Tomorrow, 14 July, is the anniversary of when Jane Goodall first arrived on the shores of Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in western Tanzania in 1960. Jane Goodall is a famous primatologist and ethologist, and has dedicated her life to researching and understanding primate behavior. During her time at Gombe Stream, Goodall observed chimpanzees making and using tools, the first observations of any wild animal to do so. She also observed chimpanzees hunting and eating meat (which disproved a widely-held belief that chimpanzees are primarily vegetarians), and she witnessed chimpanzees using human-like communications within their communities. In honor of Goodall’s contributions to our current understandings of primates and the anniversary of the start of her important research at Gombe Stream, we’ve put together a primate-themed reading list.
“Introduction by Jane Goodall” from The Chimpanzees of the Budongo Forest: Ecology, Behaviour and Conservation by Vernon Reynolds
In this introduction, Jane Goodall reviews the separate experiences she and a fellow researcher, Vernon Reynolds, had while studying chimpanzees in Africa. This introduction discusses the political unrest that impacted research attempts and reviews the current endangered species status of chimpanzees.
“Diversity of tool use and tool-making in wild chimpanzees” from The Use of Tools by Human and Non-human Primates by A. Berthelet and J. Chavaillon
Published in 1993, this chapter discusses observations of tool use by wild animals in many different contexts, citing Goodall’s research and observations of chimpanzees using tools. It notes that while primates use tools in the most flexible way, only wild chimpanzees were observed to make tools.
This selection discusses the different classifications of primates and their evolution. Primates are taxonomically classified based on their morphological traits, which have important implications for the understanding of primate evolution and classification.
“Adult human perception of distress in the cries of bonobo, chimpanzee, and human infants” by Taylor Kelly, David Reby, Florence Levréro, et al.
Understanding the extent to which humans perceive the emotional state of animals has both theoretical and practical implications. While recent studies indicate that natural selection has led to some convergence of emotion coding among vertebrate species, it has also been argued that interspecific communication of emotions can fail due to species-specific signalling traits impairing information decoding and/or absence of familiarity with heterospecific communication systems.
“Similarity and Difference in the Conceptual Systems of Primates: The Unobservability Hypothesis” from Comparative Cognition: Experimental Explorations of Animal Intelligence by Edward A Wasserman and Thomas R Zentall
It is easy to embrace the idea that humans are very different from even their closest living relatives. In the abstract, this tension between similarity and difference does not present a real barrier to thinking about cognition from an evolutionary perspective. After all, that is what evolution is all about: similarity and difference. The general practice of comparative psychology has largely been a deflationary one, attempting to explain away differences between species as unimportant, trivial, or simply a function of methodological artifacts. This chapter explores the possibility that many species form concepts about observable things and use those concepts in flexible and productive ways.
Bonobos: Unique in mind, brain, and behavior, edited by Brian Hare and Shinya Yamamoto
Along with the chimpanzee, the bonobo is one of our two closest living relatives. With the end of the major conflict in the DRC and a growing community of bonobos living in zoos and sanctuaries, there has been an explosion of scientific interest in the bonobo with dozens of high impact publications focusing on this fascinating species. This research has revealed exactly how unique bonobos are in their brains and behavior, and reminds us why it is so important that we redouble our efforts to protect the few remaining wild populations of this iconic and highly endangered great ape species.
This chapter discusses the major topics one needs to know about within-group primate behavior research. It begins by defining the primate group and reviewing the array of social units identified. Primate groups can be described in terms of their social organization, mating system, and social structure; these attributes are discussed, along with group size, cohesion, sex ratios, and costs-benefits of group living.
Apes, Language, and the Human Mind by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Stuart G. Shanker, and Talbot J. Taylor
Primate research has yielded stunning results that not only threaten our underlying assumptions about the cognitive and communicative abilities of nonhuman primates, but also bring into question what it means to be human. At the forefront of this research, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has achieved a scientific breakthrough of impressive proportions. Her work with Kanzi, a laboratory-reared bonobo, has led to Kanzi’s acquisition of linguistic and cognitive skills similar to those of a two and a half year-old human child.
Primate conservation’s goal is to ensure the long-term preservation of nonhuman primates. This selection provides a succinct overview of the diversity and biology of the primate order, which forms the foundation of the conservation efforts.
Featured image credit: Image by Ryan Al Bishri. CC0 public domain via Unsplash.