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Jane Goodall's Observations

In 1960, Jane Goodall, a young Englishwoman, first set up camp in Gombe, Tanzania, to conduct a long-term study of chimpanzees. Louis Leakey, a famous anthropologist, helped Goodall by providing the initial funding for her research and by serving as her mentor. Leakey is best known for his discovery of hominid fossils in eastern Africa, and his contributions to the understanding of human evolution.

Goodall was not initially a trained scientist, but Leaky felt that this could be an advantage in her work, because she would not bring pre-conceived scientific bias into her research. One of the most difficult hurdles that Goodall had to overcome when presenting the results of her work to the scientific community was to avoid making references to the fact that chimps have feelings. Projecting human emotions onto animals is thought to signal anthropomorphic bias, and is often regarded as a scientific flaw. However, as Goodall demonstrated, chimps do experience a wide range of emotions, and they perceive themselves to be individuals. These are some of the compelling similarities that they share with humans.

Goodall made several particularly significant discoveries early in her research. Her first chimpanzee friend was a male individual that she named David Grey-beard. One day she was observing him when he walked over to a termite mound, picked up a stiff blade of grass, carefully trimmed it, and poked it into a hole in the mound. When he pulled the grass out of the mound, termites were clinging to it, and he ate them. This remarkable discovery showed that chimps are toolmakers.

Goodall's second discovery also involved David Greybeard; she observed him eating the carcass of an infant bushpig (a medium-sized forest mammal). David Greybeard shared the meat with some companions, although he kept the best parts for himself. The use of tools and the hunting of meat had never before been observed in apes. Numerous other observations have since been made of chimps making and using simple tools, and engaging in sometimes well-organized group hunts of monkeys and other prey.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterChimpanzees - Chimpanzee Species And Habitat, Physical Characteristics, Behavior, Parenting, Eating Habits, Communication, Jane Goodall's Observations