Cheryl Knott

Professor, Associate Chair


Department of Biology, Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Center


Areas of Expertise

Orangutan and great ape behavior and physiology; human evolution; rainforest conservation; human and primate sexuality and reproduction

View Professor Knott’s CV


Biological anthropologist Cheryl Knott’s research is focused on orangutan behavior and biology, both as a way to further our understanding of endangered great apes and as a model for looking at human evolution. Dr. Knott earned her PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University, where she also served as an Associate Professor until 2008, when she joined the BU faculty. She has been studying wild orangutans in Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park, on the island of Borneo, since 1992. She is the founder and director of the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project, one of the longest running primate research projects in the world.

Her work reveals how orangutan adaptations, such as the longest inter-birth interval of any mammal and the evolution of two adult male morphs, are shaped by their ecology. Her current research focuses on why orangutan juveniles grow so slowly and how they are impacted by changes in food availability. In her lab on campus she studies reproductive and energetic hormones as well as the nutritional composition of wild orangutan foods. She is well known for pioneering the use of non-invasive methods in the wild as a way to study animal physiology without physical contact.

Part of her program includes a large orangutan conservation project which works to protect this critically endangered species, and their rain forest habitat, through education, public awareness campaigns, population and habitat censuses, sustainable livelihood development, establishment of village-run customary forests, investigation of the illegal pet trade and active engagement with Indonesian government organizations.

Professor Knott is also a core faculty member in BU’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program where she helped develop the introductory course that integrates perspectives from the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. She is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and other forums on orangutans, great apes, and rainforest conservation. In addition to publishing over 50 scientific articles, she also creates, and has been featured, in popular books, articles and films on orangutans, in collaboration with her husband, National Geographic photographer Tim Laman. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards for her research and teaching including the Templeton Award for excellence in student advising.

Selected Publications

  • DiGiorgio, A.L., E.M. Upton, T.W. Susanto, and C.D. Knott. 2020. Wild Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) feeding rates and the Marginal Value Theorem. American Journal of Primatology. DOI: 10.1002/ajp.23183
  • Freund, C.A., M. Achmad, P. Kanisius, R. Naruri, E. Tang, and C.D. Knott. 2020. Conserving orangutans one classroom at a time: evaluating the effectiveness of a wildlife education program for school-aged children in Indonesia. Animal Conservation 23 (1): 18-27. DOI:10.1111/acv.12513
  • Norconk, M.A., … C.D. Knott, et al. 2019. Reducing the primate pet trade: Actions for primatologists. American Journal of Primatology 82 (1). DOI: 10.1002/ajp.23079


  • CAS AN 263 Behavioral Biology of Women
  • CAS AN 335 The Ape Within: Apes and the Evolution of Human Behavior
  • CAS AN 554 Human Reproductive Ecology
  • CAS AN 558 Human Sex Differences
  • CAS AN 595 Field and Laboratory Methods in Biological Anthropology
  • CAS AN 597a Evolution of the Human Diet
  • CAS AN 597b Evolution of the Human Family
  • CAS AN 598 Primate and Human Sexuality
  • CAS AN 735 Ape Within Graduate Seminar
  • CAS AN 902 Behavioral Biology of Women Graduate Seminar
  • CAS WS 102 Introduction to Women’s Studies

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