Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (3/5)

Chimpanzee family from the Gombe
Chimpanzee family from the Gombe

(Do you know what’s frustrating? When you discover that you can type about three times faster than the words actually show up on your computer screen.)

Anyway, today we are continuing with our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. The book contains many interesting vignettes of chimpanzee life and descriptions of their social order. I wish I could share more of them, but my fingers are tired of typing, so here we go. (As usual, for readability I’m just using “” for the quotes instead of block quotes, and they’re organized around several themes.) I’ve tried to bold the names of the chimps the first time they appear.

Hunting and the sharing of meat:

“One day I arrived on the Peak and found a small group of chimps just below me in the upper branches of a thick tree. As I watched I saw that one of them was holding a pink-looking object from which he was from time to time pulling pieces with his teeth. There was a female and a youngster and they were both reaching out toward the male, their hands actually touching his mouth. Presently the female picked up a piece of the pink thing and put it to her mouth: it was at this moment that I realized the chimps were eating meat.

“After each bite of meat the male picked off some leaves with his lips and chewed them with the flesh. Often, when he had chewed for several minutes on this leafy wad, eh spat out the remains into the waiting hands of the female. Suddenly he dropped a small piece of meat, and like a flash the youngster sung after it to the ground. Even as he reached dot pick it up the undergrowth exploded and an adult bushpig charged toward him. … Soon I made out the shapes of three small striped piglets. Obviously the chimps were eating a baby pig. The size was right and later, when I realized that the male was David Graybeard, I moved closer and saw that he was indeed eating piglet.

“For three hours I watched the chimps feeding. David occasionally let the female bite pieces from the carcass and once he actually detached a small piece of flesh and placed it in her outstretched hand. When he finally climbed down there was still meat on the carcass; he carried it away in one hand, followed by the others.”

EvX: it is much easier to dismember carcases when you have tools at your disposal, like stone knives.

“I had taken Hugo [animal photographer and Jane’s future husband] up to show him the peak and we were watching four red colobus monkeys that were evidently separated from their troop. Suddenly an adolescent male chimpanzee climbed cautiously up the tree next to the monkeys and slowly along a branch. Then he sat down. After a moment, three of the monkeys jumped away–quite calmly, it appeared. The fourth remained, his head turned toward the chimp. A second later another adolescent male chimp climbed out of the thick vegetation surrounding the tree, rushed along the branch along which the last monkey was sitting, and grabbed it. Instantly several other chimps climbed up into the tree, and, screaming and barking in excitement, tore their victim into several pieces. It was all over within a minute from the time of capture. …

“During the ten years that have passed since I began work at the Gombe Stream we have recorded chimpanzees feeding on the young of bushbucks, bushpigs, and baboons, as well as both young and small adult colobus monkeys, redtail monkeys, and blue monkeys. And there are two cases on record of chimpanzees in the area actually taking off African babies–presumably as prey, since when recovered from an adult male chimpanzee one infant had had its limbs partially eaten. …

“On other occasions, the hunting seems to be a much more deliberate, purposeful activity, and often at such times the different individuals of a chimpanzee group show quite remarkable cooperation–as when different chimpanzees station themselves at the bases of trees offering escape routes to a cornered victim.

After Rodolf kills a baboon:
“Presently the four chimpanzees emerged from the undergrowth and climbed into the higher branches of a tall tree, whee Rodolf settled down and began to feed…

“Other chimpanzees in the valley, attracted by the loud screaming and calling that typifies a hunt and kill, soon appeared in the tree, and a group of high-ranking males clustered around Rodolf, begging for a share of his kill. Often I have watched chimpanzees begging for meat, and usually a male who has a reasonably large portion permits at least some of the group to share with him. Rodolf, on the contrary, protected his kill jealously that day. …

“Rodolf kept almost the entire carcass to himself for nine hours that day, although from time to time he spat a wad of meat and leaves into a into a begging hand, or one of the other males managed to grab a piece from the carcass and make off with it. …

“At this time, the third year of Mike‘s supremacy, Rodolf was no longer the high-ranking male he had once been. How was it, then, that he dared push away Mike’s hand, he who normally went into a frenzy of submission when Mike approached him? … I had seen this sort of apparent inconsistency before during meat-eating episodes and I often wondered whether the chimps were showing the crude beginnings of a sot of moral values. Rodolf killed the baboon, therefore, the meat was Rodolf’s. More serious consideration of the behavior has led me to that something rather different maybe involved.

