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

Today we are finishing our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of a family (or several families) of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.

Eastern chimpanzee female twins 'Golden & Glitter' aged 14 years with their babies 'Gosama' aged 3 months and 'Glama' aged 1 year (Pan troglodytes schweinfurtheii). Gombe National Park, Tanzania. September 2012.
Eastern chimpanzee female twins ‘Golden & Glitter’ aged 14 years with their babies ‘Gosama’ aged 3 months and ‘Glama’ aged 1 year, from Jane’s Blog.

Melissa has a baby:

“As Melissa came down the slope toward our camp she moved on three limbs, supporting the newborn with one hand. Every so often she stopped and seemed to disentangle something from the undergrowth. When she got closer we saw that this was the placenta, still attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. …

“She seemed dazed, her eyes not quite focused, her movements slow and uncertain. When one of the mature males arrived, Melissa, usually so quick to greet another chimp, so anxious to ingratiate herself with her superiors, ignored him completely. … She continued to sit, the baby cuddled between her thighs, her feet crossed under his tiny rump, her arm behind his head. …. The baby’s head fell back on her knees, and Melissa, looking down, stared long at the tiny face.”

Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

Fifi’s fascination with her little brother, Flint:

“Flo sat down and began to tickle Flint’s neck with small nibbling movements of her worn teeth, and Fifi once again sat close and reached out to make a few grooming movements on Flint’s back. Flo ignored this. Earlier, though, when Flint was not yet two months old, Flo had usually pushed Fifi’s hand away each time she had tried to touch Flint…

“When Flint was three months old… he began to respond when Fifi approached by reaching out to her. Fifi became more and more preoccupied with him. She began to make repeated attempts to pull him away from his mother. …

“When Flint was thirteen weeks old we saw Fifi succeed in pulling him away from his mother. Flo was grooming Figan when Fifi, with infinite caution and many quick glances toward her mother’s face, began to pull at Flint’s foot. Inch by inch she drew the infant toward her–and all at once he was in her arms. Fifi lay on her back and cuddled Flint to her tummy with her arms and legs. She lay very still. …

Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

“Flo for the first few moments appeared to take no notice at all. But when Flint, who had possibly never lost contact with his mother’s body, reached around and held his arms toward her, pouting his lips and uttering a soft hoo of distress, Flo instantly gathered him to her breast and bent to kiss his head with her lips. …

“After this, not a day passed without Fifi pulling her infant brother away from Flo. …

“When Flint was very small his two elder brothers, although they sometimes stared at him, paid him little attention.”

Pom and Passion:

“Babies less than five months of age are normally protected by their mothers from all contact with other chimpanzees, except their own siblings. … It was, however, very different for Pom, one of the first female infants born into our group. Her mother, Passion, actually laid the baby on the ground the very first day of her life and allowed two young females to touch and even groom her as she lay there. But then, in all respects, Passion was a somewhat unnatural mother.

“She was no youngster, this Passion… I know she lost one infant before Pom’s birth in 1965. If her treatment of Pom was anything to go by, I suspect Passion had lost other infant, too, for Pom had to fight for her survival right from the start. When she was a mere two months old, she began to ride on her mother’s back–three or four months earlier than other infants. It started when Pom hurt her foot badly. She could not grip properly, and Passion, rather than constantly support her infant with one hand as most mothers wold have done, probably pushed Pom up onto her back. The very first day that Pom adopted this new riding position, Passion hurried for about thirty yards in order to greet a group of adult males, seeming quite without concern for her infant, Pom, clinging frantically, managed to stay aboard–though much older infants, when they tart riding on their mothers’ back, usually slide down if their mothers make sudden movements. …

“Flo, it will be remembered, was very solicitous when Flint was finding his feet, gathering him up if he fell and often supporting him with one hand as he wobbled along. …. Passion was positively callous. One day, precious to which Pom had never been seen to totter on her own more than a two yards, Passion suddenly got up and walked away from her infant. Pom, struggling to follow and falling continually, whimpered louder each time, and finally her mother returned and shoved the infant onto her back. This happened repeatedly. As Pom learned to walk better, Passion did not even bother to return when the infant cried–she just waited for her to catch up by herself.

