National Geographic: Among the Wild Chimpanzees


For centuries there were

fearsome tales of a half

human monster roaming

the African forests

Even in modern times,

knowledge of the elusive creature

the wild chimpanzee-

was largely based on speculation

Then, in 1960 a daring

young Englishwoman

set out to sort fiction from truth

She had been warned

"You'll never get

near the chimpanzees,"

but she was determined to try

Her name, Jane Goodall

She was 26 years old and

destined to make scientific history

Against odds many

thought insurmountable

she gradually earned

the chimpanzees' trust

The picture that has

emerged is an awesome

portrait of the animals

most like man

The similarities to humans are


the obvious physical resemblance;

the discovery that they hunt and eat meat;

the even more profound revelation

that they are intelligent enough

to make and use tools

and in their nonverbal communication

perhaps the most uncanny

resemblance of all

Meticulously documented on

motion-picture film

Jane Goodall's classic study stretches

from 1960 to the present day

A compelling chronicle that spans

three generations of chimps

it is the longest study of any wild

animal group in the world

Unexpectedly one of its recent

chapters took a forbidding turn

The usually gentle

amiable chimps revealed a dark

and sinister side

- puzzling, savage behavior

as yet unexplained

And so the saga goes on -

the remarkable adventure of the wild

chimpanzees and the dedicated

woman who works among them still

Growing up in Bournemouth,

England, Jane Goodall

was drawn to the world of animals

almost from the start

When her mother gave

the infant a chimp doll

outraged friends predicted nightmares

They could not have been more wrong

"Even when I was very tiny I was

absolutely fascinated by animals

I think I first began to dream of

going to Africa after reading

Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan

when I was about eight

I was absolutely fascinated with

the idea of being out in the jungle

out with the animals

feeling a part of it all."

Famed anthropologist Louis Leakey

had long searched for someone

to study wild chimpanzees for

clues to the behavior of early man

"I want someone unbiased

by academic learning," he said

"Someone with uncommon patience

and dedication."

His faith in Jane Goodall would

lead to one of the most important

scientific studies of our time

Her journey would take Goodall to

the East African country of Tanzania

then known as Tanganyika

The remote Gombe Stream Game

Reserve stretches for about

ten miles of rugged

mountainous country along the

shore of Lake Tanganyika

And so on the 14th of July 1960

Jane Goodall was 4,000 miles from home

a tiny boat her only link

to the civilized world

"When I arrived at the

Gombe Stream Reserve

I felt that at long last my childhood

ambition was being realized

But when I looked at the wild and

rugged mountains where

the chimpanzees lived

I knew that my task was not going to be easy."

Day-to-day life in this remote

wilderness would be difficult at best

The local authorities

horrified at the thought of a young

white woman alone in the wild

at first refused Jane

permission to come

agreeing only when she said she would

bring a companion

Aside from her mother

Vanne Goodall, and an African cook

Jane would spend the next

several months virtually alone

It was already late afternoon

when the tents were pitched and

provisions stored

But after 20 years of dreaming

of this day

Jane was eager to begin

Unarmed and untrained she

ventured into a strange, new world

For most, this would be a lonely

forbidding realm

But for Jane Goodall

it was where she most wanted to be

"During my first days at Gombe I

could hardly believe it was true

At last I was out in the wild

I didn't see many animals

but I had the feeling they were there

all around, watching me

There were rustles in the undergrowth

strange calls

smells I could not identify."

For months

the objects of her search invariably

fled at the mere sight of her

Often she couldn't find them at all

It was a steep

rigorous climb to the open ridges above

but perhaps, she hoped

a way to pinpoint the nomadic apes below

"I discovered not far from camp

that there was a peak overlooking

two valleys

And from this vantage point

I was able to gradually piece together

the daily behavior of the chimps

The major advantage of the Peak was

that the chimps could see me

sitting up there and gradually

get used to my presence."

Sitting quietly in the same spot

day after day

always dressed in the same

neutral colors

never attempting to

follow the shy apes

the figure on the Peak gradually

became less of a threat

It would be some time, however

before Jane was accepted at closer range

Though the chimps now

recognized the intruder

her intent was far from clear

Jane had to accept the

realization that

for the being being at least

much of her knowledge would

be based on indirect evidence

like an abandoned sleeping

nest high in the trees

Jane found the nest was not

simply a pile of wadded leaves

but a carefully interwoven

platform created by dexterous hands

and a reasoning brain

But the intelligent creature

who made it had long since moved on

Impatient with her slow progress

with the chimps

Jane stretched each day to the

final rays of the setting sun

This would be her first meal

in 12 hours

It had been another long

and frustrating day

"As I am not a defeatist

it only made my determination

to succeed stronger

I never had any

thought of quitting

I should forever have

lost all self-

respect if I had given up."

And so

days that began before dawn

reached well past midnight

And, for as long

as it would take

tomorrow would be the same

Even when there were no

chimps to be found

there was always much to be done

Samples of plants the chimps eat

would be preserved for

later identification

There was a new language to learn

tribal customs to absorb

A makeshift clinic helped cement

good relations

with the local villagers

With camp life settling into

a comfortable routine

Gombe increasingly became

Jane Goodall's private world

Though her staff was growing

outsiders till now

had not been welcome

lest they frighten the chimps

But at Louis Leakey's urging

she agreed that a permanent film

record of the chimps be made

To shield herself

and the cameraman

she built a blind

- a screen of leaves

Hugo van Lawick

is a specialist in wildlife

Primarily funded by the

National Geographic Society

over the coming years he

and Goodall would capture

details of chimp behavior

never before dreamed possible

They found that chimpanzees

are nomadic

traveling in ever changing groups

in the daily search for food

wanderings that can take them

two to six miles in a single day

They are animals of

dramatic extremes

noisy and excitable one minute

calm and gentle the next

To satisfy their hunger on a

diet that is largely vegetarian

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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