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SINCE DAWN I had climbed up and down the steep mountain slopes and pushed my way through the dense valley forests. Again and again I had stopped to listen, or to gaze through binoculars at the surrounding countryside. Yet I had neither heard nor seen a single chimpanzee, and now it was already five o’clock. In two hours darkness would fall over the rugged terrain of the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve. I settled down at my favorite vantage point, the Peak, hoping that at least I might see a chimpanzee make his nest for the night before I had to stop work for the day.
I was watching a troop of monkeys in the forested valley below when suddenly I heard the screaming of a young chimpanzee. Quickly I scanned the trees with my binoculars, but the sound had died away before I could locate the exact place, and it took several minutes of searching before I saw four chimpanzees. The slight squabble was over and they were all feeding peacefully on some yellow plumlike fruits.
The distance between us was too great for me to make detailed observations, so I decided to try to get closer. I surveyed the trees close to the group: if I could manage to get to that large fig without frightening the chimpanzees, I thought, I would get an excellent view. It took me about ten minutes to make the journey. As I moved cautiously around the thick gnarled trunk of the fig I realized that the chimpanzees had gone; the branches of the fruit tree were empty. The same old feeling of depression clawed at me. Once again the chimpanzees had seen me and silently fled. Then all at once my heart missed several beats.
Less than twenty yards away from me two male chimpanzees were sitting on the ground staring at me intently. Scarcely breathing, I waited for the sudden panic-stricken flight that normally followed a surprise encounter between myself and the chimpanzees at close quarters. But nothing of the sort happened. The two large chimps simply continued to gaze at me. Very slowly I sat down, and after a few more moments, the two calmly began to groom one another.
As I watched, still scarcely believing it was true, I saw two more chimpanzee heads peering at me over the grass from the other
side of a small forest glade: a female and a youngster. They bobbed down as I turned my head toward them, but soon reappeared, one after the other, in the lower branches of a tree about forty yards away. There they sat, almost motionless, watching me.
For over half a year I had been trying to overcome the chimpanzees’ inherent fear of me, the fear that made them vanish into the undergrowth whenever I approached. At first they had fled even when I was as far away as five hundred yards and on the other side of a ravine. Now two males were sitting so close that I could almost hear them breathing.
Without any doubt whatsoever, this was the proudest moment I had known. I had been accepted by the two magnificent creatures grooming each other in front of me. I knew them both—David Graybeard, who had always been the least afraid of me, was one and the other was Goliath, not the giant his name implies but of superb physique and the highest-ranking of all the males. Their coats gleamed vivid black in the softening light of the evening.
For more than ten minutes David Graybeard and Goliath sat grooming each other, and then, just before the sun vanished over the horizon behind me, David got up and stood staring at me. And it so happened that my elongated evening shadow fell across him. The moment is etched deep into my memory: the excitement of the first close contact with a wild chimpanzee and the freakish chance that cast my shadow over David even as he seemed to gaze into my eyes. Later it acquired an almost allegorical significance, for of all living creatures today only man, with his superior brain, his superior intellect, overshadows the chimpanzee. Only man casts his shadow of doom over the freedom of the chimpanzee in the forests with his guns and his spreading settlements and cultivation. At that moment, however, I did not think of this. I only marveled in David and Goliath themselves.
The depression and despair that had so often visited me during the preceding months were as nothing compared to the exultation I felt when the group had finally moved away and I was hastening down the darkening mountainside to my tent on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
It had all begun three years before when I had met Dr. L. S. B. Leakey, the well-known anthropologist and paleontologist, in Nairobi. Or perhaps it had begun in my earliest childhood. When I was just over one year old my mother gave me a toy chimpanzee, a large hairy model celebrating the birth of the first chimpanzee infant ever born in the London zoo. Most of my mother’s friends were horrified and predicted that the ghastly creature would give a small child nightmares; but Jubilee (as the celebrated infant itself was named) was my most loved possession and accompanied me on all my childhood travels. I still have the worn old toy.
Quite apart from Jubilee, I had been fascinated by live animals from the time when I first learned to crawl. One of my earliest recollections is of the day that I hid in a small stuffy henhouse in order to see how a hen laid an egg. I emerged after about five hours. The whole household had apparently been searching for me for hours, and my mother had even rung the police to report me missing.