“… It was not really surprising that, during her second year, when most infants wander about happily quite far away from their mothers, Pom usually sat or played very close to Passion. For months on end she actually held tightly on to Passion with one hand during her games with Flint and Goblin and the other infants. Obviously she was terrified of being left behind.

EvX: Passion, aside from being a terrible mother, was a cannibal. According to Wikipedia:

She, along with her daughter Pom, captured, killed, and ate several newborns at Gombe.[78]

Passion only had three children who made it to adulthood. Of these, two had no surviving children–Pom had one child who died, and then Pom disappeared; Pax lost his testicles in a conflict between other chimps and his mother, and never reproduced. The Wikipedia doesn’t record whether the third child had any children, but compared to Flo, Wilkie, and even Frodo, Passion was clearly not successful. (Though her cannibalism may have ultimately benefited other, more distantly related chimps in her family.)

“Like Human children, chimpanzee children are dependent on their mothers for several years. …

“Just then Flint, six months older than Goblin, came bouncing up and the two children began to play, both showing their lower teeth in the chimpanzee’s playful smile. Flo was reclining nearby grooming Figan; Goblin’s mother, Melissa, was a little farther away, also grooming. It was so peaceful…. All at once a series of pant-hoots announced the arrival of more chimpanzees, and there was instant commotion in the group. Flint pulled away from the game and hurried to jump onto Flo’s back as she moved for safety halfway up a palm tree. I saw Mike with his hair on end beginning to hoot; I knew he was about to display. So did the other chimpanzees of his group–all were alert, prepared to dash out of the way or to join in the displaying. All, that is, save Goblin. He seemed totally unconcerned and, incredibly, began to totter toward Mike. Melissa, squeaking with fear, was hurrying toward her son, but she was too late. Mike began his charge, and as he passed Goblin seized him up as though he were a branch and dragged him along the ground.

“An then the normally fearful, cautious Melissa, frantic for her child, hurled herself at Mike. It was unprecedented behavior, and she got severely beaten up for her interference, but she did succeed in rescuing Goblin–the infant lay, pressed close to the ground and screaming, where the dominant male had dropped him. Even before Mike had ceased his attack on Melissa the old male Huxley had seized Goblin from the ground. I felt sure he too was going to display with the infant, but he remained quite still, holding the child and staring down at him almost, it seemed in bewilderment. Then as Melissa, screaming and bleeding, escaped from Mike, Huxley set the infant on the ground. As his mother hurried up to him Goblin leaped into her arms…

“Normally, small infants are shown almost unlimited tolerance from all other members of the community; it almost seem as though the adult male may lose many of his social inhibitions during his charging display.”

EvX: At another time, when Goblin got lost in some confusion, Mike rescued him and stayed with him until Melissa returned–Mike wasn’t normally aggressive toward the small children in his troop.


“Although I never saw a juvenile son who was frightened of his mother, as Miff [female] was of Marina, nevertheless the male juvenile normally shows a good deal of respect for his mother.
One day I came across Figan with the freshly killed body of a colobus monkey. He climbed a tree with the tail of the monkey in one hand and the body slung over his shoulder He was closely pursued by Fifi. When he reached a comfortable branch he sat and began eating, and Fifi, who was about three years old at the time, begged persistently. Several times Figan gave he small fragments of meat.
A few minutes later I saw Flo climbing toward Figan. Instantly he slung the carcass over his shoulder and climbed to a higher branch. Flo remained in a low fork, gazing around, not once looking at her son. He relaxed and began feeding again, though constantly he glanced somewhat apprehensively toward his mother. The old female sat there for a full ten minutes. Then, with only a preliminary fleeting glance at Figan, she very slowly climbed slightly higher, looking oh so nonchalant, and sat on the net branch up. …

“When he reached a very high position in the tree Flo could keep up her pretence no longer–without warning she rushed toward him. Figan with a scream leaped down into the foliage and vanished from sight…

“For the most part, these adolescent males, even when they were ten or eleven years old, continued to how respect for their old mothers. If we offered a banana the son usually stood back and waited for his mother to take the fruit. …

“On many occasions a mother will hurry to try to help her adolescent son. Once when Mr. Worzle attacked Faben, who was then about twelve, Flo, with hair on end and Flint clinging to her, rushed toward the scene of strife. As she approached, Faben’s frightened screams turned instantly to angry waa barks and he began to display, standing upright and swaggering from foot to foot. Then mother and son, side by side, charged along the track toward old Mr. Worzle… Mr. Worzle turned and fled. …

“As the adolescent male grows older, he is increasingly likely to hurry to his mother’s aid when she is threatened. …

“In his dealings with the higher-ranking males the adolescent must be cautions, because now, more than when he was a mere juvenile, an act of insubordination tends to bring severe retribution. …”

EvX: Jane notes that the chimps show sign of trying to avoid incest, though they likely have no way of avoiding father/daughter couplings, half-sibling couplings, and similar such cases.

