Itai Roffman’s PhD research centers on traits of chimpanzees previously thought to be uniquely human — identity, creativity, imagination and reasoning. Working with Eviatar Nevo and Avraham Ronen of the International Graduate Center of Evolution, Roffman collaborates with chimpanzee sanctuaries in the United States, UK, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
His research has revealed the ability of Kanzi and Panbanisha to draw and explain representational signs that hold meaning to them, make music, and create stone tools. His work with the Des Moines bonobos has contributed to videos and an article on humans and chimpanzees as sister species co-authored with Nevo for the Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal that have gone viral and been featured in over 700 articles and internet stories world-wide, including stories by Psychology Today, Wired, National Geographic, Smithsonian.com, New Scientist, International Science Times, and The Guardian.
Itai Roffman has long been active in humanitarian, environmental and animal-related projects. During his ten-year association with Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, he served as national coordinator for the Jane Goodall Institute Roots & Shoots program for youth in Israel.
Itai and his team at the International School of Evolution at Haifa University are working to establish a sanctuary on Mount Carmel for chimpanzees to live in a natural environment and as a site to research interactions between chimpanzees and humans — with the potential to develop methods to help improve mental competencies of severely autistic and developmentally disabled youth through games, tools, art and music. After success at helping a 23 year-old relative with medium retardation to draw figuratively and to express himself in pantomime by sharing videos of chimpanzees and gorillas communicating with humans, Roffman hopes to establish a system of technology-based video communication between humans and chimpanzees located in different parts of the world in real time.