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.”


I’ll cut to the very predictable chase and say that I am pro-vaccines. Quite pro-vaccines. My dad had fucking Polio as a kid, and it gave him permanent nerve damage. Heck, I know people in wheelchairs from Polio. And people who’ve had other lovely diseases we now vaccinate against.

Did you know the mumps can make you infertile?

Needless to say, my kids are vaccinated.

But I also understand the anti-vax perspective. I mean, I think it’s wrong, but I understand where these folks are coming from: it is difficult to trust a medical establishment that has treated you crappily in the past.

Doctors get plenty of stuff wrong. Doctors are human, and humans make mistakes. But when your doctor makes a mistake, it can have rather severe consequences.

And somewhere around the 50s, despite some wonderful, astoundingly great advances in medicine –actually, perhaps because of those astounding advances–doctors started doing some really dumb stuff to pregnant women. Thalidomide comes immediately to mind, but we can throw in unnecessary c-sections and encouraging them to use baby formula. Maybe this all started before the 50s. Behavioralists in the 20s were writing best-selling baby care books that advised parents to never kiss their children, keep their babies on a feeding schedule, and other such crap. (We here at EvolutionistX would especially like to point out that this advice is very evolutionarily unsound.)

Well, guess what. Having an unnecessary c-section is really fucking shitty. Taking a medication that gives you a deformed kid is really fucking shitty. Baby formula is not shitty, (unless you are in the third world, and then mixing it with the local water supply is may be a really bad idea,) but it is kind of pricy.

So I understand how people can come away from all of that and say, “my god, the medical establishment is completely full of horrible, unethical, hideously painful and unnecessary interventions!” and then might look at vaccines and say, “No fucking way.” When you lose peoples’ trust, you lose their trust.

Before we go any further, I would also like to note that, IMO, epidurals are awesome. EvolutionistX does not have it out for any currently practicing doctors. A lot of the bad stuff, as I noted, was going on in the fifties. Hospital practices related to maternity and childbirth have changed a lot since then. Please, do not make any kind of medical decisions based on “well, I heard some horror stories from the 70s.”

For that matter, don’t make your vaccine decisions based on horror stories from the 70s. And for the love of god, don’t read a bunch of junk science. That shit makes my head hurt. Find a doctor or medical information you really trust, and ask them.

But please, people, let’s not have a return of Polio. Polio fucking sucks.