Gombe Q&A

  1. Where is Gombe National Park?

  2. When did Jane Goodall first arrive there?

  3. How old was Jane Goodall when she arrived in Gombe?

  4. Why did she go to Gombe in the first place?

  5. What was her most significant scientific discovery?

  6. What is the larger significance of the Gombe research?

  7. How did the research program evolve?

  8. How has Gombe contributed to scientific literature and popular knowledge?

  9. What impact has Gombe had on generations of scientists?

  10. What has Gombe taught us about the behavior of chimpanzees and other animals?

  11. What has Gombe taught us about human evolution?

  12. What has Gombe taught us about the spread of disease?

  13. What has Gombe taught us about conflict between people and nature?

  14. What has Gombe taught us about stopping the destruction of tropical forests, a major contributor to climate change?

  15. How has Gombe helped improve the plight of women in developing countries?

  16. How has Gombe helped people in developing countries foster smart, environmentally sustainable local economies?

  17. What has Gombe taught us about preparing youth to address the issues impacting our planet, as well as their own future?


Where is Gombe National Park?

  • Gombe National Park is on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika in what is now Tanzania. When Jane Goodall first arrived there, the area was part of the British protectorate of Tanganyika and was known as the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve. It is the smallest national park in the country (35 square kilometers).

When did Jane Goodall first arrive there?

  • Jane Goodall arrived at Gombe on July 14, 1960.
  • The British authorities would not allow her to stay on her own so her mother, Vanne, volunteered to accompany her.

How old was Jane Goodall when she arrived in Gombe?

  • She was 26.

Why did she go to Gombe in the first place?

  • In 1960, Jane Goodall traveled to what was then the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve to study the behavior of the wild chimpanzees under the auspices of famed anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Her charge was to study the behavior of the chimpanzees in order to better understand human evolution. Dr. Leakey selected the site because it was on a lakeshore and many fossilized remains of early man have been discovered on lakeshores.

What was her most significant scientific discovery?

  • At first, the Gombe chimps fled whenever they saw Goodall. She persisted, however, watching from a distance with binoculars, and gradually the chimps allowed her closer. One day in the fall of 1960, she saw chimpanzee David Greybeard strip leaves off twigs to fashion tools for fishing termites from a nest. Until then, scientists had thought humans were the only species to make and use tools, and humans were defined as “Man the Tool Maker.” On hearing of Goodall’s observation, Dr. Leakey said: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.” This was one of Goodall’s most important discoveries.
  • Also in her first year at Gombe, Goodall observed chimps hunting and eating young bushpigs and infant red colobus monkeys and sharing the prey. Her discovery disproved the widely held belief that chimpanzees were vegetarians.
  • It is hard to overstate the degree to which Dr. Goodall changed and enriched the field of primatology.
    •  She defied scientific convention by giving the Gombe chimps names instead of numbers, and insisted on the validity of her observations that animals have distinct personalities, minds and emotions.
    • She observed enduring, affectionate and supportive relationships between chimpanzee family members that could last throughout a life of 60 years or so.
    • Through the years, her work continued to yield surprising insights, such as the unsettling discovery that chimpanzees engage in primitive and brutal warfare. In early 1974, a “four-year war” began at Gombe, the first record of long-term “warfare” in nonhuman primates. Members of the Kasekela group systematically annihilated members of the Kahama splinter group, except for adolescent females who were recruited to join the victors’ community.
    •  She also found that chimpanzees care for one another and show true altruism. For example, in 1987, Dr. Goodall and her field staff observed adolescent Spindle “adopt” 3-year-old orphan Mel, even though the infant was not a close relative. Spindle saved Mel’s life.
  • Dr. Goodall’s groundbreaking work became the foundation for chimpanzee behavioral research and dramatically changed the field of ethology—the study of animal behavior.
    • The culmination of the first 20 years of the Gombe research, Dr. Goodall’s book titled The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, is recognized as a milestone in the understanding of wild chimpanzee behavior. As a result of her original studies, researchers in many other institutions continue to carry out path-breaking analyses related to chimpanzee behavior and make new discoveries in this field.

What is the larger significance of the Gombe research?

