Published: April 2003

Jane Goodall

Goodall

Jane in the Forest Again

The famed primatologist meets the chimpanzees of Congo's Goualougo Triangle, animals so isolated they have no fear of humans—at least for now.

By David Quammen
Photograph by Michael Nichols

It was an amazing display of bravado from a species not generally perceived as being fierce. The chimpanzees moved in through the treetops, hooting and shrieking like a pack of hungry predators on the hunt.

At that moment, in fact, hungry predators was just what they were. Diving from limb to limb, gabbling excitedly, they set up a menacing ruckus.

Vines shook. Branches fell. Using their weight and their strength, they stirred the canopy like storm winds. Their war whoops were spookier than martial bagpipes on a Scottish moor. Intermittently they paused to crane and ogle, scanning the ground ahead for a glimpse of their prey. Chimps, after all, are by no means vegetarians; they eat fruit and leaves routinely but relish flesh when they can get it. This group had been drawn by the bleating moans of what they took for a duiker (a small forest antelope) in distress—and a distressed duiker, to them, represented a potential bounty of protein. Maybe they expected to find a wounded adult, or a newborn fawn, or at least a pile of succulent afterbirth. Anyway, they hadn't yet realized that the duiker bleat was a decoy call, made by a Bambendjelle Pygmy named Youngai, who hunkered quietly amid the understory, waiting for them to come. And they didn't know that beside Youngai sat three other human visitors, each of us thrilled with the privilege of encountering chimpanzees so bold as to mistake us for meat.

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