Gombe: Nearly 60 Years of Discovery

There will always be something new to learn about chimpanzees. It has been almost 60 years since Jane first arrived at what has become the Gombe Stream Research Center to begin her research, and the world has learned so much from what she has discovered in that time.

Just in this last year, Gombe scientists have produced over 15 publications. Researchers have employed new non-invasive methods of examining chimpanzee health, investigated the effects of maternal stress on infants, and further examined the impacts of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus on chimps. We have used satellite imagery and GIS technology to aid in great ape conservation, constructing maps that allow us to examine habitat suitability. The more we learn about these creatures — their behavior, their habitats, what threatens their survival — the better able we are to protect them.

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Jane Goodall’s study on wild chimpanzees was one of the first of its kind – certainly the first publication which noted the individuality and emotions of non-human animals. Her resulting thesis influenced the methodology of animal behavioral research and advanced primatology drastically.

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named chimps in Kasekela and Mitumba communities

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fecal samples for DNA analysis and disease monitoring

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days of B-record follows in the database, spanning the period from 1973 (Jan) - 2014 (Nov)

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This familiar image of Jane in Gombe captures a moment between her and David Greybeard, not long after she began to gain the trust of her chimpanzee neighbors. These days, after research revealed the harm it can cause, feeding and touching of chimps is highly discouraged. However, this remains one of the most iconic and recognizable images of Jane’s early days in Africa.

Gombe Kasekela Families

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Gombe is the world’s longest running study of chimpanzee behavior and, as a result, the chimps-in-residence have become quite the celebrities. Today, the infamous F-Family lineage that Jane studied is carried on by Gremlin. This, “super-mom” is the matriarch of her group, and gave birth to the rare pair of chimpanzee twins, Golden and Glitter. Both survived and are now exploring the forests together as sisters and very successful moms themselves.

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F-Family matriarch Flo (approx. 1929-1972)

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Flo’s son Figan (approx. 1954-1982)

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Gremlin (1970-present) with her famous offspring, the rare twins Golden and Glitter

To celebrate the milestone of nearly 60 years, Jane looked back on her life’s work, reflecting on the origins of her life’s work and how it has grown and changed over the years. “The research center grew gradually,” she said. “Initially we lived in tents. Then the National Geographic Society funded the construction of some prefab aluminum buildings – known as uniports. Thus was the research “center” founded.”

Gombe has certainly come a long way from those early days. Because of Jane, we have learned that chimpanzees are intelligent, social and resourceful animals, which can almost feel human at times. We hope that the research at Gombe continues for another 60 years, carrying on Jane’s legacy of curiosity and determination and kindness towards our closest relatives.

Gombe Over the Years

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Dr. Goodall with Gombe field assistants more than a half century after she arrived for the first time.

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Photo credits on this page, top to bottom and left to right: Judy Goodall; Hugo van Lawick; Jane Goodall; Michael Neugebauer; JGI/Chase Pickering