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Feb 21, 2024

National Geographic Society Launches the Wildlife Intelligence Project (video)

Templeton World Charity Foundation awarded the National Geographic Society with a grant to support three National Geographic Explorers as they seek to uncover critical insights into animal behavior.


WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 21, 2024) –– The National Geographic Society has announced the launch of the Wildlife Intelligence Project, an initiative that will fund and follow three National Geographic Explorers as they embark on animal cognition and behavior research that will potentially adapt how humans view, interact and connect with wildlife.

Inspired by the Templeton Prize presented to Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall institute and UN Messenger of Peace, the Templeton World Charity Foundation awarded the National Geographic Society with a grant to identify and fund the next generation of scientists that would reshape our understanding of animal and intelligence behavior. The Templeton Prize specifically celebrated Dr. Goodall's scientific and spiritual curiosity, and her unrelenting effort to connect humanity to a greater purpose. These explorers were chosen with these attributes in mind. 

The National Geographic Society conducted a rigorous global search to find three of the best emerging early-career scientists whose work seeks to answer questions and provide us with better insights into the minds and behaviors of animals — and what drives their decisions.

The researchers selected are: 

Mauricio Cantor, a Brazilian biologist and assistant professor at Oregon State University, will examine cooperative behavior among dolphins and humans across three sites in Brazil, India and Myanmar. Cantor will examine whether specific ecological conditions have contributed to the evolution of human-dolphin cooperation among fishing communities in these regions. Cantor heads the Lab for Animal Behavioural Interaction Research In The Ocean (LABIRINTO) and serves as adjunct faculty at two universities in Brazil where he teaches and supervises ocean behavioral ecology. 

Felicity Muth is the head of the Muth Lab and assistant professor in the department of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at the University of California Davis. Muth’s research will explore how ecology shapes the behavior of wild bees. Working with wild bees from rural Nevada and California, Felicity will study how the surrounding environment affects how bees learn and make decisions. Muth is a prolific science communicator and recently published a children’s book on bee diversity titled “Am I Even a Bee?”.

Tiago Falótico is a Brazilian primatologist and ethologist who studies the behavior, social learning and culture of wild primates. Falótico’s research will focus on the use of tools among wild capuchin monkeys in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara and Ubajara National Parks. Using a primate archaeology approach, he will compare tool use behavior between different sexes and groups of capuchin monkeys to help drive a better understanding of primate cognition, cultural behavior and human evolution.

Watch the above video to learn more.

“We are proud to launch the Wildlife Intelligence Project and to support and empower the next generation of scientists committed to furthering Dr. Goodall’s legacy of inspiring people to take action to protect the wonder of our world,” said Ian Miller, Chief Scientist and Innovation Officer, National Geographic Society. “The questions they seek to answer about animal intelligence will provide invaluable knowledge for both the scientific community and humanity as a whole.”

"Dr. Goodall's work exemplifies the kind of humility, spiritual curiosity, and discovery Sir John Templeton wrote and spoke about during his life. We are thrilled that National Geographic Explorers awarded these emerging scientists with the support that will help them grow to mirror the impact of Dr. Goodall's long career and further our understanding of the richness of intelligences that exist in nature," says Tina Cambridge, President and COO, Templeton World Charity Foundation.

"We know that understanding animal intelligence is central to building empathy. Jane's extraordinary work showed the world that people are moved to protect a specifies when they understand and connect to them. We are pleased to have partnered with the National Geographic Society on the Wildlife Intelligence Project and look forward to seeing what new insights we can gain," says Anna Rathmann, Executive Director, Jane Goodall Institute.

At just 26 years old, Dr. Goodall's trailblazing research transformed our understanding of chimpanzees and redefined the relationship between humans and animals. Now, at nearly 90, the conservation icon reflects on the next generations of researchers. "We are all interconnected, people animals, our environment. The work being done by the recipients of the Wildlife Intelligence Project is essential to developing a better understanding of human-animal behavior and the healthy functioning of our planet. When nature flourishes, we all flourish," says Jane Goodall DBE.

Cantor, Falótico, and Muth will conduct fieldwork as National Geographic Explorers that not only adapts their field of study, but also demonstrates unique diligence, receptivity and passion all in the service of providing humanity with a new lens to understand the animal world and our relationship to it. In addition to funding the field work, the Society will provide each researcher with training and support from the Exploration Technology Lab.