In 1957 famed anthropologist Louis Leakey received a $6,000 grant to study wild chimpanzees in Africa, in the hope that observing their behavior would reveal something about early man. In his stead, he sent his secretary, a 26-year-old named Jane Goodall. She had no experience as zoologist, and didn't even have a college degree, but as we now know, she became the world's greatest primatologist. At age 83, she still spends much of her time at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania pursuing her passion of studying chimpanzees.
Director Brett Morgen's new documentary, Jane, focuses mainly on Goodall's earlier work in Tanzania, where she made many groundbreaking discoveries about chimpanzee behavior. We also learn about her personal life -- her mother served as her escort on her first stay in Gombe, and she married wildlife cinematographer Hugo van Lawick, which National Geographic had hired to film her in the early 1960s. She had a child with van Lawick, named him Grub, and sometimes kept him in a spacious, well-ventilated cage to prevent the chimps from eating him.
Narrated by Goodall herself, Jane is an intimate profile of a fascinating person I've admired since I was a child. It was a thrill to see old Flo and her child Flint, which I'd read about in her 1967 book, My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees. It was also interesting to see how the chimps slowly got used to Goodall, to the point that they would allow her to play with their babies. Read the rest
I can't wait to see Jane, the new National Geographic documentary about the inspiring primatologist Jane Goodall who famously lived with chimpanzees in Tanzania for decades and has worked tireless on conservation and animal welfare issues her entire adult life. The film, containing unseen footage of Jane in the jungle, was directed by Brett Morgen (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) with music by minimalist master Philip Glass!
This photo below of Jane Goodall observing chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, taken by her mother Vanne Morris-Goodall, was encoded on the Voyager Golden Record launched into space 40 years ago:
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Chimpanzees at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute have learned to play the game rock-paper-scissors. From Phys.org:
(Seven chimpanzees) sat in a booth housing a computer-based touchscreen and were trained to choose the stronger of two options (based on the rules of the game) they saw on screen. They first learnt the paper-rock sequence, then the rock-scissors one and finally the scissors-paper combination. Once they knew how the pairs fitted together, all the different pairs were randomly presented to them on screen. Five of the seven chimpanzees completed the training after an average of 307 sessions.
The findings show that chimpanzees can learn the circular pattern at the heart of the game. However, it took them significantly longer to learn the third scissors-paper pair than it did to grasp the others, which indicates that they had difficulty finalizing the circular nature of the pattern.
"This suggests that children acquire the ability to learn a circular relationship and to solve a transverse patterning problem around the age of four years," says lead researcher Jie Gao. "The chimpanzees' performance during the mixed-pair sessions was similar to that of four-year-old children."
"Learning the rules of the rock–paper–scissors game: chimpanzees versus children" (Primates) Read the rest
A few weeks ago, this five-year-old albino orangutan was rescued from a remote village on Borneo where it was kept in a cage. The animal is now under the care of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Orangutans are critically endangered and the foundation says they aren't aware of any albino orangutans reported anywhere else, ever. From National Geographic:
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The foundation held an international campaign asking for name suggestions from around the world. Ultimately it chose “Alba,” meaning “white” in Latin and “dawn” in Spanish.
"Hopefully a new dawn will come for these precious animals," the group said in a statement reported by the Jakarta Post.
Surviga seems to like the world inside a HTC's Vive virtual reality headset. Read the rest
A chimp named Chacha escaped from his enclosure at the Yagiyama Zoological Park in Japan and ran around a neighborhood for two hours. He was shot with dart from a tranquilizer gun and fell from his perch on a telephone poll. It looked like quite a fall, but zoo officials say he is OK.
Television footage showed Chacha perched atop the pole, agitated and screaming at zoo workers below. Even after being shot by a sedative arrow in the back, he desperately tried to escape, dangling from a power line.
He finally fell head down into a blanket held by a dozen workers on the ground.
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Thirty years ago, 66 chimpanzees who had been used (and horribly mistreated) by the New York Blood Center for hepatitis research were abandoned on remote islands off Africa’s Ivory Coast. One of the chimps, named Ponso, was 10 when he was abandoned on an island with 19 other chimps. Within nine months, 11 of the chimps died, mainly from starvation. They were moved to another island, but most of the chimps died, leaving only Ponso, his mate and their two babies. A man in a village would occasionally drop by to give them chimps bread and bananas, their only source of food.
Oddity Central has more:
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Sadly, Ponso’s entire family died by the end of 2013, leaving the grief-stricken chimp to a life of isolation on the uninhabited island. Given the traumatic experiences he has faced on account of humans, 40-year-old Ponso’s ability to immediately trust and embrace humans is nothing short of remarkable. When Estelle Raballand, director of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center, visited him recently, he was so happy that he actually laughed and wrapped her in a tight hug.
Unfortunately, his joy was short-lived as he had no choice but to return to his life of solitude after his human visitors left. The Humane Society of the United States is currently trying to raise money for Ponso and other chimps abandoned on remote African islands and a group called SOS Ponso has started a crowdfuning campaign that has already surpassed its €20,000 goal. They plan to use this money to provide food and urgent veterinary care for the world’s loneliest chimp.