It was about four years later, when I was eight, that I first decided I would go to Africa and live with wild animals when I grew up. Although when I left school at eighteen I took a secretarial course and then two different jobs, the longing for Africa was still very much with me. So much so that when I received an invitation to go and stay with a school friend at her parents’ farm in Kenya I handed in my resignation the same day and left a fascinating job at a documentary film studio in order to earn my fare to Africa by working as a waitress during the summer season in Bournemouth, my home town; it was impossible to save money in London.
“If you are interested in animals,” someone said to me about a month after my arrival in Africa, “then you should meet Dr. Leakey.” I had already started on a somewhat dreary office job, since I had not wanted to overstay my welcome at my friend’s farm. I went to see Louis Leakey at what is now the National Museum of natural history in Nairobi, where at that same time he was Curator. Somehow he must have sensed that my interest in animals was not just a passing phase, but was rooted deep, for on the spot he gave me a job as an assistant secretary.
I learned much while working at the museum. The staff all were keen naturalists full of enthusiasm and were happy to share some of their boundless knowledge with me. Best of all, I was offered the chance, with one other girl, of accompanying Dr. Leakey and his wife, Mary, on one of their annual paleontologi-cal expeditions to Olduvai Gorge on the Serengeti plains. In those days, before the opening up of the Serengeti to tourists, before the discoveries of Zinjanthropus (Nutcracker man) and Homo habilis at Olduvai, the area was completely secluded: the roads and tourist buses and light aircraft that pass there today were then undreamed of.
The digging itself was fascinating. For hours, as I picked away at the ancient clay or rock of the Olduvai fault to extract the remains of creatures that had lived millions of years ago, the task would be purely routine, but from time to time, and without warning, I would be filled with awe by the sight or the feel of some bone I held in my hand. This—this very bone—had once been part of a living, breathing animal that had walked and slept and propagated its species. What had it really looked like? What color was its hair; what was the odor of its body?
It was the evenings, however, that gave those few months their special enchantment for me. When the hard work of the day was finished at about six o’clock, then Gillian, my fellow assistant, and I were free to return to camp across the sun-parched arid plains above the gorge where we had sweated all day. Olduvai in the dry season becomes almost a desert, but as we walked past the low thornbushes we often glimpsed dik-diks, those graceful miniature antelopes scarcely larger than a hare. Sometimes there would be a small herd of gazelles or giraffes, and on a few memorable occasions we saw a black rhinoceros plodding along the gorge below. Once we came face to face with a young male lion: he was no more than forty feet away when we heard his soft growl and peered around to see him on the other side of a small bush. We were down in the bottom of the gorge where the vegetation is comparatively thick in parts; slowly we backed away while he watched, his tail twitching. Then, out of curiosity I suppose, he followed us as we walked deliberately across the gorge toward the open, treeless plains on the other side. As we began to climb upward he vanished into the vegetation and we did not see him again.
Toward the end of our time at Olduvai Louis Leakey began to talk to me about a group of chimpanzees living on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The chimpanzee is found only in Africa, where it ranges across the equatorial forest belt from the west coast to a point just east of Lake Tanganyika. The group Louis was referring to comprised chimpanzees of the Eastern or Longhaired variety, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi, as they are labeled by taxonomists. Louis described their habitat as mountainous, rugged, and completely cut off from civilization. He spoke for a while of the dedication and patience that would be required of any person who tried to study them.
Only one man, Louis told me, had attempted to make a serious study of chimpanzee behavior in the wild, and Professor Henry W. Nissen, who had done this pioneering work, had only been able to spend two and a half months in the field—in French Guinea. Louis said that no one could expect to accomplish much in such a short time; two years would scarcely be long enough. Much more Louis told me during that first talk. He was, he said, particularly interested in the behavior of a group of chimpanzees living on the shores of a lake—for the remains of prehistoric man were often found on a lakeshore and it was possible that an understanding of chimpanzee behavior today might shed light on the behavior of our stone age ancestors.
I could hardly believe that he spoke seriously when, after a pause, he asked me if I would be willing to tackle the job. Although it was the sort of thing I most wanted to do, I was not qualified to undertake a scientific study of animal behavior. Louis, however, knew exactly what he was doing. Not only did he feel that a university training was unnecessary, but even that in some ways it might have been disadvantageous. He wanted someone with a mind uncluttered and unbiased by theory who would make the study for no other reason than a real desire for knowledge; and, in addition, someone with a sympathetic understanding of animals.
Once I had agreed wholeheartedly and enthusiastically to undertake the work, Louis embarked on the difficult task of raising the necessary funds. He had to convince someone of the need for the study itself, and also that a young and unqualified girl was the right person to attempt it. Eventually the Wilkie Foundation in Des Plaines, Illinois, agreed to contribute a sum sufficient to cover the necessary capital expenses—a small boat, a tent, and air fares—and an initial six months in the field. I shall always be immensely grateful to Mr. Leighton Wilkie, who, trusting -Louis’s judgment, gave me the chance to prove myself.