Pestilence rides a white horse:

“Olly’s new baby was four weeks old when he suddenly became ill. … One morning Olly walked slowly into camp supporting him with one hand. Each time she made a sudden moved, he uttered a loud squawk as though in pain, and he was gripping badly. First one hand or foot and then another slipped from Olly’s hair and dangled down. …

“Next morning it was obvious that the baby was very ill. All his four limbs hung limply down and he screamed almost every time his mother took a step. … Olly only moved a few yards at a time, and then, as though worried by the screams of her infant, sat down to cradle him close. When he quieted, she moved again, but he instantly began to call out so that once more she sat to comfort him. After traveling about a hundred yards, which took her just over half an hour, Olly climbed into a tree. Again she carefully arranged her baby’s limp arms and legs on her lap as she sat down. … The baby stopped screaming and, apart from occasionally grooming his head briefly, Olly paid him no further attention.

“When we had been there some fifteen minutes it began to pour, a blinding deluge that almost obscured the chimps from my sight. During the storm, which went on for thirty minutes, the baby must either have died or lost consciousness…

“Olly climbed down the tree with her infant carelessly in one hand, and when she reached the ground she flung the limp body over her shoulder. It was as though she knew he was dead….

“The following day Olly arrived in camp, followed by Gilka, with the corpse of her infant slung over her shoulder. When she sat down the body sometimes dropped heavily to the ground. Occasionally Olly pushed it into her groin as she sat; when she stood she held it by an arm or even a leg. …

“Finally Olly wandered away from camp and she and Gilka, with me following went some way up the opposite mountain slope. Olly seemed dazed; she looked neither left nor right but plodded up the narrow trail through the forest., the body slung over her neck, until she reached a place halfway up the mountainside. Then she sat down.

“The dead infant slumped to the ground beside her, and other than to glance down briefly, Olly ignored it. She just sat staring into space…

“Now, at last, came Gilka’s opportunity to play with her sibling… Carefully she groomed it, and then she even tried to play, pulling one dead hand into the ticklish spot between her collarbone and neck… We had been so glad for Gilka’s sake when old Olly had given birth again–but it looked as if Gilka was always to be ill-fated. … Only then did Olly’s lethargy leave her for a moment. She snatched the body away, and then once more let it fall to the ground. …

“The following afternoon Olly and Gilka arrived in camp without the body. …

“Had we known at the time that Olly’s infant was without doubt the first victim of the terrible paralytic disease that struck our chimpanzee community, I wouldn’t have have followed the family–for at this time my own baby was on the way …

“When we realized that the disease was probably polio, we panicked, for Hugo and I and our research assistant Alice Ford had not received a full course of polio vaccine. … The Pfizer Laboratories in Naiobi generously supplied us with the oral vaccine, and we offered it to the chimps in bananas. …

“I think those few moths were the darkest I have ever lived through: every time a chimp stopped visiting the feeding area, we started to wonder whether we would ever see him again, or worse, if he would reappear hideously crippled. Fifteen chimpanzees in our group were afflicted, of whom six lost their lives… Gilka lost partial use of one hand and Melsa was affected in her neck and shoulders. … Pepe and Faben both appeared after short absences trailing one useless arm. One adolescent male returned, after a long absence, shuffling along in a squatting position and with both arms paralyzed. He could only eat the bits and pieces he was able to reach with his lips, and he was nothing but a skeleton covered with dull, staring hair. We had to shoot him. And thew ere other victims–like fat, bustling J.B., of whom we had all become so fond–who just disappeared, and we could only conjecture about their lonely deaths.

EvX: Old Mr. McGregor also died, the account of which is the saddest part of the book.

