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Professor Jo Setchell


Professor in the Department of Anthropology


I joined Durham Anthropology in 2007. I have a PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge, and moved into Anthropology via post-doctoral research at the Centre for Research in Evolutionary Anthropology at Roehampton University and in the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and a temporary lectureship in Anthropology at University College London.

I teach biological and evolutionary anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I have won two awards for doctoral supervision.

I have served on the University Senate as an elected representative of the Academic Electoral Assembly, and as Director of the MSc in Evolutionary Anthropology, Chair of the Exam Board, Director of Research, Inclusion Diversity and Equity champion, and Director of Postgraduate Research in my department.

I enjoy public engagement, including appearances on Science Shambles, BBC4's The Secrets of Skin, BBC2's Nature’s Weirdest Events, BBC4's "Colour: The Spectrum of Science", and Not a Pet: Primates.

Jo Setchell Durham EARG
How to address me
  • My preferred name is Jo.
  • My pronouns are she/ her/ hers.
  • My full name, which you'll find in my publications, is Joanna M Setchell. 
  • In a conversation, please address me as Jo.
  • In formal contexts, please use Dr Setchell.
  • To address an envelope, please use Dr Jo Setchell.
Recent publications
Cover of Studying Primates (English edition)

A recent article, based on Miles Woodruff’s PhD research, shows that a carefully planned release of mandrills can work well with the right design, monitoring and evaluation. Watch here to find out more.

Setchell JM. 2019. Studying Primates: How to Design, Conduct and Report Primatological Research. Cambridge University Press. I welcome feedback if you're using this. The full text is freely available on ResearchGate. A French translation will be available mid-2024. Indonesian and Spanish translations are underway.

I'm one of a team of 59 primatologists from 21 countries who worked with the Conservation Evidence Initiative in Cambridge to examine the evidence base underpinning efforts to conserve primates. Headline - most of the time, we don't know what works and what doesn't work.

I'm a co-author of the IUCN/ Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group Section for Human Primate Interactions Best Practice Guidelines for Responsible Images of Non-Human Primates. So far the Guidelines have been translated into 23 languages.

Recorded presentations

A recording from the Société Francophone de Primatologie Colloque 2021 Why conservation needs anthropology (in French).

A recording of my Presidential Plenary at the Primate Society of Great Britain Winter meeting 2020 on 'Decolonising Primatology' (in English).

A recording from an IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions webinar on Decolonising Primate Conservation


Since 1996, my research has integrated methods including behaviour, morphology, demography, genetics, endocrinology, semiochemistry and dental histology to address questions relating to reproductive strategies, life history, sexual selection and signalling in primates. 

The majority of this work has focused on a semifree-ranging colony of mandrills, housed at the Centre International de Recherches Médicales, Franceville (CIRMF), Gabon. For more about our long-term studies of mandrills, please see this review, and this summary. I have also conducted primate fieldwork in Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Sabah, Malaysia, including personal experience of conservation issues and primate reintroductions.

It is impossible to work on primates without becoming aware of the threats they face. My research is therefore increasingly focussed on human-wildlife coexistence and biodiversity conservation. I am convinced that conservation must be underpinned by a deep understanding of the historical, political and social context. My collaborators and I have described our interdisciplinary approach to conservation here and here. My current work is in collaboration with Save Gabon's Primates to promote the conservation and welfare of primates in Gabon.

I have a long-standing interest in the practice and ethics of primate research. I co-edited a book on Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology with an explicit focus on ethics, helped to develop the International Primatological Society's Code of Best Practices in Field Primatology, and lead the establishment of a new IPS Vice-President for Equity and Ethics. My recent book, Studying Primates, has a strong focus on equity, ethics and integrity. As President of the Primate Society of Great Britain, I focussed on the need to decolonise our discipline. I'm a member of the International Primatological Society ethics committee.

I co-moderate a private room on WildHub on 'Primate Capture, Release and Alternatives'. The room is a project of the International Primatological Society Committee to Make the Capture and Release of Wild Primates Safer and Find Alternatives. It's a place to share best practices for capture, ideas about alternatives to capture, seek help with planning captures, and discuss challenges encountered when capturing and releasing wild primates. If you're interested in joining, please email me. 

You can find details of my publications below and on Researchgate.

Information for Prospective Students and Postdocs
Excellence award

I'm happy to supervise interns, MSc, Masters by Research, and PhD students in primatology. I am happy to work with applicants who share my research interests to develop a proposal. 

If you're interested in doing a PhD, you will need funding to cover fees, living costs and research costs. PhDs in the UK do not include a taught component and are usually 3-4 years if you study full-time.

Options for funding through Durham University include our Doctoral Training partnerships, Durham Doctoral Scholarships (not available for 2023) and other scholarships. Deadlines are usually in January and early preparation with multiple rounds of feedback is essential for a chance of success. This database might also be useful.

There's information about a variety of postdoctoral fellowship opportunities here. Again, early preparation with multiple rounds of feedback is essential for success.

I prioritise applications from range-country primatologists, and those which relate to and build on my own research. I am particularly keen to work with qualitative social scientists interested in human-animal interactions and biodiversity conservation.

Completed Post-Docs
  • Dr Sarah Maya Rosen, ESRC post-doctoral fellowship 'Intersectional Forensic Anthropology: Shifting Our Methodological Paradigm'. October 2022-September 2023.
  • Dr Sharon Kessler: Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship on disease recognition in primates January 2017-December 2018. Sharon is now a lecturer in Pscyhology at Stirling University.
  • Dr Rodrigo Moro-Rios: Ciência sem Fronteiras "Phylogenetic reconstruction of ancestral states and diversification of Callitrichidae (Primates) cooperative breeding societies". Rodrigo is now an Honorary Researcher in Anthropology at Durham.
  • Dr Esther Clarke: COFUND Junior Research Fellowship "Primate vocalisations as sexual signals". Esther is now an Honorary Researcher in Anthropology at Durham.
  • Dr Stefano Vaglio: Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development "Primate Olfaction". Stefano is now Reader in Animal Behaviour at the University of Wolverhampton.
Current Research Students
  • Christopher Miller. 'Welfare assessment of rhesus macaques: from field observation to computational models of brain network'. In collaboration with Dr Colline Poirier (Newcastle University). BBSRC-funded PhD candidate. 
  • Dan Lewis. 'Mandrills and microbes: The role of the skin microbiome in primate communication'. IAPETUS2 DTP NERC-funded PhD candidate in collaboration with Dr Leena Kerr (Heriot-Watt University), Dr Sharon Kessler (University of Stirling), and Dr Barthelemy Ngoubangoye (CIRMF, Gabon).
Completed Research Students
Current Collaborations
  • Centre de Primatologie, Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherches Médicales, Franceville, Gabon. Long-term, interdisciplinary studies of semi-free-ranging mandrills.

  • Dr Sian Waters, Vice-Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions.
  • Dr Elena Cunningham, NYU College of Dentistry. Improving capture methods for primates.

Research interests

  • Biosocial conservation
  • Human-wildlife interactions
  • Primate conservation
  • Primate socioecology
  • Reproductive strategies
  • Socioendocrinology
  • Primate behavioural ecology
  • Sexual selection
  • Life history strategies and phenotypic plasticity
  • Ethnoprimatology


Authored book

Book review

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

Supervision students