Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology

Primates lounging in their exhibit
Dr. Robert Yerkes was a Harvard (PHD 1902) educated scientist. His area of interest was intelligence. He founded and directed the Yale Laboratories for Primate Biology which was located on Kingsley Avenue in Orange Park. The chimpanzee/bonobo colony included four animals that Dr. Yerkes had in Connecticut, thirteen chimpanzees that were donated by a prominent Cuban citizen and sixteen apes that were a gift from the Pasteur Institute of France. The same year, the first chimpanzee birth occurred at the Center; the offspring, named Alpha, provided Dr. Yerkes with the first detailed observations of a chimpanzee’s development and reproductive processes.

In 1941, when Dr. Yerkes retired, Yale University renamed the Center the Yerkes Laboratory of Primate Biology in honor of Dr. Yerkes’ leadership and contributions to science.


Emory University took over the lab from Yale and it was eventually transferred to Georgia in 1965.

“Today, the Yerkes Center houses nearly 3,400 nonhuman primates between two locations at its main center on Emory’s Atlanta campus and its field station in Lawrenceville, Georgia, as well as 12,000 rodents in the Yerkes vivarium at the main center. Yerkes-based research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for diseases; treat drug addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; unlock the secrets of memory; determine how the interaction between genetics and society shape who we are; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.”

Books at the Archives

  • Monkey Farm: A History of the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology, Orange Park, By Donald A. Dewsbury (tells the story of the lab)
  • Dr. Robert Mearns Yerkes-the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology- a collection
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