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By Jane GoodallPhotographs by Anup Shah

Forty-three years after Jane Goodall first set foot in the forests of Africa, Fifi is a mom again, Frodo is the alpha male, and Gremlin is teaching her twins to fish for termites.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

It has been more than 40 years since I first set foot on the sandy beach of what is now Tanzania's Gombe National Park. The steep, heavily forested valleys and cascading streams on the shores of Lake Tanganyika formed the backdrop for one of the most thrilling phases of my life. Though I was armed with little more than secretarial training and a passion for animals, paleontologist Louis Leakey gave me a mandate: Get the wild chimpanzees to accept you, observe their behaviors, and describe what you see. The rest, thanks in no small part to the National Geographic Society, is well-documented history.

We knew so little about these secretive creatures back then that everything seemed like a revelation. What were once thought to be peaceful, simple vegetarians turned out to be powerful, highly intelligent hunters with complex personalities and emotions: beings capable of communication, altruism, political alliances, infanticide, warfare, and tool making—the last once thought to distinguish humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.

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 (55 kilograms) he is the second largest chimpanzee ever recorded at Gombe—and he rules with an iron fist.

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Online Extra

Learn what happens when an alpha male chimpanzee's status is diminished.

Online Extra

Read what a new generation of chimps is teaching scientists about behavior and personality.

Sights & Sounds

Check  out what's happening with 
chimpanzees across the continent in Congo.


Watch Frodo's sneak attack on a colobus  monkey.  Then see other chimps turn on the begging for a share of his meal.

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Video by Ian Gilby

How to Help

Learn what you can do to help the Jane Goodall Institute feed and shelter orphaned chimps and ensure the education— and future—of Tanzanian girls.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
You probably already knew that chimpanzees are humans' closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Jane Goodall's research has highlighted that we also share many other non-biological similarities, such as extended child rearing, the ability to learn a language, and toolmaking. Did you know, however, that the life stages of a chimpanzee are also remarkably similar to those of a human? As described by Dr. Goodall in her book The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, the life cycle of a chimpanzee can be divided into six main categories: infancy, childhoood, early adolescence, late adolescence, maturity, and old age.

Infancy is the period from birth to five years of age and is the time when the baby chimp is dependent on the mother for everything, including milk and transportation. Childhood lasts from the age of five to the age of seven; these juveniles are still closely associated with their mothers, but are learning a bit of independence. Early adolescence is from eight to ten years of age in females. They tend to still stick close to their mothers, but are beginning to show signs of sexual development. Males are early adolescents from eight to twelve years and are beginning to spend a bit more time with the adult males. Late adolescence lasts from 13 to 15 years of age in males and from 11 to 13 or 14 years in females. During this period adolescent males will spend most of their time with adult males and sexually active females. Late adolescent females begin to show more regular signs of sexual maturity.

Females are considered mature from around the age of 14 or 15 until they are around 33; this is the time period during which females will raise most of their young. Males reach maturity around 16 years of age and remain so until they are around 33 years of age. After this, both males and females are considered beyond their prime.

However, as in all animals and aspects of life, there are exceptions to every rule. Gombe's matriarch, Fifi, who at age 44 gave birth to her ninth offspring and is featured in the April 2003 NGM article "Update from Gombe," may well be rewriting the history books. Our understanding of life expectancy of chimpanzees in the wild is still somewhat uncertain. As studies such as those at Gombe continue and more data is collected, researchers will know whether these life-cycle categories will hold up or need to be modified.

—Alice J. Dunn

Did You Know?

Related Links
The Jane Goodall Institute
Read all about Jane Goodall's life, learn about chimpanzees, and find out how you can get involved in chimpanzee conservation at this website.

Discover Chimpanzees
Want to get up close and personal with the chimpanzees and researchers at Gombe National Park? This website features photos, audio and video links, games, and more to take you there.


Goodall, Jane. Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters, The Early Years. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.

Goodall, Jane. In the Shadow of Man. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1971.

Goodall, Jane. My Life With the Chimpanzees. Pocket Books, 1988.

Goodall, Jane. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986.

Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1999.


NGS Resources
Winkler, Peter. "Hanging Out With Chimps," National Geographic Explorer! (September 2002), 4-8.

Lassieur, Allison. "When Jane Goodall Was a Kid," National Geographic World (Septermber 1999), 11.

Miller, Peter. "Crusading for Chimps and Humans…Jane Goodall," National Geographic (December 1995),102-29.

Jane Goodall: My Life with the Chimpanzees. National Geographic TV, 1990.

Goodall, Jane. "Life and Death at Gombe," National Geographic (May 1979), 592-621.

My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees. National Geographic Books, 1967.

Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees. National Geographic TV, 1965.

Goodall, Jane. "New Discoveries Among Africa's Chimpanzees," National Geographic (December 1965), 802-31.

Goodall, Jane. "My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees," National Geographic (August 1963), 272-308.


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