By this time I was back in England, but as soon as I heard the news I made arrangements to return to Africa. The government officials in Kigoma, in whose area I would be working, had agreed to my proposed study, but they were adamant on one score: they would not hear of a young English girl living in the bush alone without a European companion. And so my mother, Vanne Goodall, who had already been out to Africa for a few months, volunteered to accompany me on my new venture.
When we reached Nairobi in 1960 everything at first went well. The Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve (now the Gombe National Park), the home of my chimpanzee group, fell under the jurisdiction of the Tanganyika Game Department, and the Chief Game Warden was most helpful in sending the necessary permits for me to work in the reserve. He also sent much useful information about the conditions there—the altitude and temperature, type of terrain and vegetation, the animals I might expect to encounter. Word had come through that the small aluminum boat Louis had bought had arrived safely in Kigoma. And Dr. Bernard Verdcourt, Director of the East African Herbarium, volunteered to drive Vanne and me to Kigoma; he would be able to collect plant specimens on the way, and also in the botanically little-known Kigoma area.
Just as we were ready to leave came the first setback. The District Commissioner of the Kigoma region sent word that there was trouble among the African fishermen on the beaches of the chimpanzee reserve. The Game Ranger for the area had gone there to try to sort things out, but in the meantime it would not be possible for me to begin my work.
Fortunately Louis immediately put forward the suggestion that I should make a short trial study of the vervet monkeys on an island in Lake Victoria. Within a week Vanne and I were on his motor launch chugging lazily over the shallow muddy water of the lake to uninhabited Lolui Island. With us were Hassan, captain of the little launch, and his assistant, both Africans of the Kakamega tribe. Hassan, who later joined me at the chimpanzee reserve, is a wonderful person. Always calm and rather stately, he is wonderful in an emergency, and with his sense of humor and intelligence makes a fine companion. At that time he had worked for Louis for nearly thirty years.
It was three weeks before we received a radio message recalling us to Nairobi, and those three weeks were full of enchantment. At night we slept on the boat anchored just off the island and were lulled by the gentle rocking swell of the lake. Every morning just before sunrise Hassan rowed me ashore in the dinghy and I remained on the island watching the monkeys until dusk—or even later on those evenings when the moon was bright. Then I met Hassan on the lakeshore and he rowed me back to the boat. Over our meager supper, usually consisting of baked beans, eggs, or tinned sausages, Vanne and I exchanged our news of the day.
The short study of the troop of monkeys taught me a good deal about such things as note-taking in the field, the sort of clothes to wear, the movements a wild monkey will tolerate in a human observer and those it will not. Although the chimpanzees reacted quite differently in many ways, the things I learned at Lolui were very helpful when I started work at the Gombe Stream.
I was sorry, in a way, when the expected message came one evening, for it meant leaving the vervets just as I was beginning to learn about their behavior, just as I had become familiar with the different individuals of the troop. It is never easy to leave a job unfinished. Once we reached Nairobi, however, I could think of nothing save the excitement of the eight-hundred-mile journey to Kigoma—and the chimpanzees. Nearly everything had been ready before we left for Lolui, so it was only a few days before we were able to set off with Bernard Verdcourt for Kigoma.
The journey itself was fairly uneventful, although we had three minor breakdowns and the Land-Rover was so badly overloaded with all our equipment that it swayed dangerously if we went too fast. When we reached Kigoma, however, after a dusty three days on the road, we found the whole town in a state of chaos. Since we had left Nairobi violence and bloodshed had erupted in the Congo, which lay only some twenty-five miles to the west of Kigoma, on the other side of Lake Tanganyika. Kigoma was overrun by boatloads of Belgian refugees. It was Sunday when we drove for the first time down the avenue of mango trees that shade Kigoma’s one main street. Everything was closed, and we could find no official to help us.
Eventually we ran the District Commissioner to earth, and he explained, regretfully but firmly, that there was no chance at all of my proceeding to the chimpanzee reserve. First it was necessary to wait and find out how the local Kigoma district Africans would react to the tales of rioting and disorder in the Congo. It was a blow, but there was little time for moping.