“Mike would have attacked Rodolf without hesitation had the prize been a pile of Bananas, yet if Rodolf had gathered the fruits from a box for himself they would have been his property quite as legitimately as as was the meat. I wonder, then, if the principle involved may be similar to the one governing a territorial animal within his own territory, when he is more aggressive, more likely to fight off an intruder, than if he met the same animal outside his territorial boundary. Meat is much liked, much prized food item. An adult male in possession of such a prize may become more willing to fight for it, and therefore, be less apprehensive of his superiors than if he has a pile of everyday fruits like bananas. In support of this theory, I should mention that in the early days, when bananas were something of a novelty, the chimps very seldom did fight over the fruits.”

EvX: The lack of sharing makes the normally dominant males very frustrated and aggressive toward everyone else in the vicinity during these meat-eating episodes. Often, though, quite a bit of sharing of meat occurs.]

On baboons:

“The baboons very soon made themselves at home around our camp, too, and Vanne [Jane’s mother] quickly learned never to leave the tents unguarded. About two weeks after our arrival she went for a short walk; when she returned it was to find our belongings strewn in all directions, and one blase male baboon sitting by the overturned table polishing off the loaf that Dominic had baked that morning. …

“It was far worse when one morning Vanne, who had been dozing after my early departure, suddenly heard a small sound in the tent. She opened her eyes and there, silhouetted in the entrance, she saw a huge male baboon. He and she remained motionless fr a few moments and then he opened his mouth in a tremendous yawn of threat. In the gray light Vanne could just see the gleam of his teeth and she thought her last hour had come. With a sudden yell she sat bolt upright in bed, waving her arms, and her unwelcome visitor fled. He was a horrible baboon, that one, an old male who took to hanging around our camp at all hours of the day, lurking in the undergrowth and dashing out whenever opportunity presented to steal a loaf of bread.”

The Rain Dance:

“At about noon the first heavy drops of rain began to fall. … At that moment the storm broke. The rain was torrential, and the sudden clap of thunder, right overhead, made me jump. As if this were a signal, one of the big males stood upright and as he swayed and swaggered rhythmically from foot to foot I could hear the rising crescendo of his pant-hoots above the beating of the rain. Then he charged, flat-out down the slope toward the trees he had just left. He ran some thirty yards, and then, swinging round the trunk of a small tree to break his headlong rush, leaped into the low branches and sat motionless.

“Almost at once two other males charged after him. One broke off a low branch from a tree as he ran and brandished it in the air before hurling it ahead of him. The other, as he reached the end of his run, stood upright and rhythmically swayed the branches of a tree back and forth before seizing a huge branch and dragging it farther down the slope. A fourth male, as he too charged, leaped into a tree and, almost without breaking speed, tore off a large branch, leaped with it to the ground, and continued down the slope. As the last two males called and charged down, so the one who had started the whole performance climbed from his tree and began plodding up the slope again. The others, who had also climbed into trees near the bottom of the slope, followed suit. When they reached the ridge, they began charging down all over again, one after the other, with equal vigor. …

“As the males charged down and plodded back up, so the rain fell harder, jagged forks or brilliant flares of lightning lit up the leaden sky, and the crashing of thunder seemed to shake the very mountains. …

“I would only see such a display twice more in the next ten years.”

EvX: the chimps do not build nor take any kind of shelter from the rain, but just sit hunched up in it, looking pretty miserable for much of the rainy season.

Getting to know the chimps:

[Jane, upon hearing some chimps nearby, lies down flat on the ground to avoid disturbing them/being seen]

“Suddenly I saw a large male chimpanzee climbing a tree only a couple of yards away. He moved over into the branches over my head and began screaming at me, short, loud, high-pitched sounds, with his mouth open. … He began climbing down toward me until he was no more than ten feet above me and I could see his yellow teeth… He shook a branch, showering me with twigs. Then he hit the trunk and shook more branches, and continued to scream and scream and work himself into a frenzy of rage. All at once he climbed down and went out of sight behind me.