“We did not allow any of the chimps to see his dead body, and for a long time it looked as if Humphrey did not realize he would not meet his old friend again. For six months he kept returning to the place where Gregor had spent the last days of his life and would sit on one tree or another staring around, waiting, listening. During this time he seldom joined the other chimps when they left together for a distant valley; he sometimes went a short way with such a group, but within a few hours he usually came back again and sat staring over the valley, waiting, surely to see old Gregor again, listening for the deep, almost braying voice, so similar to his own, that was silenced forever.”

Let us conclude on a more upbeat note (I think I will just skip who killed whom in the Gombe war; you can look it up yourself if you want to know):

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 near [David Greybeard] at the bank of a tiny trickle of crystal-clear water, I saw a ripe red palm nut lying on the ground. I picked it up and held it out to him on my open palm. He turned his head away. When I moved my hand closer he looked at it, then at me, and then he took the fruit, and at the same time held my hand firmly and gently with his own. As I sat motionless he released my hand, looked down at the nut, and dropped it to the ground.

“At that moment there was no need of any scientific knowledge to understand his communication of reassurance. … It was a reward far beyond my greatest hopes.”

Anthropology Friday: In the Shadow of Man, (4/5)

jane-van-lawick-goodall-in-the-shadow-of-man-book-coverHello! Today we are continuing with our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, featuring the adventures of a family (or several families) of chimpanzees from The Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Today’s focus is on social structure.

Social status:

“I began to suspect that Goliath might be the highest-ranking male chimpanzee in the area–and later I found that this was in reality the case. If William and Goliath started to move toward the same banana at the same time, it was William who gave way and Goliath who took the fruit. If Goliath met another adult male along a narrow forest track, he continued–the other stepped aside. Goliath was nearly always the first to be greeted when a newcomer climbed into a fig tree to join a feeding group of chimpanzees. One day I actually saw him driving another chimp from her nest to take it for himself. …

William, with his long scarred upper lip and drooping lower lip, was one of the more subordinate males in his relationships with other chimpanzees. If another adult male made signs of aggression toward him, William was quick to approach with gestures of appeasement and submission, reaching out to lay his hands on the other, crouching with soft panting grunts in front of the higher-ranking individuals. … When I offered him a banana in my hand for the first time, he stared at it for several moments, gently shook a branch in his frustration, and then sat uttering soft whimpering sounds until I relented and put the fruit on the ground. …

Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Flo the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

“Even in those days, Flo looked very old. … We soon found out that her character by no means matched her appearance: she was aggressive, tough as nails, and easily the most dominant of all the females at that time.

“Flo’s personality will become more vivid if I contrast it with that of another old female, Olly … was remarkably different. Flo for the most part was relaxed in her relations with the adult males; often I saw her grooming in a close group with with two or three males out in the forest, and in camp she showed no hesitation in joining David or Goliath to beg for a share of cardboard or bananas. Olly, on the other hand, was tense and nervous in her relations with others of her kind. She was particularly apprehensive when in close proximity to adult males, and her hoarse, frenzied pant-grunts rose to near hysteria if high-ranking Goliath approached her. …

“Olly tended to avoid large groups of chimps and often wandered around with only her two year old daughter Gilka for company.

EvX: Gilka eventually became so lonely and isolated that she made friends with a baboon:

“One day when Gilka was again waiting while Olly fished for termites, I heard a baboon bark further down the valley. At the sound Gilka’s whole attitude underwent and immediate change. [from her previously depresesed state.] …

“A moment later I saw Gilka move out from the trees, and at almost the same time a small baboon detached itself from the troop and cantered toward her. … the two ran up to each other, and for a moment I saw their faces very close together. Each had one arm around the other. The next moment they were playing, wrestling, and patting each other. Goblina went around behind Gilka and, reaching forward, seemed to tickle the chimpanzee in the ribs. Gilka, leaning back, pushed at Goblina’s hands, her mouth open in a wide smile. …

“I watched Gilka and Goblina playing for ten minutes, and all the time they were amazingly gentle. Then the baboon troop started to move on and Goblina scampered after it.”

EvX: Olly may have been avoiding other chimps because she was lower status, and being around people of higher status than oneself is often unpleasant.