  • The Gombe research Jane Goodall started in 1960 that was carried on by a wide variety of scientists in the years that followed has become one of the longest running studies of animals in the wild. But it is so much more.
  • The Gombe research and the conservation approach it informs have helped provide answers to some of the world’s most compelling questions, including:
    • What it means to be human;
    • How certain diseases are spread;
    • How to balance the needs of people and nature;
    • How to stop the destruction of tropical forests, a major factor in climate change;
    • How to improve the plight of women in developing countries;
    • How to help people in these countries foster smart, environmentally sustainable local communities; and
    • How to prepare youth to address the issues impacting our planet—and their future.
  • 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.

How did the research program evolve?

  • In 1965, the Gombe Stream Research Center was established, and in 1977 Dr. Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute. The invaluable long-term data collected at Gombe are now entered into a database, managed and analyzed at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Center for Primate Research.

How has Gombe contributed to scientific literature and popular knowledge?

  • 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, television and radio interviews; and
    • Hundreds of lecture tours and conferences.

What impact has Gombe had on generations of scientists?

  • Dr. Goodall and the Gombe research have inspired a generation of scientists all around the world, a great many of them women, to work not just in chimpanzee behavior but more broadly in conservation.
    • In the United States alone, students trained at Gombe now occupy academic positions across the country in major universities, including Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, University of Southern California, Duke University, and University of California at Berkeley.

What has Gombe taught us about the behavior of chimpanzees and other animals?

  • When Jane Goodall landed on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1960, her initial charge from Dr. Louis Leakey was to study the behavior of the chimpanzees in order for him to better understand the probable behavior of Stone Age humans. Rejecting standard scientific practices, she gave the chimpanzees she studied names instead of numbers, and talked about their personalities, minds and feelings. Her work advanced knowledge about chimpanzees far beyond what was known at the time, and her publications detailing the range of chimpanzee behaviors remain the foundation for researchers today. These studies also revolutionized the field of ethology (animal behavior), particularly as it applied to the study of animals living in complex social groups. Building upon Dr. Goodall’s early research, many scientists—some of whom studied under Dr. Goodall—continue to this day to expand our knowledge about these amazing creatures and what they tell us about ourselves.

What has Gombe taught us about human evolution?

  • Dr. Goodall’s groundbreaking discoveries about the chimpanzees at Gombe in the 1960s redefined the relationship between humans and other animals: In other words, it became clear that there is no sharp line dividing human from nonhuman animals, and that we are part of and not separated from the rest of the animal kingdom. Her findings that chimpanzees make and use tools, exhibit cultural behavior, hunt animals and share their kill, engage in war-like activity and also engage in caring and altruistic acts spawned a sequence of similar findings in other species and other geographic areas. Over the years, observing and documenting the world of chimpanzees at Gombe has provided profound insights into our closest relatives’ social structure, intellectual abilities, emotions, and wide range of behaviors. New discoveries are still occurring today.
  • These findings have shed light on many aspects of human behavior. Understanding how chimpanzees have adapted to their environment and how disease is transmitted through their communities has also helped us understand aspects of human evolution.
  • What we have learned at Gombe about chimpanzee and human behavior through noninvasive research mirrors unrelated research elsewhere in the world on chimpanzee anatomy. We now know that:
    • The structure of DNA in chimpanzees and humans differs by less than two percent.
    • The immune system is so similar that chimpanzees can catch or be infected with many human contagious diseases.
    • The anatomy of the human and chimpanzee brain is very similar, except that the chimpanzee brain is smaller. Therefore, it should not be surprising that chimpanzees are capable of intellectual feats once thought unique to humans.

What has Gombe taught us about the spread of disease?

  • Noninvasive research into the origins of disease transmission among the chimpanzees at Gombe has provided clues to the transmission of related diseases in humans. For example, research on simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV) in chimpanzees at Gombe is leading to new insights into the transmission and progression of HIV in humans. This could result in novel treatments and new preventative measures.

What has Gombe taught us about conflict between people and nature?

