College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences

Over 20 years of highly impactful research in behavioural ecology

Prof Peter Henzi

Prof Peter Henzi has held a B1 National Research Foundation (NRF) rating for over 20 years. With this rating, the NRF recognises Henzi as a leading international scholar in the field of behavioural ecology. The NRF rating system is a key driver in the NRF’s aim to build a globally competitive science system in South Africa. The rating is a valuable tool for benchmarking the quality of South Africa’s researchers against the best in the world. 

As a behavioural ecologist with an interest in social animals, Henzi studies how ecology and the environment shape animal societies and structure social dynamics within those societies. He explains: "In my work with the Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystem Research Unit (ABEERU) at Unisa, I focus on transferring the skills and techniques that I use in my non-applied work to graduate students. In this way, they become equipped to best gather the information relevant to the conservation and management of primates in the context of their local environments."

Through his research, Henzi seeks to understand on the one hand, how individual members of primate groups interact with others to make the best of their lives, and, on the other hand, to get a better sense of how ecology shapes the social world in which these individuals must participate. With regard to who or what inspires him in his field of research, he says: "I very much enjoy the feeling that my understanding of animal groups improves because of my ongoing fieldwork. My relationship with Prof Leslie Brown of ABEERU, which began 21 years ago when we joined forces to co-supervise a student, has given me a much clearer understanding of how basic behavioural ecological research can contribute to conservation theory and practice."

Henzi says that he had a very good lecturer in animal behaviour when he was an undergraduate at the University of Natal (as it was called then) and he also enjoyed spending time in the bush. These two factors influenced his choice of research, so much so that he immediately embraced the possibility of building an academic career while being able to spend as much time as possible outdoors.

Among his research highlights and achievements, Henzi is grateful that he has been continuously funded by the NRF for the last 35 years. "My career would not have been possible without this level of support and encouragement. Similarly, I was deeply honoured to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa." At Unisa, he explains that he regards the founding of ABEERU with Brown as a major accomplishment, adding: "All the students that we have seen through to their master's and doctoral degrees at the unit are an ongoing highlight for me. Research-wise, a recent large grant from the NRF allowed us to make a uniquely detailed study of the thermal biology of vervet monkeys in the Karoo, and the results are proving to be both academically exciting and valuable for our ability to understand the consequences of rapid climate change."

Unisa is home to highly rated researchers whose research outputs position them as international researchers in their respective fields.

* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021/07/29