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Chimps R Us

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

Photo of mother chimp with baby
Goodall found that good parenting was passed down through generations.  

AA: What would be an example of love and altruism that you observed?

JG: We see care and compassion when a mother dies and an older brother or sister cares for the orphaned sibling. Males can be just as good caretakers as females in this situation. The most touching was a rather sickly infant, lost his mother, had no older brother or sister, sort of trailed about after various adults. We thought he'd die. But then he was adopted by a 12-year-old, non-related adolescent male, Spindle.

Unlike us, chimps are not capable of discussing the distant past and learning from it.

AA: You might expect a relative to take care of a little orphan. But someone totally unrelated, that really sounds altruistic.

JG: It was the best example of true altruism. Spindle waited for Mel in travel, carried him on his back, shared his food, let Mel creep into his nest at night, in fact welcomed him in. And even risked irritating the big adult males. At that stage of his life, 12 years, he was hero-worshiping those big males. He saved Mel's life. There's no question.


Photo of young chimp
A young chimp will respect its mother well into adulthood.  

AA: Is it a patriarchal society or a matriarchal society? It seemed to have a little bit of both in it.

JG: I think it does. It's clearly male-dominated. There's no question, males are the dominant sex. But the matriarchy within the family is very strong and very significant for the young.

AA: What kind of relationship would exist between a chimp who had made it to alpha and had all this power, the relationship between him and his mother, especially if she were high ranking?

When you watch a young male growing up, all his relationships begin to change. Except his relationship with his mother.

JG: This is one relationship that really doesn't change much. When you watch a young male growing up, all his relationships begin to change. He begins to dominate the females and he's first of all, fearful of the big males. Then he begins to challenge the low ranking. So everything's changing as his testosterone levels have risen, he's bigger and stronger. Except his relationship with his mother- it's completely amazing how even a fully adult male is usually very respectful of his ancient mother. And will seek her out for comfort when he gets hurt. I mean, a great big strong male.

One of our very largest males, Satan, was involved in a dominance conflict high in a tree. He'd threatened one large male not realizing his ally was nearby. So they both turned on him and he started screaming. So here are these three big males. Now Satan had a very ancient mother, very, very old with no teeth and scant hairs named Sprout. And she hears this and she comes charging over, rushes up the tree, and hauls herself on this melee of three enormous males. I think the two others were so amazed that they stopped attacking Satan, kind of vaguely hit her and Satan made his escape.

AA: Literally saved by his mother.

JG: Yes.

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4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Photos: Jane Goodall Institute

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