National Geographic : 2003 Apr
habitat and, within it, a sizable interbreeding population of chimpanzees (thousands, rather than merely hundreds or dozens) into the next century and beyond. Securing such a single big area is crucial to the survival of the species, given that so many of Africa's other chimpanzee ref uges are, like Gombe, far too small and too iso lated to support viable populations. The chimps of the Goualougo Triangle still enjoy the possibility of an unbounded and genetically robust future. That fact, in addition to their naive attitude toward humans, is what has made them such a focus of interest and con cern. But can they remain so naive? If not, then what forms of chastening experience await them? Will they lose their ingenuous curiosity about humans by way of the intrusive attentions of ecotourism, rather than by the lethal traumas of hunting, habitat destruction, and beleaguered insularity? Such questions reflect the real dis tance-it's more than just land miles-between Gombe and Goualougo. Naivete is a delicate, perishable state of being, and in fact the Goualougo chimps have al ready begun to lose theirs. Although they haven't acquired any noticeable fear of humans, their curiosity seems less strong and impetuous than it was three years ago. The episodes of excited mutual ogling are less frequent. The limelight of continuous study, even by two such deferen tial scientists as Morgan and Sanz, seems to have jaded them slightly. The physicist Werner Hei senberg warned us about this: You can't observe anything closely without affecting it somehow. arrival at the Goualougo field camp, footsore and weary after a long day's slog, accompanied by Fay and a handful of others (including me), Morgan and Sanz were there to greet her. Night had fallen before the hiking was done, and we found our way down the last thigh-deep channel by headlamp. Stumbling up onto solid ground, we pitched our tents, washed, and reconvened at the campfire for beans and rice. It's been ten years since she walked so far, Jane said. Her blistered soles reflected that fact. Still, at age 68, her signature ponytail now going gray, she had a reservoir of strength to spare spiritual strength, if not muscular. She seemed 102 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * APRIL 2003 invigorated by the sheer joy of being back in a forest full of chimpanzees. Next morning Jane ventured out onto the Goualougo trails, hoping for a view of the animals Morgan and Sanz have been studying. But it wasn't like the solitary, early days at Gombe. Here, now, she moved at the center of an entourage: a Pygmy tracker, Morgan, Sanz, Fay, photographer Nichols with his unobtru sive little Leica-and that was just the half of it. With each step Jane took, a crew from National Geographic Television shadowed her, hungry to record every word and glance. The forest itself became a TV stage. But she was patient and professional, hitting her mark in every scene, repeating this or that comment when another take was called for, using the television attention as she uses all such burdens and opportunities of fame-to get her message out. That message, grossly compressed and pre sumptuously summarized, is: Every individual counts, both among nonhuman animals and among humanity, so if you renounce callous anthropocentrism and cruelty, your personal actions will make Earth a better place. After five days in the forest it began to seem questionable whether Jane herself, the guest of honor, would have an extended encounter with any chimpanzees whatsoever. One problem was her damaged feet. Although the blisters didn't stop her from walking in the forest, they did inconvenience her. But she borrowed a roll of duct tape, for emergency foot maintenance, and carried on gamely. Another problem was the sheer collective bustle of such a large group. You don't parade through the woods in a party of ten if you want to see animals-not even if the animals in question are naive, or habituated, or flat-out deaf. Finally, after most of a week, she did get a chance to enjoy what she had come for-three hours in the presence of a relaxed group of chimps as they fed, rested, and otherwise occu pied themselves in a Synsepalum tree. It wasn't a dramatic encounter. The chimps went about their business, showing no excited curiosity or recip rocal fascination. But it was satisfying to Jane, who saw not just a gaggle of primates but indi vidual creatures, particularized under the names by which Morgan and Sanz have come to know them-the female Maya, her infant daughter, Malia, the female O'Keefe, and a half dozen more.