In Memoriam: Christophe Boesch (1951-2024)

Christophe Boesch

Christophe in the Moyen Bafing National Park of northern Guinea, having just tasted some freshwater algae that the local chimpanzees consume. The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation was involved in creating this new national park in 2021.

We lost a great primatologist and conservationist in Christophe Boesch this year.

Christophe established the Taï Forest Chimpanzee Project with his wife and research partner Hedwige Boesch-Acherman after many years of habituating the chimpanzees without the use of provisioning and under guidance of the late Hans Kummer in Zürich.

I was fortunate to meet Christophe in Basel after he joined Stephen Stearns’s group as assistant Professor at Basel University in the late 1980s. Christophe gave me the opportunity to visit Taï in 1988 and to spend 1990 to 1991 at the field site. During my time at Taï, observing mother-infant interactions in the context of extractive feeding, Christophe informed me that he had heard about a laboratory at University of California San Diego, where the late David Woodruff and colleagues were using non-invasive genotyping of hair samples to study genetics of wild chimpanzees. We started collecting hair samples at Taï and after climbing countless trees across Côte d’Ivoire and Mali to access chimpanzee nests and collect hair samples, I arrived in San Diego to work on these samples in 1993. Over the years, I witnessed the growth of the research program, which included a large number of talented students and post docs. Additional visits to Taï in 1995 and 1997 also allowed me to appreciate how widely respected Christophe was by a large group of longtime field assistants. It was also obvious how important local outreach and education were to him, which led to the establishment of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation now active across West Africa, which Hedwige continues to lead. As a Max Planck Institute Director since 1997, Christophe led countless trail-blazing projects across Africa and contributed to the careers of many leading primatologists, anthropologists, ecologists, and epidemiologists.

My thoughts are with his family, Hedwige, Lukas, and Leonore.

Pascal Gagneux, San Diego, CA