Scientific Discoveries

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Jane Goodall made many notable discoveries through scientific studies during more than 35 years at Gombe. The most surprising was this: Chimpanzees make their own tools!

One morning in November 1960, Jane spotted two chimps, David Graybeard and Goliath, squatting on a termite mound. As she watched, David picked up a small twig, stripped off the leaves, and poked this tool into a termite mound to get termites. Right away Jane knew the importance of this sighting. By altering a twig to use as a fishing pole, the chimp had actually created a tool. Until that moment, scientists had thought only humans made tools. In fact, that’s one way scientists defined homo sapiens -- as "man, the toolmaker." When famed anthropologist Louis B. Leakey heard of Jane’s discovery, he was thrilled. "Now we must redefine 'man,' redefine 'tool' or accept chimpanzees as humans," he said.

Jane made other important discoveries about chimp behavior during her years in the African bush. For a long time, everyone assumed chimps ate only plants and fruit. Jane discovered that chimps hunt bushpigs, colobus monkeys and other small mammals for meat.

She also discovered that chimp life wasn’t always peaceful. Jane found that some female chimps will kill other chimps’ babies in their own troops, an act called "infantacide." Just as saddening, Jane and her colleagues discovered that bands of rival chimpanzees sometimes ganged up on their neighbors to kill them. In early 1974, a four-year "war" began at Gombe, which only ended when one group had been wiped out. This was the first record of long-term warfare in nonhuman primates. One morning in October 1960, Jane spotted two chimps, David Graybeard and Goliath, squatting on a termite mound. As she watched, David picked up a small twig, stripped off the leaves and poked this tool into a termite mound to get termites.

Although the chimpanzees can be violent, Jane has recorded lots of affectionate relationships among them. They love to offer hugs, kisses, tickles and pats on the back! In fact, she and her field staff in 1987 observed teenage Spindle "adopt" 3-year-old orphan Mel, even though the infant was not a close relative. Her research shows that chimps build close, loving bonds between family members and other individuals that can last a lifetime.

Today, the work at the Gombe Stream Research Centre focuses on different subjects including how chimpanzees learn behaviors. Recently, scientists discovered that girls learn how to fish for termites differently than boys do. Check out this video on how chimps learn behaviors.