  • Gombe has taught us that long-term conservation is not possible without engaging local populations as partners and addressing their basic needs. At the same time, Gombe has also shown us that the long-term prosperity of people depends upon protection of natural resources.
  • In the decades after research began at Gombe, the high human birth rate and periodic influxes of people fleeing wars in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to high population density around the park. This in turn led to deforestation due to charcoal burning and clearing forest for agriculture. Serious soil erosion and loss of soil fertility due to overfarming followed.
  • Witnessing the almost total loss of trees outside the park while flying in a plane over Gombe in 1992, Dr. Goodall wondered how the chimpanzees would survive. She realized the problems faced by the villagers, such as poverty, lack of clean water, education, primary health care and overused farmland were intrinsically related to the environmental issues. She saw that there were more people living around the park than the land could support.
    • As a result, in 1994, Dr. Goodall established what has become one of the most comprehensive conservation programs in Africa—TACARE (Take Care),1 which integrates traditional conservation approaches with a broad range of community development projects.

      1The name TACARE comes from the program’s original acronym, which reflected the location of the various projects. Today we say TACARE, or “Take Care,” to refer to our community-centered conservation program, which integrates a wide range of conservation and development approaches.

  • Solutions That Help People Help the Environment—and Themselves:
    TACARE was a direct outgrowth of the Gombe research program, designed to work with the local communities to find solutions to the human-related environmental problems around the park. The aim was to improve the lives of villagers in the area and to encourage small-scale environmentally sustainable development projects in the hope that the local people would become partners in conservation efforts.
    • Initially, TACARE focused on establishing tree nurseries in each of the villages around Gombe and creating woodlots of fast-growing species for firewood as a means of decreasing the rate of cutting trees near the park.
    • Using applied innovative agro-forestry practices, TACARE trains village nursery attendants and forest monitors how to grow seedlings for reforestation and how to promote natural regeneration of forests. Agriculture workers focus on sustainable farming techniques, promote cash crops, use demonstration plots to promote agro-forestry and control soil erosion by contour planting with Vetiveria grass.
    • TACARE’s efforts later expanded to a more integrated and comprehensive community development approach. A micro-credit program based on the Grameen Bank1 enables women to take out small loans for environmentally sustainable projects, an approach that has proved very successful.2 Water engineers assist with construction of water supply3 and ventilated-improved pit latrines, and provide sanitation and hygiene training. Health specialists train a network of volunteers in the villages who deliver information and assistance with family planning, and, in collaboration with district medical officers, provide information and counseling on HIV-AIDS, related interventions and home-based care. The program also organizes the construction of classrooms, dispensaries and other needed community buildings. Trained local community development officials promote the use of fuel-efficient stoves. They also help fund scholarships for HIV-AIDS orphans and for economically poor girls who have consistently performed well in their studies. TACARE places an emphasis on working with women because it has been shown, around the globe, that as women’s education improves, family size tends to drop.

      1The Grameen Bank is a micro-finance organization and community development bank that was started in Bangladesh by Muhammad Yunus. It makes small loans (known as micro-credit or “grameencredit”) to the impoverished without requiring collateral.
      2There are currently more than 1,100 active participants in JGI’s micro-credit program, more than half of whom are women.
      3More than 43,000 people now have access to clean water as a result of this initiative.

    • In 2006, JGI began partnering with the local coffee cooperative. Because coffee beans thrive under the shade of a forest canopy and chimps don’t like the taste of the beans, the crops grow in harmony with the chimpanzees and provide a sustainable farming alternative. JGI facilitated direct marketing by linking the cooperative to overseas buyers and managed to generate premium prices—the highest in Tanzania ever—for the top-quality coffee from the area. In 2007 and 2008, about 15 percent of Kigoma coffee was marketed with JGI assistance. The prices ranged between $3.50 and $4.20 per Kg, increasing income for Kigoma coffee farmers by about $200,000 per year. The demand for top-quality coffee from Kigoma that can be linked to JGI’s conservation and development story continues to be high and exceed the current supply.
    • Since 2003, with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other major donors, JGI and its local and international partners have invested more than $7 million (USD) into landscape-scale community-centered conservation projects focused on the Greater Gombe Ecosystem (GGE) around Gombe National Park and the Masito-Ugalla Ecosystem (MUE) directly to the south.
  • A Unique Approach: In order to build good community relations, JGI staff works with local leaders in each village to mutually outline problems and potential solutions. To further promote good communications and relations, JGI staffers in the field are almost exclusively nationals.
  • Ensuring Long-Term Success: Local JGI staff encourages youth to become actively involved in helping solve environmental issues through activities focused on reforestation, erosion control, sustainable agriculture, responsible animal husbandry, bushmeat reduction, and more. These activities are typically introduced through Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, JGI’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program.
  • State of the Art: Through TACARE, the Jane Goodall Institute uses multidisciplinary applied conservation science tools such as Conservation Action Planning, as well as state-of-the-art geospatial technologies, to directly link chimpanzee conservation and human poverty alleviation, with corresponding benefits related to issues such as climate change, disease transmission, and the desperate need for more stable communities in the developing world.
  • Building Momentum: USAID has recognized TACARE as a model approach to conservation and community development, sending staff from all over the world to visit and observe the program.
    • JGI operates the TACARE program in 24 villages surrounding Gombe National Park and is expanding into the Masito-Ugalla Ecosystem to the south and also other countries in Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