“Often, too, Olly and Flo traveled about together in the forests, and all four children were playmates of long standing. For the most part, the relationship between Olly and Flo was peaceful enough, but if there was a single banana lying on the ground between them the relative social status of each was made clear: Flo had only to put a few of her moth-eaten hairs on end for Olly to retreat, pant-grunting and grinning in submission. …

Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall's website
Fifi the chimpanzee, image from Jane Goodall’s website

“The adult females of the chimpanzee community are almost always submissive to the adult males, and and to many of the older adolescent males. But they have their own dominance hierarchy, of which Flo was for many years supreme. … Flo was exceptionally aggressive toward her own sex, and she would tolerate no insubordination from young adolescent males. Much of her confidence no doubt resulted from the fact that he was so often accompanied by her two eldest sons,and with the aggressive Fifi as well, the family was formidable indeed.”

EvX: Flo and Olly once they teamed up and literally beat the shit out of a strange female who had ventured into their territory. Perhaps not coincidentally, Flo was the most sexually popular female in the group.

As Jane observed the chimps over the decades, most of them received names that started with the same letter as their mothers. (It is usually difficult to know which chimp was an infant’s father.) So Flo is the matriarch of the “F-family.” According to Wikipedia:

The F-family has produced at least four alpha males for the community, and the matriarch, Flo, played a particularly important role in acknowledging Dr Goodall’s acceptance as a human observer by the community. The G-family has produced at least one alpha male, and also the birth of several twins, which are rare among chimpanzees. There are other families as well which include the T-family and S-family (which has produced one alpha male).

In other words, Flo’s children and grandchildren did very well for themselves. If you were a male chimp in the Gombe, you would want to mate with Flo.

Frodo the chimpanzee, image also from Jane's website
Frodo the chimpanzee, image also from Jane’s website

The Wikipedia also tells us about the lives of some of the chimps born after the book ends, such as Frodo, Flo’s grandson:

Frodo (June 30, 1976 – November 10, 2013) was Fifi’s second oldest son.[39] His father was the relatively low-ranking male Sherry. Even from a young age, Frodo was large and aggressive. He learned to throw rocks as a juvenile, sometimes throwing them at and hitting and bruising his human observers.[40] As an adult, he was one of the largest chimpanzees ever observed in the community, at about 113 pounds (51 kg) and remained aggressive.[37][39] He also became an excellent hunter of red colobus monkeys, and was also able to intimidate other chimpanzees into sharing their kills with him if he was unsuccessful.[22][41] His large size and aggressive nature allowed him to attain high status…

As alpha male, Frodo maintained his position largely through intimidation.[22][37][41] He rarely groomed other males, and often demanded that other males groom him.[22][37][41] Frodo maintained his alpha position until becoming ill himself in 2002.[22][33][41][42] He was then defeated by a coalition of several males and spent most of the next two years on his own recovering from his wounds and illness.[22][33][41][42]

Frodo’s aggression was not limited to Colobus monkeys and other chimpanzees. In May 2002, he killed a 14-month-old human baby that the niece of a member of the research team had carried into his territory.[43] … In 1988, he attacked cartoonist Gary Larson, leaving him bruised and scratched.[43] In 1989, he attacked Goodall, beating her head to the point of nearly breaking her neck.[43]

Frodo fathered at least eight infants, second most of any group male (Wilkie fathered ten).

Perhaps if Frodo’s father had been high-status, he could have solidified his position via grooming and social coalition rather than violence, and thus perhaps avoided being violently deposed.

The entry on Wilkie notes his very different approach to dominance:

In 1989 Wilkie defeated Goblin and attained the alpha position.[53] Wilkie, attained this position despite being one of the smallest males in the community, at 37 kilograms (82 lb).[85] According to researchers at the University of Minnesota‘s Jane Goodall Institute Center for Primate Studies, Wilkie attained his position primarily by becoming popular by obsessively grooming other males.[79][85] Unlike most males, Wilkie also groomed females.[85] Wilkie also made effective use of charging displays.[79]

Mike’s rise:

“Mike‘s rise to the number-one spot in the chimpanzee hierarchy was both interesting and spectacular. In 1963, Mike had ranked almost bottom in the adult male dominance hierarchy. He… had been threatened and actually attacked by almost every other adult male. …

“A group of five adult males, including to-ranking Goliath, David Graybeard, and the huge Rodolf, were grooming each other. The session had been going on for some twenty minutes. Mike was sitting about thirty yards apart from them, frequently staring toward the group, occasionally idly grooming himself.

