National Geographic : 2010 Oct
• HIGHLIGHTS OF 50 YEARS OF GOMBE RESEARCH CHIMPANZEES HUNT MAMMALS AS FOOD Published in 1963 Jane's first key finding ended the long-held assumption that chimps were vegetarians. Meat is relished and shared. CHIMPANZEES MAKE AND USE TOOLS Published in 1963 Examples include probing termite mounds with plant stems and using leaves as sponges. Young chimps learn by watching others. Cultural traditions differ among chimp populations and are more exten- sive and varied than those of any other nonhuman animal. CHIMPANZEES HAVE RICH SOCIAL LIVES AND FAMILY TIES Published in 1965 Complex social interactions among chimps include robust maternal bonds that last into adulthood. FEMALE CHIMPANZEES SEEK MULTIPLE MATES Published in 1971 Females in estrus often mate with all males in a community. Some males try to monopolize a female or take her away on a consortship. FEMALE CHIMPANZEES COMMIT INFANTICIDE Published in 1977 Competition among females for good feeding areas may include the killing of other females' infants. meat eating by chimps (who had been presumed vegetarian), tool use by chimps (in the form of plant stems probed into termite mounds), and toolmaking (stripping leaves from stems), sup- posedly a unique trait of human premeditation. Each of those discoveries further narrowed the perceived gap of intelligence and culture between Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes. e toolmaking observation was the most epochal of the three, causing a furor within anthropological circles because "man the toolmaker" held sway as an almost canonical de nition of our species. Louis Leakey, thrilled by Jane's news, wrote to her: "Now we must rede ne 'tool,' rede ne 'man,' or accept chimpanzees as humans." It was a memorable line, marking a very important new stage in thinking about human essence. Another interesting point to remember is that, paradigm shi ing or not, all three of those most celebrated discoveries were made by Jane (everyone calls her Jane; there is no sensible way not to call her Jane) within her rst four months in the eld. She got o to a fast start. But the real mea- sure of her work at Gombe can't be taken with such a short ruler. e great thing about Gombe is not that Jane Goodall "rede- ned" humankind but that she set a new standard, a very high standard, for behavioral study of apes in the wild, focusing on individual characteristics as well as collective patterns. She cre- ated a research program, a set of protocols and ethics, an intel- lectual momentum---she created, in fact, a relationship between the scienti c world and one community of chimpanzees---that has grown far beyond what one woman could do. e Gombe project has enlarged in many dimensions, has endured crises, has evolved to serve purposes that neither she nor Louis Leakey foresaw, and has come to embrace methods (satellite mapping, endocrinology, molecular genetics) and address questions that carry far beyond the eld of animal behavior. For instance, techniques of molecular analysis, applied to fecal and urine samples that can be gathered without need for capture and handling, reveal new insights about genetic relationships among the chimps and the presence of dis- ease microbes in some of them. Still, a poignant irony that lies near the heart of this scienti c triumph, on its golden anniversary, is that the more we learn about the chimps of Gombe, the more we have cause to worry for their continued survival. Two revelations in particular have raised concern. One involves geography, the other involves disease. e world's most beloved and well-studied population of chimpanzees is isolated on an island of habitat that's too small for long-term viability. And now some of them seem to be dying from their version of AIDS. Contributing writer David Quammen's book on zoonotic diseases will be published next year by W. W. Norton.