same month I was welcomed by Cat Hobaiter  in the Wild Minds Lab in the UK (more on that story soon!). In 2019, I was honored to receive honorable mention in the international PSL Dissertation Prize in the category Science-Humanities Interface. Tune in here to know my research updates!  

Before you go....

Memories of meeting chimpanzee Ai 


"This was the day I first met chimpanzee Ai. From that day on she completely changed my life. We would work together for more than a year. She was so kind and so generous to me, as she noticed I was a novice in the trade of observing chimpanzees and studying their intelligence. She "explained" herself to me several times with patience but with the assertiveness of the real leader she is. Sometimes, during the voluntary experiment I invited her to participate in, she would get annoyed if I didn't perform my best as a researcher, but would treat me with the same respect as always (except for this once when she got really mad at me for breaking "rules" I was not aware of...). Above all, Ai knows how to read into humans without losing her chimp-side. My encounter with chimpanzees, my encounter with Ai, left me with a profound sense that someone was reading my soul. A person, a non-human person with an intelligent, profound mind which happened to belong to a different species. In my last day with her, I cried heavy tears of longing. Chimpanzees don't cry, could they understand human tears? She looked into my eyes, clearly puzzled but, perhaps, slightly moved. Ever since, I knew I had a mission to help other humans understand and be touched by great apes' mind. And I hope more people learn to love and protect their fading lives."

Originally posted here:         


Solace Logo by Prof. Brown
Wild Minds Lab Logo
Gabriela Daly Human-primate Studies
  • Gabriela Daly's Instagram Post - Meeting chimp Ai
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