We booked ourselves a room each at one of the two hotels. This luxury did not last long, because another boatload of refugees arrived that evening and every available inch of space was needed. Vanne and I doubled up, squeezing ourselves into the small amount of room left over after we had crammed in all our equipment from the Land-Rover. Bernard shared his room with two homeless Belgians, and we even got out our three camp beds and lent them to the harassed hotel owner. Every room was crammed, but these refugees were in paradise compared to those temporarily housed in the huge warehouse, normally used for storing cargo on its way across the lake to or from the Congo. There everyone slept in long rows on mattresses or merely blankets on the cement floor, and queued up in their hundreds for the scant meals that Kigoma was able to provide for them.
Very soon Vanne, Bernard, and I had made the acquaintance of a number of Kigoma’s residents. We offered to help with the catering and this offer was eagerly accepted. On our second evening in Kigoma we three and a few others made two thousand Spam sandwiches. These were finally stacked neatly in wet cloths in large tin trunks that were carted off to the warehouse. Later we helped to hand them out to the refugees, together with soup, some fruit, chocolate, cigarettes, and drinks. I have never been able to face tinned Spam since.
Two evenings later most of the refugees had gone, carried off by a series of extra trains to Tanganyika’s capital, Dar es Salaam. The hustle of activity was over, but still we were not allowed to leave for the chimpanzee reserve. We all became somewhat depressed. My funds did not permit Vanne and me to stay on at the hotel, so we decided to put up a temporary camp somewhere. When we inquired where we could do this, we were directed to the grounds of the Kigoma prison. This was not as bad as it sounds, since the grounds, which are beautifully kept, overlook the lake and at that time of year the citrus trees all around were groaning under the weight of sweet-smelling oranges and tangerines. The mosquitoes in the evening were terrible, though.
During our period of enforced inactivity we came to know the tiny town of Kigoma quite well—it is more like a village by European or American standards. The hub of activity was down by the lakeshore, where the natural harbor offers anchorage to the boats plying up and down the lake to Burundi, Zambia, Malawi, and across to the Congo in the west. Near the lake, too, are the government administrative offices, the police station, the railway station, and the post office.
One of the most fascinating aspects of any small town in Africa is the colorful fruit and vegetable market, where the merchandise is offered for sale in small piles, each of which has been accurately counted and priced. In Kigoma market we found that the more prosperous traders operated from under a lofty stone awning; the others sat on the red earth of the main market square, their wares neatly set out on sacking or on the ground itself. Bananas, green and yellow oranges, and dark purple, wrinkled passion fruits were displayed in profusion, and there were bottles and jars of glowing red cooking oil made from the fruit of oil nut palms.
Kigoma boasts one main street, which slopes upward from the administrative center and runs through the main part of Kigoma. On either side it is flanked by tall shady mango trees and countless tiny stores, or dukas, as they are called throughout East Africa. It amazed us, as we walked through Kigoma, that so many stores could survive when they all appeared to sell similar goods. Again and again we saw piles of kettles and crockery, sneakers and shirts, torches and alarm clocks. Most stores were brightened by great squares of brilliantly colored material sold in pairs to the African women and known as kangas. One square is wrapped around under the arms and hangs down just below the knees; the other becomes a headdress. Outside some of the dukas a tailor worked at his foot-operated sewing machine, and an old Indian sat in the dust outside the tiny shoe shop using his feet like extra hands to hold the leather as he sewed and tacked and glued shoes together. He was so skillful that it was a delight to watch him.
We became better acquainted with several Kigoma residents during these days; they were mostly government officials and their wives, and we found them very friendly and hospitable. One evening Vanne, not wanting to rebuff any of our new-found friends, accepted two offers of a hot bath. Bernard, who was convinced that we were both slightly mad anyway, drove her stoically from house to house to keep her appointments without giving her away.
When we had been in Kigoma just over a week David -Anstey, the Game Ranger who had been sorting out the troubles between the fishermen at the Gombe Stream Reserve, returned to Kigoma. He and the District Commissioner had a long conference, the outcome of which was that I was given official permission to proceed to the Gombe Stream. By this time I had almost given up hope of ever seeing a chimpanzee; I had convinced myself that at any minute we would be ordered back to Nairobi. When I found myself on the government launch that had been lent to us for transporting all our equipment, including our twelve-foot dinghy, the expedition had taken on a dreamlike quality. As the engine sprang to life and the anchor was drawn, we waved goodbye to Bernard and were soon steaming out of Kigoma harbor and turning northward along the eastern shores of the lake. I can remember looking down into the incredibly clear water and thinking to myself, I expect the boat will sink, or I shall fall overboard and be eaten by a crocodile. But good luck was with us.