The Gombe Stream Research Centre was founded in 1965 to advance Jane Goodall’s revolutionary findings about chimpanzee tool making and other behaviours.

gombe streamIt also is a living laboratory, home to the world’s most studied group of wild chimpanzees. The Centre’s mission is to operate a world class research station in which the best available methods are used to continue and further develop the long term primate research projects begun by Dr Jane Goodall, and to advance basic science, support conservation, and train Tanzanian scientists.

Thanks to National Geographic and other television specials about Jane, Jane’s books about the Gombe chimps, and countless writings about her life and work, Gombe’s chimpanzees are known the world over. The most familiar to the public are the “F” family chimpanzees, a family line headed by the old matriarch Flo, who upon her death was the subject of an obituary in the Times.

In more recent years the world has come to know a pair who may be unique in the natural world – the chimpanzee twins Golden and Glitter. Twin chimpanzees generally don’t survive in the wild, but Golden and Glitter had the advantage of a doting older sister, Gaia, who helped her mother Gremlin raise the two girls.

The twins and Gombe’s other chimpanzees are followed daily by JGI’s staff of Tanzanian researchers. The longitudinal study they continue furthers our understanding of chimpanzee diet, range use, intergroup aggression, health, and other areas of interest. These areas in turn inform chimpanzee conservation strategies.

The Centre also hosts a regular stream of visiting researchers who conduct both basic and applied research, exploring areas such as relationships between fathers and offspring or female social status and range use. One of the critical studies currently underway is led by Dr Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama. Dr Hahn seeks to understand the natural history of HIV by looking at the factors causing transmission of the closely related simian immunodeficiency virus.

Keeping Tabs on the Data

As data collection at Gombe progressed in the 1970s and beyond, it became obvious that the mass of handwritten field notes, photos and other data overflowing the open shelves of Jane Goodall’s home in Dar es Salaam needed a permanent home. In 1995, The Jane Goodall Institute’s Centre for Primate Studies at the University of Minnesota was established under the direction of Dr Anne Pusey – a member of the field research team in 1970. Dr Pusey now oversees the archiving, digitizing, analysis and publishing of nearly five decades of field data. This online database allows researchers to leverage the data collected by others. It is a primatology resource of rare depth and breadth.

Life of a Tracker

gombe trackerWhat is it like to follow chimps all day? Exciting and frustrating, peaceful and thrilling. Researchers go to the nest site before dawn and wait for the group to wake up. After that, they just have to keep up. The chimps might sit and feed in one small area all day. Or they might travel across three valleys, through two-foot tunnels in thorny vines, up and down precipices, through savage army ants and rainstorms. Trackers come home in the evening scratched, bruised and tired. But they can cool off in the lake and swap chimp stories over dinner. Exhilarated and exhausted, they know there are still data to record and observations to add to the accumulating insights into chimp behaviour.