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From Photographer

Michael Nichols


In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Michael Nichols



Field Notes From Photographer
Michael Nichols
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    When Jane Goodall, Mike Fay, David Quammen, and the television crew left, all of the female chimps in the main community went into estrus. That caused the males to come in looking for them. I was with researchers Dave Morgan and Crickette Sanz one morning when all of a sudden 20 or so chimpanzees were in the trees overhead. The males came in to court the females, so they were all dealing with sexual things that had nothing to do with us. But I had an incredible four days with the females and their infants. It was as if the females decided that these humans weren't a threat, and the little ones liked to watch them, so why not hang out in the trees, eat close to them, and give the babies something to do? If you search the annals of science, you won't find anywhere that females with babies are the first to habituate. That's totally against the rules because females with young are the most protective. But it happened in this situation with chimpanzees that were unaccustomed to humans, and it was fantastic!

    Before we started, our team had a huge discussion about whether the expedition would be too much for a 68-year-old woman. To get to Dave and Crickette's camp, Jane had to fly from Tanzania to South Africa and then to Gabon. After that she got on a small plane and flew over the jungle for four hours. Then she boarded an even smaller plane for a short flight. The next morning we got her into a truck for an hour and a half, then into a boat for an hour's ride across a swamp. And after that, she walked all day until past dark.
     Jane's an incredible trouper; she would never complain. But we've been friends since we worked together in the late '80s, so we know each other well. She hadn't walked like that in years, and that afternoon I started to see pain on her face. The last time we stopped, she took off her socks, and her feet were badly blistered. I felt awful because that was just the beginning; she would have to walk every day to find the chimpanzees. And I felt even worse that we couldn't get her there without wearing her out.

    Someone once said that anybody who thinks they can save the world is not only wrong but dangerous. From the start, Jane and Mike sat around the campfire talking about how they were going to save this forest. "You talk to George Bush," Jane said, "and I'll talk to Colin Powell." Anyone who could have overheard them would have laughed at them, but they were serious. Jane actually wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell impressing upon him how important it was for him to come to Gabon. It was just one piece of the effort to save the forest, but when he received her letter he probably thought, "Well, other people are trying to get me to go, and now Jane says go. I guess I've got to go." And so he met Mike, walked on the beach, and discussed the situation. That got things off the ground.
    Throughout my career, I've seen how much could be done by force of will. And Jane and Mike are probably the most willful people I've ever known. 

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