National Geographic : 2010 Feb
1995, more than a few primatologists sco ed. "People were like, Curiosity: Hmmm, how do you de ne that?" says Sanz, 34, now a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "Poor Dave, when he rst told me about these chimps, even I didn't believe him." ough there had long been scattered anecdotes of fearless central African apes who trailed explorers around the jungle and behaved as if they'd never seen a hu- man before, it beggared belief that there could be an entire forest full of them. Yet the Goualougo Triangle and the vast, uninhabited Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, of which the Goualougo is a part, are so re- mote and inaccessible that they have remained virtually untouched by humanity. e nearest settlement, a 400-person Bantu-Bangombé Pygmy village called Bomassa, is a 30-mile trek away. ere are no poachers here, no loggers, nobody even wandering through. e only peo- ple a chimp in the Goualougo might ever have a chance of crossing paths with are Morgan, Sanz, and members of their small team. Originally WCS, which co-manages two of Congo's national parks with the Congolese government, had hoped to leave the Goualougo Triangle completely untouched as a kind of pre- serve within the preserve, o -limits even to the corrupting in uence of science. But that calcu- lation changed during Congo's 1997 civil war, when Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), the forestry company with logging rights in the neighboring Kabo concession, built a levee for transporting lumber across the Ndoki River a few miles south of its confluence with the Goualougo. Since CIB would soon be brushing up against the triangle's natural borders, WCS felt that it was critical to put some boots on the ground. "We had to beat the logging companies in here," says Morgan. In 1999 he hiked out to the Goualougo with a single Congolese assistant and set up one of the most remote great ape research sites in the world. at Morgan was able to persevere out in the middle of nowhere, with spartan accommoda- tions and minimal logistical support, had a lot to do with Sanz, who came out to the Goualougo in 2001 and has been his partner in both science and life ever since. When I visited the triangle in 2008, I wanted to see what had become of this Eden and its supposedly guileless inhabitants. The Goua- lougo remains a primate wonderland, with an astounding density of both gorillas and chimps. Things that haven't been observed anywhere else in Africa happen here---and o en. Mor- gan and Sanz have watched chimps and goril- las nibble on fruit in the very same tree. (Not quite the lion lying down with the lamb, but for primatologists, just as bizarre.) They've seen chimps cup their hands and beat their chests, as if mimicking their gorilla neighbors. But the most spectacular finding to come out of the Goualougo over the past several years is an ex- panded view of what can only be called chimp culture, a tradition of using complex "tool kits." A er a decade of determined study by Morgan and Sanz, the story of the Goualougo is no lon- ger how little the chimps know of us, but rather how much we now know of them. O September morning at the front end of the Congo's rainy season, Morgan, Sanz, and I leave the Goualou- go base camp at dawn with our tracker Bosco Mangoussou and begin marching down one of the well-worn elephant trails carved into the forest. e sun has barely broken through the canopy, but already swarms of stingless Melip- onini sweat bees are clinging to any piece of exposed esh not coated with menthol balm. Our route regularly slaloms around patties of elephant dung and heaps of rotting fruit, whose pungent aromas permeate the humid air. It is the immense variety of those fruits---more than two dozen edible species ranging from Joshua Foer is co-founder of Atlas Obscura, an online compendium of curiosities and esoterica. Ian Nichols is a wildlife photographer based in Virginia. Morgan and Sanz may have been the scientists, but it was the chimps who were behaving as if they'd made a discovery.