“All at once, Mike calmly walked over to our tent and picked up an empty kerosene can by the handle. Then he picked up a second can and, walking upright, returned to the place where he had been sitting. … After a few minutes he began to rock from side to side. … his hair slowly began to stand erect, and then, softly at first, he began a series of pant-hoots. … suddenly he was off, charging toward the group of males, hitting the two cans ahead of him. The cans, along with Mike’s crescendo of hooting, made the most appaling racket: no wonder the erstwhile peaceful males rushed out of the way. …

“Mike set off again, but he made straight for Goliath–and even he hastened out of the way like the others. Then mike stopped and sat, all his hair on end, breathing hard. …

“Rodolf was the first of the males to approach Mike, uttering soft pant-grunts of submission, crouching low and pressing his lips to Mike’s thigh. Next he began to groom Mike. … Finally David Greybeard went over to Mike, laid one hand on his groin, and joined in the grooming. Only Goliath kept away, sitting alone and staring toward Mike.”

EvX: So Mike becomes dominant.

“… it was fully another year before Mike seemed to feel quite secure in his position. He continued to display very frequently and vigorously, and lower-ranking chimps had increasing reason to fear him, since often he would attack a female or youngster viciously at the slightest provocation.”

The observance of human customs:

“Christmas that year at the Gombe Stream was a day to remember. I bought an extra large supply of bananas and put them around a small tree I had decorated with silver paper and absorbent cotton. Goliath and William arrived together on Christmas morning and gave loud screams of excitement when they saw the huge pile of fruit. They flung their arms around one another and Goliath kept patting William on his wide open screaming mouth while William laid one arm over Goliath’s back. Finally they calmed down and began their feast, still uttering small squeaks and grunts of pleasure.”


“Firm friendships, like that between Goliath and David Graybeard, seem to be particularly prevalent among male chimpanzees. Mike and the irascible, testy old J.B. traveled about in the same group very frequently. … The only two adult females we know of who enjoyed this kind of friendship were almost certainly sisters.”

EvX: J.B. uses his relationship with newly ascended Mike to raise his own social status and get more bananas.

Illness and Death:

“Shortly after Christmas, I had to leave the Gombe stream myself for another term at Cambridge. My last two weeks were sad, for William fell ill. … When he climbed down in the morning I saw that every few moments his body shook with violent spasms of shivering. … One morning, two days before I had to leave, William stole a blanket from Dominic’s tent. [Dominic was the camp cook.] He had been sitting chewing on it for a while when David Greybeard arrived and, after eating some bananas, joined William at the blanket. For half an hour or so the two sat peacefully side by side, each sucking noisily and contentedly on different corners. Then William, like the clown he so often appeared to be, put part of the blanket right over his head and made groping movements with his hands as he tried to touch David from within the strange darkness he had created. … Presently the two wandered off into the forest together, leaving me with the echo of a dry, hacking cough and the blanket lying on the ground. I never saw William again. …

To be continued…



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.

Two Kinds of Dumb

The impression one gets from briefly skimming anything on IQ is that two people with the same IQ are (supposed to be) about equally smart. And within the normal range of IQs, for a roughly homogenous population, this is basically true.

But for those at the bottom of the IQ range, this is not true–because there are two ways to be dumb.

This is, obviously, an oversimplification. There are probably 7.2 billion ways to be dumb. But bear with me; I think the oversimplification is justified for the sake of conversation.

Some people have very low IQs because something bad happened to them–they were dropped on their heads as babies, ate a chunk of lead, or have an extra copy of chromosome 21. In these sorts of cases, had the accident not occurred, the individual would have been smarter. Their genetic potential, as it were, is not realized, and–with the exception of accidents affecting genetics–if they had kids, their kids would not share their low IQ, but reflect their parents’ genetic IQ.

The second kind of low IQ happens just because a person happened to have parents who weren’t very bright. There is a great range in people’s natures, IQs included, and some folk are on the low end. Just as Gnon made some people with 140 IQs, so Gnon made some people with 60. There is nothing wrong with these people, per se. They tend to be perfectly functional, at least in a society of other people like themselves–they just don’t score very well on IQ tests and tend not to get degrees in math.

