Study Corner - Gombe Timeline

July 14, 1960:

  • Jane and her mother Vanne arrive on the shores of Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in western Tanzania.

Aug, 1960:

  • Jane and Vanne get sick from malaria. Upon recovering, Jane discovers “the Peak,” which will become her favorite vantage point for watching chimpanzees.

October, 1960:

  • Jane has named some of the chimpanzees she sees regularly, and finds she is able to move in closer without them running away.
  • Jane observes the chimpanzees eating meat. Later she would see the chimpanzees hunt for meat. These observations disproved the widely held belief that chimpanzees were primarily vegetarians.

Nov. 4, 1960:

  • Jane observes David Greybeard and Goliath making tools to extract termites from their mounds, a discovery that would force science to reconsider its definition of homo sapiens: “Man the Toolmaker.”

Nov. 1960:

  • Vanne returns to England, having significantly helped Jane in Africa by establishing an informal medical dispensary that served area people and therefore cemented good relations.


  • Jane returns to England; Dr. Leakey had arranged for Jane to go to Cambridge University to get her PhD and lend greater scientific credibility to her observations.
  • After her first semester of studies, Jane returns to Gombe. She will travel back and forth to England until she has completed her doctoral program.
  • After noting the other chimpanzees' continued deference to Goliath, Jane begins to suspect that Goliath is indeed the highest ranking male (or “alpha”).

Aug., 1962: 

  • Filmmaker and photographer Hugo van Lawick arrives at Gombe.


Jane leaves for home and soon receives a telegram from Hugo in which he proposes.

Chimpanzees have begun to visit Jane's camp. Flo attracts a large number of male chimps to Jane's camp.

Feb 29, 1964

Flo gives birth to son Flint.

Summer, 1964

  • Edna Koning arrives and becomes Jane’s first research assistant, freeing up more of Jane’s time for constant observation.
  • Melissa gives birth to Goblin.
  • Mike rises to the alpha male position by using empty kerosene cans in his charging displays.


  • National Geographic grants funds for aluminum buildings, the first permanent structures to exist at Gombe and the beginnings of the research center.

Nov-Jan, 1966

  • An outbreak of Polio infects the Gombe chimpanzees and is a danger to Jane as she has a baby on the way.


  • The Gombe Stream Reserve is taken over by Tanzania National Parks, becoming Gombe National Park.

 March 4, 1967

  • Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick, nicknamed “Grub,” is born.


  • David Greybeard dies.
  • Flu outbreak among chimpanzees.


  • Humphrey defeats Mike and becomes the next alpha male.


  • Figan ends Humphrey’s 20-month term as alpha.

Aug 22, 1972 

  •     Flo dies. Unable to cope without his mother, little Flint dies shortly thereafter.


  • The Gombe chimpanzees split in two groups. Humphrey leads the northern group, which includes Evered, Faben, Figan, Hugo, Jomeo, Mike and Satan. Hugh and Charlie lead the southern fraction with De, Godi, Willy Wally and Goliath.


  • The split between the two groups is complete and friendly interaction no longer occurs.


"Four-Year War" between splinter group, Kahama, and main Kasakela group begins.

Godi disappears.

Hugh disappears.

De is severely beaten.

  • Goliath is attacked.
  • Cannibalism among the Gombe chimpanzees is first observed. Mother and daughter Passion and Pom steal and kill babies in their own community.


  • The violence continues as Willy Wally disappears.
  • Charlie is killed.
  • Finally, the last Kahama male, Sniff, is killed.
  • Goblin becomes the next alpha male in the Kasekela community.
  • Goblin, Gremlin and Gimbel’s mother, Melissa, dies.
March 1987
  • A pneumonia outbreak, the worst epidemic since the polio outbreak of 1966, afflicts the chimpanzees, killing 11.
  • One of those afflicted is the mother of three-year-old Mel and for the first time, a non-related, adolescent male chimpanzee (Spindle) is observed to adopt an orphaned youngster (Mel).

Goblin’s reign as alpha male comes to an end when he is challenged by Wilkie. 


Freud, eldest son of Fifi, defeats Wilkie to become the alpha male of Gombe’s Kasekela group.

Summer, 1997 
  • Mange, a skin disease, infects the Kasekela community, hitting the hardest on the nursing females and their infants. Fifi loses her infant son, Fred. Also affected are Freud, Prof, Goblin and Beethoven
  • Due to his weakened condition, Freud is overthrown by his younger brother Frodo, who becomes the next alpha male.
July 1998 
  • Gremlin gives birth to a set of twins, Golden and Glitter. Fifi gives birth to her third daughter Flirt.

Oct. 2002

  • Fifi gives birth to her ninth offspring, Furaha.


  • Researchers reveal that male and female chimpanzees learn to use tools differently.
  • Fanni gives birth to Familia. 
  • Goblin dies after an illness.
  • One of the worst fires in decades sweeps through Gombe. The chimpanzees are unharmed by the fire and are able to survive despite loss of food sources.
  • Fifi disappears with daughter Furaha.


  • The struggling Mitumba community appears to be in turmoil. Rudi and Edgar attack and kill alpha male Vincent in December and a few weeks later juvenile male Ebony is found dead. Gombe staff believe he was killed by one of the few remaining Mitumba males.
  • Kris becomes alpha male of the Kasekela community.



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