Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

TV Schedule
Alan Alda
For Educators
Previous Shows
Future Shows
Special Features

Chimps R Us

. .
Frontiers profile: Jane Goodall 4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Photo of Jane with baby chimp
Young Goodall connects with a baby chimp.  

AA: What difference has your work made? It's clearly made a difference with the way the world views chimpanzees, and probably all other animals. Has it made a difference in the way scientists view them?

I wrote that Fifi was jealous, and my supervisor said, 'But you can't say that.'


JG: That is slower to come, but now it's quite an okay subject for study for a Ph.D., for example, to study animal minds. There's still a hard core of people who are very resistant. By and large, they are the people who are doing invasive experiments on animals. There's still an awful lot of that going on, whether it's biomedical research, pharmaceutical testing, and even the ethologists, who are studying animal behavior, don't do very nice things. They don't want to be forced to admit that they are doing things to sentient, sapient beings. It's much better to cling to the old ideas that animals are just little machines and they have stimulus and response, and it may look like pain, but they're animals so it's different.

AA: Would you say that there is a language?

JG: It's a communication. Chimps are cognitively capable of learning human languages like American Sign Language, various artificial languages designed for them on computers or boards of lexigrams. They have very sophisticated brains, but they haven't during evolution developed a sophisticated spoken language. So, unlike us, they're not capable of discussing the distant past and learning from it. They're not capable of planning the distant future, and they can't, above all, discuss an idea, so that it can grow from the accumulated wisdom of a group. So their communication is very immediate. It's: 'this is happening now.'


Photo of Mike
  Mike found that banging cans earned him status in the group


AA: How do they learn things? I've read your description of the guy who figured out how to use the tin cans for some kind of powerful display.

JG: Mike learned to use empty kerosene cans because he was very low ranking. There were 11 chimps higher ranking than he, and yet he wanted to increase his dominance rank. He accidentally hit an empty 4-gallon kerosene can and noticed that other chimps ran away. He gradually worked up this performance until there'd be a group of males ranking higher than he, grooming each other, and he'd sit there, put a hand on two cans, maybe there's a 3rd one, then he'd start this gentle rocking, staring at the others. And then his hair would begin to rise, which is a sign of arousal, and then boom! Off he was, hitting and kicking these cans.

Mike accidentally hit an empty 4-gallon kerosene can and noticed that other chimps ran away.


Within 4 months, he'd risen to the top, because the others just ran out of his way. We never saw him fight. But the interesting thing here is that every single one of those males had used a can at least once. Only Mike capitalized on that and developed the technique and won.

AA: If he was so successful at that, why didn't everybody start copying it? Why didn't it get to be fashionable to get a kerosene can and kick it?

JG: It certainly would have been, but we moved them. It was pretty dangerous. We tried to keep the situation natural, try not to intervene, so we took them all away, and he was sort of shocked. But by then his position was pretty well assured.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Photos: Jane Goodall Institute

return to show page


Chimps ObservedChimp NationsChimps Getting AlongChimp MindsChimps Under the Gun Teaching guide Science hotline video trailer Resources Contact Search Homepage Contact Search Homepage