People who have suffered some form of traumatic brain injury tend not to be very functional. They lose all kinds of functional brain processing stuff, not just the ability to predict which way the arrow is going to be rotated next. By contrast, people who are just not genetically blessed with smarts have built entire cultures.

To clarify, and use an extreme example, let’s think back to our most ancient ancestors. Since we can’t talk to them, let’s look at our cousins, the other great apes.

Koko the Gorilla can use about 1,000 signs and understands about 2,000 human words. Kanzi, a bonobo who can play Pacman, make stone tools, and cook his own dinner, understands about 3,000 words and 348 symbols. Both Kanzi and Koko are probably on the highly intelligent end for their species, because you don’t hear all that much about all of their classmates whom scientists have also been trying to teach to talk.

According to different websites on child development, a 2 year old human typically uses about 150-300 words; a 3 year old uses about 900-1000 words; a four year old uses 4,000-6,000 words.

As a general rule of thumb, human children, like great apes, understand more than they can say. So let’s say that Koko and Kanzi are about as smart as a human somewhere between 2 and 4 years old.

Now consider what would happen if you let your 3 year old (or someone else’s three year old if you don’t have one of your own) lose in the jungle: they’d die. Quickly. A three year old sucks at making omelets, their flint-knapping leaves much to be desired, and most of them aren’t even very good at Pacman. They’re also really bad at climbing trees and still need help opening their bananas, and they don’t really understand why they should avoid lions.

Bonobos and gorillas, by contrast, survive just fine in the jungle, so long as humans don’t shoot them.

A grown human with the intellect of a 4 yr old would not be functional, in human society or gorilla society. A gorilla with the language abilities of a 4 yr old human is a very smart and completely functional-in-gorilla-society gorilla. A gorilla is not dumb; a gorilla is exactly as smart as it is supposed to be.

Since the age when our ancestors diverged from the other primates, our species has been marked by increasing brain capacity and, presumably, intelligence. We’ve gone from doing one-to-one correspondence on our fingers to calculus and diff eq. Which means that a great many human societies have fallen somewhere in between–societies where the average person could count to ten; societies where the average person could do basic arithmetic; societies where the average person can do some abstract thought, but not a ton. Each society has its own level of organization and particular environment, requiring different mental toolkits.

But within our own society, we are not identical; we are not clones. So some of us are smart and some are dumb. But a person who is naturally dumb is generally more functional than someone who suffered some accident; there are different kinds of low IQ.

Animal Morality

I know it shouldn’t surprise me when people post outright, bold-faced lies about, say, the nature of humanity, but somehow I still stare in shock for a split second or two before struggling with whether or not to respond.

It’s generally a bad idea to respond, another thing you would think I’d have learned by now. No one likes the guy who starts every comment with, “Actually…”

Today’s lie was, to paraphrase slightly due to memory being imperfect, “Animals are so loving and compassionate, even to members not of their own species! Humans totally fail at compassion. We should learn from our ape cousins and ancestors!” The sentiments were accompanied by an adorable picture of an orangutan holding a baby tiger.

Okay, the exclamation points are my own additions.

First, the obvious: This shit is a baldfaced lie. If animals were regularly compassionate and loving to members of other species, lions would be vegans and running adoption agencies for baby gazelles whose parents had fallen victim to unfortunate accidents. If animals were regularly loving and compassionate, we wouldn’t make a big deal out of it every time a hippo and turtle hang out together. Does someone write a picture book documenting every set of human kids who become friends? Or every human who feeds a pet? Of course not. We only document these animal stories because they’re unusual.

Reality is boring. Lies entertain.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “My dog totally loves me.”

Your dog is the result of thousands of years of selective breeding specifically for friendliness to humans. Also, you give it food. Does your dog give you food?


Anyway, how nice are animals?

“Altruism” is defined (by the Wikipedia, anyway,) as, “behaviour by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor.” Wikipedia defines “compassion” as a, “response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.”

I’m not going to even try to define “love.”

Now, the definition of altruism itself hints that inter-species altruism probably isn’t a thing you’re going to see very often, because if the altruist increases the genes of another species at the expense of their own genes, then whatever genes originally drove the altruist to be altruistic become less common. Over time, the inter-species altruist gets replaced by everyone else, and altruism disappears.

