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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Faculty Q&A;: Horst Dieter Steklis

Jacob Rader
Jacob Rader / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Horst Dieter Steklis is UA South’s associate dean for academic affairs and an adjunct psychology professor. Steklis was a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, where he worked since 1974 before coming to the UA in 2004. In 2007 he moved to the UA South campus. He has an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a doctorate in primatology from the University of California, Berkeley. Steklis is currently conducting research on parenting by drawing comparisons between humans and gorilla parenting forms. The Daily Wildcat sat down with Steklis to discuss his work.

Daily Wildcat: Can you tell me about the new research project that will involve your work?

Horst Dieter Steklis: The project we just launched is with folks at the McClelland Institute. We got together and designed a project that has us looking at parenting forms and what the consequences are of parenting in gorilla societies.

When I say parenting, I’m talking about the paternal side of parenting, something fairly rare in primates and mammals. When you find a primate species, especially those closely related to humans, like the gorilla, who do engage in a fair amount of parenting, that gets to be quite interesting and one can derive common principals that inform human parenting. That’s the idea — to bring comparatives.

DW: How long have you been researching gorillas?

HDS: My wife and I began studying gorillas in 1991 in Rwanda, so for more than 15 years. We lived in Africa for a couple of years and we go back and forth continuing our work there with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

DW: How long have you been researching paternal relationships in gorillas?

HDS: That’s a recent focus for us. I’ve been involved in different research with gorillas. Because they’re a highly endangered species, a lot of our work addresses conservation issues. We did a lot of filming because when you’re interested in communication — facial expressions and postures — it’s always better to capture that on film to look at later.

DW: How involved are male gorillas in parenting?

HDS: We have always seen gorillas playing with youngsters but hadn’t really developed it as a research focus. It’s because we fell in here with the good folks at the McClelland Institute, like Dr. Ellis, and in psychology that we began having discussions about family and parenting. We said “”Hey, this is a good opportunity to collaborate.”” It was good for us because it allowed us to look at something we hadn’t thought much about it until we started talking to people here interested in human families. We said “”Wouldn’t it be interesting to bring a comparative perspective on human parenting?”” In this case, the comparison is with a close genetic relative, the gorilla.

DW: Do most male primates show involvement with parenting?

HDS: If you look among the great apes, the group of primates genetically closely related to us, gorillas stand out as the ape that shows a lot more paternal behavior than others do.

Others hardly show any. If you look more broadly in the animal kingdom there are other species that also show high degrees of paternal behavior or fathering so it really depends on the animal and the mating system. Among birds for example usually both parents are involved in raising the young, which is why most birds are monogamous. Some mammals, many dog species, also raise offspring in pairs because you need both parents, especially if it’s a slow-maturing offspring.

DW: Has a study like this been conducted before?

HDS: McClelland is on the forefront in this kind of comparative perspective study on human parenting. There are very few departments of family studies around the country who would entertain that comparative perspective. It’s unique in that regard.

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