“It was then that I saw a female with a tiny baby and an older child sitting in another tree and staring at me with wide eyes. They were quite silent and quite still. I could hear the old male moving about behind me and then his footsteps stopped. He was so close by that I could hear his breathing.

“Without warning there was a loud bark, a stamping in the leaves, and my head was hit, hard. At this I had to move, had to sit up. The male was standing looking at me, and for a moment I believed he would charge; but he turned and moved off, stopping often to turn and stare at me. The female with her baby and the youngster climbed down silently and moved after him. There was a sense of triumph: I had made contact with a wild chimpanzee–or perhaps it should be the other way around.

“When I looked back some years later at my description of that male, I was certain it was the bad-tempered, irascible, paunchy J.B. … I suppose he was puzzled by my immobility and the plastic sheet that was protecting me from the light rain. He simply had to find out exactly what I was and make me move–he must have known, from my eyes, that I was alive. …

“One evening I returned to camp and found Dominic and Hassan very excited. A large male chimpanzee, they told me, had walked right into camp and spent an hour feeding in the palm tree that shaded my tent. …

David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane's blog
David Greybeard and Jane Goodall hold hands, from Jane’s blog

“One day as I sat on the veranda of the tent, David climbed down from his tree and then, in his deliberate way, walked straight toward me. When he was about five feet from me he stopped, and slowly his hair began to stand on end, until he looked enormous and very fierce. A chimpanzee may erect his hair when he is angry, frustrated, or nervous. Why had David now put his hair out? All at once he ran straight at me, snatched up a banana from my table, and hurried off to eat it farther away. Gradually his hair returned to its normal sleeked position.

“After that incident I asked Dominic to leave bananas out whenever he saw David, and so, even when there were no ripe palm nuts, the chimp still wandered into camp sometimes, looking for bananas. …”

EvX: This marks the beginning of the feeding stations, which took several years to perfect (you can’t just hand out bananas all day; eventually the chimps stop doing normal chimp things and just sit there all day waiting for more bananas,) but were critical in getting the chimps to regularly appear in the same places so that Jane and other researchers could actually gather data on them. So the researchers have had to balance between “ability to gather data” and “behavior changes due to free bananas.”

To be continued.

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4 thoughts on “Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man (3/5)

  1. This was a book that changed how I saw the world when I read it as a young teen/etc. I think that once you learn anything about chimpanzee behavior, it makes it more-or-less impossible not to think of evolution as the main shaper of our identity as human beings, our behavior and psychology, even if the individual hypotheses offered as “evolutionary psychology” often fall short of being fully convincing.

    When I was teaching 7th grade science, we read one of her shorter books for young people together as a class; it was one of my favorite activities of the year. https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/qualitative-and-quantitative/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You might be interested in this guy Eugène Marais who wrote “My friends the baboons”. He might have been world famous but for the fact he lived in South Africa and wrote mostly in Afrikaans. Here’s a few stories about baboons.

    http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/baboons.htm

    I can’t find a link to this story but the gist of it was…, Eugène Marais had been observing a troop of baboons for a long period of time. Once they came and insistently bothered him until he followed them. They led him to a young baboon that died. He said he tell the way they hopefully looked at him that they thought he might be able to save the child. He couldn’t and left.

    And his theory,”…Marais began writing Soul of the Ape in 1916, but never finished it. It was published posthumously years later. His theory was that, unlike termites, baboons and by extension all primates had the ability to memorise the relationship between cause and effect. They could therefore vary their behaviour voluntarily. While termites were instinctive, the mind of baboons was based on “causal memory”.

    The reason for this difference, according to Marais, was natural selection. According to him, natural selection was not, like Darwin had insisted, the survival of the fittest, but rather the line of least resistance. Those species best able to adapt to their specific environment survived, while those not able to, would become extinct. Natural selection, therefore, had the tendency to both localise and specialise species…”.

    http://www.encounter.co.za/article/140.html

    Like

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