Together we can ensure that captive chimpanzees have a better life. Together we can save wild chimpanzees in their forest homes.
– Jane Goodall
Today marks the 60th anniversary Jane Goodall first stepped foot on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Jane Goodall and researchers who have followed her footsteps have studied the members of the Kasakela Community for 60 years at what is now called Gombe National Park. The research station now holds a Guinness World Record for the longest-running study of any wild mammal.
What set Jane Goodall apart from her colleagues at the time was she held no formal higher education degree. She was a woman. And she committed a scientific crime at the time: she named the Kasakela chimpanzees instead of assigning them numbers. Researchers were adamant about not giving chimpanzees names because it would indicate chimpanzees had things such as feelings, choice, and personalities. Flash forward to present day, there are few who would argue a chimpanzee does not posses these qualities.
I think about my entrance into the Pan troglodytes world and where I have been to where I am now. I was originally studying political science during my undergraduate studies. Long story short, I took an anthropology course, found out primatology is a sub-branch of the field, found out even further there is a lot of crossover between political theory and what we now know of primate social behavior, including chimpanzees of course. After I bit the bullet and took on another degree in anthropology, I applied to be in the Gombe Chimpanzee Lab at Arizona State University. My job was to receive photos coming in from the field and use a new state of the art process to gather measurements of the individuals of the community. The process (known as photogrammetry) is a way researchers can now track the growth of particular individuals without using a darting method. Even at my inception into chimpanzee studies, I have never known a chimpanzee by a number. They have always had names, and asking those who have studied them longer and in the field, each one was unique in their own personality and decision making process.
Though I had a grasp of this thought early on into my studies and career, it wouldn’t really hit me until 2017 when I was an intern here at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. It’s one thing to hear and sort of know each chimpanzee is uniquely different from the next, but to see it firsthand is another story. Personally, I don’t think anyone can mentally prepare themselves to truly comprehend just how individualistic each chimpanzee is until they spend some time with them. It is that individual factor that makes being a chimpanzee caregiver at a sanctuary such an incredible joy, yet at the same time a challenging task. Trying to balance and cater to 10 individual personalities is a very tricky feat, so we try extremely hard every day to find that balance. Some days are a great success, other days we may fall completely flat.
Knowing them as individuals affects how we care for them on a day-to-day basis. We, as staff, spend everyday with the 10 unique individuals who reside here. Since we know them, we want to make sure we clean their enclosures not just quickly, but thoroughly as well to give each of them access to as much clean area as quickly as possible. We do put a lot of thought into what we prepare for their meals and try to think of what each individual likes and doesn’t like to find a balance among all 10 so everybody is happy. And we brainstorm to think of enrichment puzzles that are not too hard for some, but also not too easy for others to help them not become bored. We do this because we want to do better for them.
So to every caregiver who has had the honor of knowing a chimpanzee, to every researcher who has had the privilege of studying chimpanzees, to every person who has ever supported a sanctuary chimpanzee, to Jane Goodall, but especially, to every chimpanzee past and present, Happy World Chimpanzee Day!