Unaware of the scientific prejudices of the day, I gave the chimps names and described their rich personalities in human terms, a practice that drew scalding condemnation from some scientists. I readily admit that I was fond of certain chimpanzees. And I believed that having a degree of empathy for my subjects could help me detect slight changes in their mood or attitudes and provide insights into their complex social processes. I think time has proved me right.
Though I stopped active field research in 1986 to focus on chimpanzee conservation, I left the Gombe Stream Research Center in the able hands of a new generation of scientists and dedicated Tanzanian field staff who now follow a new generation of chimps. It has become one of the longest continuous studies of an animal group in history. This body of work has spawned numerous research papers, doctoral theses, and books, providing insights not only into intricacies of chimpanzee behavior but into the lives of early humans as well.
Today I head to Gombe whenever I'm able to escape from a schedule that keeps me lecturing and traveling more than 300 days a year, spreading the word about the plight of chimpanzees in the wild and in captivity. I like to walk alone to an area called the Peak, close to where the chimpanzee I named David Greybeard first accepted me 43 years ago. He was the first individual I saw making a grass stem to fish termites out of their nest, an observation that prompted Leakey's famous remark: "Now we must redefine Man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as humans." When David Greybeard died of pneumonia in 1968, I mourned for him as I have for no other chimpanzee.
Even after all these years, the vivid Gombe characters continue to surprise and delight us. Last October, Fifi, the only surviving chimpanzee I knew as an infant in the early 1960s, delivered her ninth offspring at age 44. Most females don't raise more than two or three offspring to reproductive maturity, but Fifi has four adult offspring, two healthy adolescents, a juvenile, and now a brand new infant. Her high rank allows her to control a particularly food-rich patch of habitat in the central Kakombe Valley, which contributes to her phenomenal breeding success. All but one of her offspring have survived, including Frodo, the current dominant male. At 121 pounds he is the second largest chimpanzee ever recorded at Gombe—and he rules with an iron fist.
Gremlin, one of my longtime favorites, is currently raising the third set of twins in the record books at Gombe. Survival for twins, who must compete for a limited supply of milk, is hard. But with Gremlin's patient nurturing, both Golden and Glitta, now four, are thriving. One of the best termite fishers in the community, Gremlin is also providing researchers an excellent opportunity to learn how such skills are passed down from generation to generation.