What has Gombe taught us about stopping the destruction of tropical forests, a major contributor to climate change?

  • Gombe has taught us that long-term protection of tropical forests is seldom possible without the support of the people living around the forest, particularly if they live in poverty.
  • Many of the measures practiced and techniques learned from the work of TACARE are essential to protecting and restoring the forest. While the goal is to preserve chimpanzee habitat, the TACARE approach is also helping local communities to protect and restore their forests, which will then sequester carbon dioxide and mitigate climate change. TACARE methods will also help the people adapt to a drier climate.

How has Gombe helped improve the plight of women in developing countries?

  • Because of the role women play in the local community, addressing their well-being is a critical feature of the TACARE program surrounding Gombe National Park.
  • The Institute organizes micro-credit programs that allow villagers living around Gombe National Park—especially women— to obtain capital for small, environmentally sustainable business ventures by pooling their own money boosted by Institute funds. The payback rate is impressive—more than 85 percent.
  • The Institute places a special emphasis on girls’ education, providing scholarships that have helped girls in Tanzania complete secondary school and beyond. JGI field staff has also assisted in the construction of latrines at schools to allow privacy so that girls can stay in school after the onset of puberty. Increasingly, research has shown that as women’s education improves, family size drops.
  • As a result of JGI’s efforts, many women can now obtain clean water in their villages rather than walk long distances to fetch it. Woodlots close to the village and fuel-efficient stoves—components of JGI’s TACARE program—mean that women do not have to spend a large part of each day collecting firewood. Women now have more time to take care of themselves and their children and become involved in the community. This in turn benefits Gombe and the chimpanzees, as women’s voices now play an influential role in local conservation decisions.

How has Gombe helped people in developing countries foster smart, environmentally sustainable local economies?

  • The Institute is using cutting-edge technologies in its work around Gombe to protect chimpanzees and the environment. In partnership with ESRI and DigitalGlobe, the Institute is using high-resolution 60-cm QuickBird satellite images and Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to map chimpanzee habitat and human land use. Because of its close working relationship with communities on the ground, the Institute is uniquely positioned to share the information it gathers and engage communities as partners in the mission to save the Gombe chimpanzees from extinction.
  • In addition, the Institute is working with Google Earth Outreach on a pilot climate change effort that will enable local communities to take a leadership role in protecting the restored forests surrounding Gombe and the larger nearby ecosystems where additional chimpanzee populations live. Using Google technologies, such as Android mobile phones and a Web-based global forest monitoring system, specially trained forest monitors will collect the data needed to prove that their efforts are protecting the forest, an essential requirement if the area is to participate in the global program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)—which will qualify the communities for financial support for sustainable development plans.

What has Gombe taught us about preparing youth to address the issues impacting our planet, as well as their own future?

  • Jane Goodall founded Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, JGI’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program, in 1991 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Roots & Shoots flourished in the Gombe region and became a central part of community-centered conservation efforts there. Today, Roots & Shoots has nearly 150,000 members in more than 120 countries around the world.
  • The program inspires youth of all ages to make positive change happen for people, animals and the environment we all share. Young people identify and take action on issues of concern to them in their communities and in the rest of the world.
  • Fifty years after Jane Goodall arrived at Gombe, her vision is reaching the next generation and preparing them to address the issues impacting our planet, as well as their own future.


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