Talking point | Wildlife

Smart primates

Homo sapiens are not the only ones who can observe and learn. Jane Goodall recalls her research on Chimpanzees in Tanzania
A portrait of Jane Goodall. She has tied back her gray hair. She holds a plush chimpanzee in her hand and smiles at the camera.

Her research into the behavior of chimpanzees made her world famous


Not only humans, but also monkeys have their own culture. I observed this in 1960 in Gombe National Park in western Tanzania. I watched chimpanzees making and using tools to fish for termites. I saw the young watching their mothers closely and then trying to imitate them. But not all apes behave the same way: even then, I heard that chimpanzees in West Africa used stones to break open the nuts of the oil palm to get to the kernel.

In Gombe, meanwhile, the apes eat only the pulp and pith and chew on the dry flower stalks and dead wood of the palm. In Mahali National Park, south of Gombe, the chimpanzees again spurn the oil palm. As early as 1970, I therefore proposed the thesis that different chimpanzee communities might have different traditions and pass on behavioural patterns from one generation to the next through “observational learning”. Until then, it was thought that such behaviour was limited to humans.

Translated by Jess Smee