Researching Wild Chimpanzees
Because chimpanzees are so biologically and socially similar to humans, they offer us a great deal of insights into our evolutionary past, as well as into our future. As we observe and document the world of chimpanzees, we learn more about our own behaviors and social patterns, our impact on the ecosystem, and even our ability to spread disease.
The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) manages chimpanzee research at multiple sites, including Gombe National Park in Tanzania and the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo.
Photo Credit: Jane Goodall
The research program at Gombe National Park in Tanzania is the longest running study of great apes in the wild, providing insights into one of our closest relative's emotions, behaviors and social structures. The impact of the Gombe research spans the globe and covers a wide range of scientific disciplines, including human evolution, ethology, anthropology, behavioral psychology, sociology, conservation, disease transmission (including HIV-AIDS), aging and geospatial mapping.
Since 1960, Gombe has been the source of:
- More than 200 scientific papers;
- 35 Ph.D. theses;
- More than 30 books (including the best-sellers by Dr. Goodall In the Shadow of Man in 1971, Through a Window in 1990, Reason for Hope in 1999, and a number of books for children);
- Nine films (including those produced by the National Geographic Society and Animal Planet, and an IMAX film with Science North in 2002);
- Hundreds of popular articles, secondary writings, radio and television interviews; and
- Hundreds of lecture tours and conferences.
The data amassed at Gombe has informed JGI’s species and habitat conservation programs. The Institute’s community-driven conservation initiatives provide local communities the tools required to address their basic needs and to become economically stable, while managing their natural resources for the long term. JGI’s integrated approach supports projects focusing on everything from water/sanitation issues and health care to sustainable livelihoods and education—and links them to conservation objectives.
Read more about Gombe National Park and JGI’s ongoing efforts in the field of conservation science.
JGI staff members at the Tchimpounga sanctuary in the Republic of Congo work primarily to rehabilitate chimpanzees orphaned by the illegal commercial bushmeat trade. In addition, Tchimpounga offers researchers the ability to study chimpanzees―one of our closest relatives―in a controlled environment that is much closer to the chimps' natural habitat than a laboratory. Orphans at the sanctuary live in groups similar to those found in the forest. This enables them to experience organic social interaction and learning while providing researchers critical insights into how young chimpanzees develop in the wild.
Past research at Tchimpounga has included genetic studies. DNA from fecal samples was analyzed to perform paternity tests and to determine the subspecies structure of chimpanzees across Africa.
Habituation is the key to observing and researching primates in the wild. Why do gorillas and other wild animals allow scientists to sit with them and follow them, recording the details of their lives? The answer is “habituation.” It is a basic and important tool used for studying primates and other wild animals.
Mike Wilson, former director of field research at Gombe National Park, shares his thoughts about habituation.