Covering 20 square miles on the north side of Tanzania’s Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream National Park offers refuge to a range of African wildlife. The park was made famous by Dr. Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking chimpanzee research, which began in 1960 and continues to this day. Indeed, the interest inspired by Goodall’s work influenced the Tanzania National Park Authority to establish the area as a national park in 1968.
The hilly park habitat ranges from evergreen forests in the valleys to grasslands atop the ridges. This varied landscape is home to a number of primates, including baboons, blue monkeys, red colobus monkeys and red-tailed monkeys, in addition to chimpanzees. Conservation efforts are furthered by the park’s isolation—researchers traveling to Gombe arrive only after hours of flights capped by a two-hour boat ride.
Founded by Dr. Jane Goodall in 1967, the Gombe Stream Research Center comprises one of the longest-running field sites on the planet. Managed by the Jane Goodall Institute and run by a largely Tanzanian field staff, the Research Center has hosted researchers from around the globe, expanding our understanding of chimpanzees and, by extension, humans.
Humanity’s closest-living relatives, chimpanzees are complex social animals. Found throughout equatorial Africa, they are endangered due to habitat loss, hunting and disease.
An omnivorous species, chimpanzees feed on fruits, stems, insects, small animals and other food items found in their habitats. They will also hunt larger prey, such as pigs, baboons and other primates.
One groundbreaking element of Dr. Jane Goodall’s research in Gombe was the first observation of a non-human species making and using tools. Goodall observed chimpanzees using thin sticks that are used to “fish” termites from their mounds, a behavior that changed attitudes about animals and their capabilities.
Wild chimpanzees, including those in Gombe, live in “fusion-fission” societies: large groups of animals commonly splinter into smaller pairings and then re-gather. Males establish a dominance hierarchy that influences breeding, but mating is fluid. Females have a fertility cycle lasting roughly 36 days, and both males and females will breed with a variety of partners. Offspring are dependent on their mothers for a period of up to six years. Even after becoming mature at 10–13 years of age, many chimpanzees maintain close relationships with their mothers, making the mother-offspring relationship a rich subject for study.