Form and Content

This study is divided into nineteen sections, each organizing information from notes by Jane Goodall and her students, colleagues, and Tanzanian associates, supported and broadened by references to other studies. The initial sections provide a history of human-chimpanzee contact, a study of the chimpanzee mind, and a justification of study in the wild with limited human interference. A description of the Gombe habitat, the field methods employed there, and the basic chimp-observer relationships follows, then a who’s who of chimpanzees from the one chimpanzee community observed close-up and a detailed report of behavior studied. This report is divided into sections on demographic changes, communications, the nature of chimpanzee society, relationships, ranging patterns, feeding, hunting, aggression, friendly behavior, grooming, dominance, sexual behavior, territoriality, object manipulation, and social awareness. These sections include accounts of the particular behavior of individual chimpanzees, sociograms of interactions based on age, gender, and community, and numerous charts and lists to qualify and quantify observations.

The introduction credits Louis Leakey, paleontologist-cum-anthropologist, for helping Goodall begin her studies of Gombe chimpanzees and for providing the intellectual basis for the study: the belief that the uncanny similarities between human and chimpanzee brain and social behavior suggest divergence from a common evolutionary stock, and therefore that a knowledge of chimpanzee life and behavior amid the animal’s natural habitat could provide clues to the behavior of early humankind, whose milieu was far closer to that of wild chimpanzees. Goodall discusses the...

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Jane Goodall has received numerous conservation awards, including the Order of the Golden Ark of The Netherlands, the Golden Medal of Conservation from the San Diego Zoological Society, the New York Zoological Society Award, and the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize. She has participated in National Geographic television specials and received two Franklin Burr awards from the National Geographic Society and the society’s Centennial Award. She was the eighth person in the history of the University of Cambridge to receive a Ph.D. without first earning a B.A. Goodall’s devotion to her profession, her willingness to make the physical, cultural, and social sacrifices necessary to attain her goals, and the professionalism of her study have inspired others to continue her efforts, as confirmed by the Gombe Stream Research Center, the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation, and the ChimpanZoo. Each section of The Chimpanzees of Gombe suggests new directions for further research about patterns not confirmed by her observations.

Goodall helped pioneer the discipline of primatology, setting up methodologies to study everything from birth abnormalities to tactile and olfactory communication, from daily, seasonal, and lifetime individual and community travel patterns to piracy and scavenging. Her observations of gender differences and gender-related behavior in chimpanzees suggest that biological factors cannot be ignored in the chimpanzee (or the human) equation. Her study of childhood dependency and the disastrous psychological effects of a disrupted mother-child relationship suggests far deeper mother-infant bonding than had been previously understood—a bond extending, in some cases, through a lifetime. She notes tool use differing by sex, with females using tools to extract termites patiently for extended periods throughout the year but with males using them only during the height of the termite mating season in November. She finds the social framework far more flexible than one would expect, but with male chimpanzees in the main bonding more easily with fellow males for short-term advantages and females bonding less but for long-term advantages. She finds both sexes in need of prolonged physical contact and soothed by grooming sessions. More important, she finds that one superior individual can dramatically change the nature of the community and thereby affect its future cultural evolution.

The Chimpanzees of Gombe

The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior is the record of an ethological study that has already lasted more than twenty-five years. It was in 1960 that Jane Goodall first went to Gombe National Park, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, and began the process of watching chimpanzees, at first at a distance and through binoculars, but later—as the chimpanzees became habituated to human presence—at increasingly close quarters and with the help of teams of students and locally recruited field assistants. The Gombe project has had to survive several crises, including the kidnaping of four team members by Zairian rebels in 1975, but it has nevertheless maintained both continuity and methodological rigor.

The length, and the naturalness, of the Gombe observations have important effects not only on the quantity but also on the quality of the data recorded. As Goodall indicates, if her study had closed after a mere decade, the myth of “the gentle, peace-loving ape” would have remained and gained new credit by being placed on an apparently reliable scientific basis. After 1970, however, two sequences of events took place to shatter this myth, one being the division of the chimpanzee community near the research center into two groups, which led to an outbreak of what one can almost call warfare, and the other being the cannibalistic attacks of one chimpanzee female on the infants of all the other females, behavior apparently individual and unmotivated but nevertheless involving and capable of being transmitted to a new generation in the person of the female’s one daughter. Chimpanzee behavior varies, then, and limited observations place one in danger of drawing general conclusions from biased data. A further point in favor of the Gombe project, though, is that as a result of long familiarity, Goodall and her colleagues can quite simply recognize individual chimpanzees, say with absolute certainty how they are all related at least maternally, and even—despite the normal promiscuity of chimpanzee life—make good guesses at fatherhood. The importance of this for any study of behavior cannot be overestimated. At the simplest level it makes it possible to identify recurrent patterns, such as persistent challenging and struggles for dominance among the males; it allows conclusions to be drawn even about such seemingly unapproachable matters as whether chimpanzees have an incest taboo; and it enables the observers to see not “chimpanzees” as a whole, but as individuals, with their own peculiarities and deviations from average or expected behavior. It is not too much to say that the mere raw data on which The Chimpanzees of Gombe is based are of a different kind from those of almost any other animal study, being at times closer to anthropology than to ethology.

This, however, adds a further dimension of interest to Goodall’s book. Recent work on DNA and on immunological differences has only confirmed the original strong feeling that chimpanzees (and gorillas) are very close to human beings indeed. It is even possible that all three are “sibling species,” physically and genetically closer to one another, for example, than dogs and foxes, or horses and zebras. In all that Goodall writes, accordingly, there is a strong and overt element of comparison. In what ways are chimpanzees like people? What are the major remaining differences? Does observing them provide clues to the behavior of early man, as Goodall had hoped it would at the beginning of the study? What is the significance of the very obvious correspondence of chimpanzee behavior with the behavior of present-day man?

Goodall considers all these points in many different ways. The question of language has long been a vexed one. Early attempts to bring captive chimpanzee infants up as humans and teach them to speak were unsuccessful; much more successful, though still debated, were the attempts to teach chimpanzees sign language. What do they do, however, when left to themselves? Typical of this study is the very close and careful analysis of the Gombe chimpanzees’ “vocal repertoire,” from the “pant-grunt,” always directed up the social hierarchy and never down, to the “waa-bark,” associated with fights (but often emitted by bystanders, seemingly out of sympathy), to the food-grunt, the nest-grunt, the “huu” of puzzlement or anxiety, and no less than four distinguishable types of screams. Such distinctions could be made only on the basis of long experience; linking noises to contexts...

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Gould, Stephen Jay. “Animals and Us.” The New York Review of Books 34 (June 25, 1987): 20-25. In this excellent comparative study of four wildlife studies, Gould calls Goodall an intellectual hero, praising her “sheer gumption” in carrying out noninterfering observation, closely observed for a long period, and with an admittedly high level of emotional involvement. Yet he notes Goodall’s not following females for full-day studies because of preconceptions later disproven by female involvement in hunts, her statements sometimes echoing the chain-of-being tradition, and her scheme of research following human interest. Gould says that the “prison of...

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