In 1960, Jane Goodall arrived at the Gombe Stream Reserve in what was then Tanganyika. She was sent by Louis Leakey to study the behaviour of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. In her early years at Gombe, Jane found that chimps share behaviours and emotions once thought to be unique to humans. Chimps make and use tools for a variety of purposes, are capable of cognitive reasoning and problem solving, and show emotions such as joy and sadness, fear and despair, love and empathy. They also display behaviours which indicate true altruism and have vivid personalities.
Jane was initially accompanied by her mother, Vanne (pronounced “Van”) Goodall, because the British authorities were so shocked at the thought of a young girl going to live with animals in the jungle. Initially they refused permission for such an ‘outrageous’ idea, but eventually agreed that she could go with a companion. Her mother volunteered – and made an invaluable contribution to the long-term project with her simple clinic (four poles and a roof) for the local fishermen. This project also helped to establish an excellent relationship with the local people.
It took many months before the chimps got over their initial fear of the strange white ape that appeared so suddenly. Eventually one adult male, whom Jane named David Greybeard, lost his fear. He even went to her camp to feast on oil palm nuts, and “stole” some bananas. Gradually his calm acceptance of Jane convinced the other chimps that she did not present a threat.
Throughout more than 55 years of continual observation, Jane and her fellow researchers and assistants have maintained a philosophy of noninterference (except for administrating medication to sick chimps) and building of trust. A great deal of behavioural and demographic data has been collected. Undergraduate students, graduate and postdoctoral researchers and field assistants have all contributed to the wealth of knowledge gained from this extraordinary long-term study.
Today the long-term monitoring of the Gombe chimpanzees and baboons is conducted by a highly skilled team of scientists and field assistants, from both Tanzania and abroad..