Chimpanzees in Guinea, West Africa drink naturally fermented palm wine from raffia palm trees, sometimes enough to exhibit "visible signs of inebriation," according to a new scientific study. From BBC News:
The chimps used drinking tools called leaf sponges - handfuls of leaves that they chew and crush into absorbent sponges, dip into the liquid and suck out the contents.
To work out the extent of the animals' indulging, the scientists measured the alcohol content of the wine in the containers and filmed the chimps' "drinking sessions".
The research team, led by Dr Kimberley Hockings from Oxford Brookes University and the Centre for Research in Anthropology in Portugal, worked out that the sap was about 3% alcohol by volume.
"Some individuals were estimated to have consumed about 85ml of alcohol," she said, "the equivalent to 8.5 UK units [approximately equal to a bottle of wine]".
"[They] displayed behavioural signs of inebriation, including falling asleep shortly after drinking.
"Chimpanzees found to drink alcoholic plant sap in wild" (BBC News)
Tools to tipple: ethanol ingestion by wild chimpanzees using leaf-sponges (Royal Society Open Science) Read the rest
My new column for The New York Times Magazine involved some of the most emotionally intense reporting I've done in a while. It's all about a little-discussed genre of observation-based scientific papers, documenting what chimpanzees and bonobos (and, sometimes, other primates) do when confronted with death. These are difficult events for scientists to catch — they don't happen very often, and it's even less frequent that researchers happen to be right there to record and film the whole thing, especially in the wild. Because of that, scientists can't say a lot that's definitive about these behaviors. But they can tell you what they've seen. And what they've seen can be devastating.
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Pansy was probably in her 50s when she died, which is pretty good for a chimpanzee. She passed in a way most of us would envy — peacefully, with her adult daughter, Rosie, and her best friend, Blossom, by her side. Thirty years earlier, Pansy and Blossom arrived together at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park near Stirling, Scotland. They raised their children together. Now, as Pansy struggled to breathe, Blossom held her hand and stroked it. When the scientists at the park realized Pansy’s death was imminent, they turned on video cameras, capturing intimate moments during her last hours as Blossom, Rosie and Blossom’s son, Chippy, groomed her and comforted her as she got weaker. After she passed, the chimps examined the body, inspecting Pansy’s mouth, pulling her arm and leaning their faces close to hers. Blossom sat by Pansy’s body through the night.
Given the trend lately to look backwards, historically, in search of the ideal human diet, I found this article by Rob Dunn really interesting. Dunn discusses some new research that gives us a better idea of what our closest relatives—chimpanzees and bonobos—are eating out in the wild.
Some of the takeaways fit neatly into the current human food zeitgeist—chimpanzees eat a diverse and varied diet, only consume small amounts of meat, and (for obvious reasons) focus on what happens to be in season and available. But some of the information is less apparently applicable to us. For instance, chimpanzees fracking love figs. In fact, different species of figs make up nearly half of all the food the chimpanzees in the study were eating. Figs, people. Can't get enough of 'em.
But the larger point, Dunn writes, is that we can't really apply any of the facts about chimpanzee diets directly to ourselves in a "Just So Story" sort of way. Geography, resource availability, and culture don't work like that. Neither does biology.
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You are unlikely to eat like a chimpanzee eats. If you are the average American, you eat more meat and more simple sugar. You eat differently because of choices you make and choices our societies have made (e.g., to produce huge quantities of the foods that most simply satisfy our ancient urges). You also eat differently because the species around you are different, unless you happen to own a greenhouse specializing in tropical African trees.
But even if you were to abandon agricultural food and move into a forest in Tanzania you would still not eat exactly like a chimpanzee.
For PBS NewsHour, Miles O'Brien reports on whether there are ever instances in which the scientific value of research should offset the moral cost of working with chimpanzees. The US government has moved to limit some of the research it funds with chimps in recent months. Medical experiments on chimps can be invasive: one animal may endure dozens of injections, blood samples and liver biopsies in her lifetime. But some scientists argue that this is the only way to advance medicine. MP3 and transcript here, along with video.
PHOTO: Miles O'Brien. "If they could talk, what would these residents of Chimp Haven tell us?"
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Story Time: Jerry- The World's Most Human Chimp
Young bonobo may be expressing symptoms of autism Read the rest
"Over the weekend, I borrowed a friend’s time machine and cold-bloodedly killed a Neandertal, a Homo erectus, an Australopithecus, a dolphin, a chimp, eight sentient robots, the first extraterrestrial visitor to Earth, and my neighbor with the unreasonably loud sound system. Question: in the eyes of the law, how many murders did I just commit?" — John Rennie on the ongoing debate about intelligence, species, and the rights of non-human persons. Read his great story at Smart Planet. (Via Philip Yam) NOW WITH WORKING LINK! Read the rest