This doesn’t mean that no one can ever be altruistic–altruism works just fine if it’s directed at your near kin. Animals that have a strong instinct to care for their family members and a certain level of intelligence can even apply that caring instinct to non-family. But I wouldn’t expect much friendliness from a crocodile.

It does means that claims about widespread altruism among animals toward other animals that aren’t family are probably nonsense.

The vast majority of observed instances of animal altruism involve close kin, pack members, or behavior that would normally be directed toward one’s kin but happened, by accident, to involve a non-related individual. The Wikipedia list on the subject, while incomplete and imperfect, gives a good impression.

In reality, the vast, vast majority of animals in this world do not give a shit about members not of their own species. Most of them don’t even care about members of their own species who aren’t family, and some will even eat their own children.

What about claim two, that humans suck at compassion?

Certainly some of us do. Humans aren’t as nice as I wish we were. Compassion, trust, kindness, etc., are all traits I would like to see more of in humans. But compared to animals, we look like Mother Theresa. How many animals set out little houses, baths, and seed-filled feeders for other animals? How many animals buy cancer treatments for their pets? For that matter, how many animals feed and care for a pet, period?

These behaviors are almost exclusively human.

Humans adopt orphans, run into burning buildings to rescue each other, fund social welfare nets, and spend a lot of time trying to prove to each other just how much they care about each other. Movies and novels basically wouldn’t exist without our capacity to empathize with strangers.

Humans support this level of altruism because our societies have bred us, like dogs, for it. (And since different societies are different, that means that different societies have bred different types/levels of altruism and compassion.) It is only in modern, first-world societies that we see anything resembling wide-spread altruism. Slavery–generally outlawed throughout the West in the late 17 or 1800s–is still common throughout many parts of Africa and the rest of the third world. If you really want to break your heart, just go read about Cambodian children sold as sex slaves at the age of 5. (Clearly the solution is more orangutans.)

(Seriously, what is the point of having a military if we don’t occasionally swoop into those brothels, behead everyone running the place, and then leave their heads on pikes about the city as warnings to everyone else?)

How about the final claim: Should we learn from the other apes?

Which do you think is friendlier, your dog or a wolf? The dog, obviously.

Human society has been getting steadily less violent for about as long as we’ve managed to account. Everyday life in non-state and pre-state societies is/was about as violent as Russia during WWII, only a bit more spread out. Chimpanzees, like wolves, are well-known for their violence. They wage war, form alliances to overthrow their leaders, and murder chimpanzee babies in order to breed faster with their mothers.

But what about bonobos?

I’ll grant that they have a lot of sex. They’re also known to be less aggressive than chimpanzees. This is not the same as being less aggressive than H sapiens. Until I see some data on bonobo homicide, I’m going to continue suspecting that bonobos are more violent than humans. Remember, some human societies–25 of them, though several of those are teeny–have gotten their murder rates down below 1 in 100,000 people. Since 50,000 is the high end estimate of number of bonobos on earth, if even one bonobo kills another bonobo once every two years, they’d still have 6x the homicide rate of Japan.

Not to mention that, unsurprisingly, empathy and “emotional intelligence” appear to correlate rather well with regular intelligence–and since humans are noticeably smarter (on average) than chimps, gorillas, bonobos, or tigers, this implies that we are probably better at empathizing with others, feeling compassion, and being generally altruistic.

This is pretty obvious to just about anyone who has ever had to deal with a bully, or looked at the average IQs of criminals.


All of which leads us back to our initial quandary: Why do people tell (and believe) such obvious lies?

I posit two reasons:

1. The other is but a foil for the self, and most people don’t really process words into their exact meanings, but into internal feeling-states. So when they say, “Animals are so caring and compassionate; we should be more like them,” they actually mean, “I like being caring and compassionate; you should be more like me.”

2. People who are caring and compassionate tend also to be caring and compassionate about animals, so thinking nice things about animals because it makes them happy.

Most of the time, people seem to remember that crime rates are actually lower among humans than among wild animals, and so don’t get too close to bears. (Sometimes they forget, but Gnon has his way with them.) But I do occasionally encounter people who really, truly seem to believe this. They really think that humans are irredeemably evil, and the world would be better off without us. But a world without humans would be a world with even less empathy and compassion than our current world, not more.