Chimpanzee Researchers


Have you ever dreamed about being Tarzan and living in the jungle with wild animals? Dr. Jane Goodall did! She loved animals as a child, and her mother encouraged her to follow her dreams. After saving up money, she was able to buy a ticket to Africa to visit a friend. There she found work as a secretary for Louis Leakey. He later gave her the opportunity to voyage into the jungle and study chimpanzees.


Without any formal training and with her mom by her side, she set up camp in Tanzania’s rainforest at Gombe Stream Reserve when she was only in her twenties.  Can you imagine going into the unknown jungle with no previous experience at such a young age!?  Just goes to prove how courageous and resourceful Dr. Goodall was and still is!


After many weeks of patiently waiting for the chimpanzees to get used to her presence in their forest, Dr. Jane Goodall made two extremely important discoveries that changed our view of chimpanzees. The first discovery was that chimpanzees make and use tools, a skill thought only to be done by humans. The first form of tool use that Dr. Jane recorded is called termite fishing. The other discovery was that chimpanzees were not vegetarians but omnivores (meat and plant eaters) like we are. Dr. Goodall had witnessed a chimpanzee eating a baby bush pig.


She also discovered that chimpanzees can have a nice side and a mean side just like humans do. In other words, they have emotions and personalities just like us. At the time, many people doubted this but Jane strongly defended her findings. Based on what you have been learning, do you think that each chimp has its own individuality? She also had to defend the fact that when studying the chimpanzees she gave them names; something that was not thought of as scientific. Throughout her research, Dr. Goodall has done many studies on the chimpanzee’s way of life and is one of the most influential animal behaviorists of our time.


Through good times and bad, Jane Goodall has managed to change how we view chimpanzees and the natural world. She and her work have been featured in many television specials and articles she has written many books and now after Dr. Goodall’s many years in research, she turned her attention toward conservation. Gombe was made a national park in 1968.  She now travels the world building education centers and educating the public about chimpanzees. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) which is a nonprofit organization that inspires people to make a difference for all living things. This organization educates the world and creates a community of young people that care for the world around them. Dr. Goodall has set up education centers throughout Africa with the hopes of spreading information about and love for our closest relatives. Because of Dr. Jane Goodall’s efforts, we have a better understanding of our relationship to chimps and how to preserve them in the wild. Hopefully, one day your children will be able to see chimpanzees in the wild and not just in picture books.


Toshisada Nishida is a Japanese primatologist and professor at Kyoto University. Dr. Toshisada is the pioneer of the second longest field study of wild chimpanzees, with Dr. Goodall’s study being the longest. Just like Jane Goodall his research on the behavior and life of chimpanzees was ground breaking. Dr. Nishida has served as the executive director of the Japan Monkey Centre and as the editor in chief of the journal, Primates.


Dr. Toshisada Nishida led an initiative that lasted more than a decade to help create the Mahale Mountains National Park. In 1967 Nishida made his first petition to isolate a game preserve in the area. These efforts helped lead to the establishment of the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Centre in 1979 and finally the Mahale Mountains National Park in 1985. Could you imagine the hard work it must have taken to get a piece of land set aside for chimpanzees?


In 2008 the Leaky foundation awarded the Leakey Prize to Dr. Toshisada Nishida and Dr. Jane Goodall, each receiving a sum of $25, 000. The prize was awarded to Nishida and Goodall due to the valuable contribution that their chimpanzee research had to the study of human evolutionary origins.


Chimpanzee Research


In order to research chimpanzees, scientists go to different forests in central Africa and set up research stations. These research stations are found everywhere chimpanzees are. Stations can be found in Uganda, Tanzania, the Ivory Coast and other countries in Africa. Each station does its own research; some look at how chimps hunt monkeys and some research is done to find how closely related the chimpanzees are to each other. Chimpanzees are our closest evolutionary relative, so doing research with them is important because it shows us how our own ancestors might have lived and how they might have acted.



Research Stations


Mahale Mountains Chimpanzee Research Project


Bossou-Nimba Chimpanze Research Project

Republic of Guinea

Budongo Conservation Field Station


Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project


Kibale Chimpanzee Project


Tai Chimpanzee Project

Cote d’Ivoire

The largest research stations in Africa are found on this map. One you may already know is the Gombe Stream Research Station that Jane Goodall started. The other researcher we talked about, Toshisada Nishida, started the Mahale Mountains Chimpanzee Research Station. All of the data from these researchers are teaching us a lot about our evolutionary cousins. In Budongo the head researcher Dr. Fred Babweteera is studying how we affect chimpanzees and how they affect us. These studies in Budongo will help us find a way for chimps and humans to coexist and be able to share the forest. At another research station called Fongoli researchers found that chimps are able to use sticks to help them become better hunters. Hopefully by knowing more about this type of hunting we can learn about how our ancestors may have started hunting. This research station is headed by researcher Jill D. Pruetz. She and her team have also found that their chimps do more termite fishing than any other group of chimpanzees studied.

Another important research station is the Kibale station that was started by Dr. Gilbert Isabirye-Basuta and is now headed by Dr. Emily Otali. This station studies all parts of chimpanzee life but they do a lot of research on how different chimpanzees act around each other. There has been 30 years of important research published from this site and it has been very helpful in figuring out how chimpanzee society works.

This research sounds like a lot of fun right? Well, with hard work anyone can get the chance to study chimps and maybe one day you can be a researcher like these guys! To do this you have to learn a lot of chimpanzee biology and behavior; it pays to be prepared and know what to look for. Plus, you also would have to travel a long way to Africa to study the chimps in their natural habitat.


Message from CAC'ers


When we were in Tanzania we went to Mahale and to Gombe, and we got to see both of the research stations!


We learned in CAC that the two most important things a researcher must have is patience and a positive attitude. When we were watching the chimps with the researchers at Gombe and Mahale much of our time was spent waiting and watching because you can’t always predict where animals will be, or what they will be doing. This wasn’t boring at all though, because the entire time we were surrounded by nature; there was always something to discover. Even when the chimpanzees were lying around sleeping we were still able to learn about them by studying the plants they eat and the environment they live in.


Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.