More Almost Human Chimp Behavior

Self has arrived at p. 202 of In the Shadow of Man (Self knows that dear blog readers have had it up to there on chimp behavior, but can she help it if she’s a very slow reader?  She’s two-thirds of the way through Goodall’s book.  The next is a humongous 1000-page brick called Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West).

Anyhoo, the part self just finished reading this morning is full of nauseating passages describing the way chimpanzees devour a monkey (Self taking notes for a future story about dismemberment.  If she can even stomach writing such a thing. In fact, certain passages of Goodall’s book sound so very much like The Hunger Games that self wonders if Suzanne Collins knew Goodall’s work?) What is interesting, Goodall writes, is that, while snacking on prey like monkeys etc etc, the social hierarchy is ignored.  If, after a chimpanzee bags a monkey and begins feeding, he is approached by an alpha male chimpanzee, he never relinquishes his prize.

Which reminds self of her two beagles, Bella and Gracie.  Bella was seven years older than Gracie, and when Gracie was first introduced to the family, she always managed to eat Bella’s food.  And Bella, despite her status as established family pet, would always give up and slink away.

Huh!  Guess food is food, and the law of survival of the fittest is no joke!

Goodall writes:

Whatever the underlying reasons, we have seen Rodolf as well as others on many occasions guarding their meat from chimpanzees normally their social superiors.  At such times, the higher-ranking males, frustrated beyond endurance, frequently vent their aggression on lower-ranking individuals.  And so, during the early part of a meat-eating session, before the big males have acquired portions for themselves, females and youngsters, as well as males of lower rank, are frequently chased quite violently through the branches, and particularly if they venture too close to the kill.

And with regards to the aggression displayed by alpha male chimpanzees, “the most submissive thing that a subordinate chimpanzee can do is to remove himself from the aggressor’s presence — in other words, to run away.  A social inferior who shows submissive behavior such as crouching, presenting, or holding out a hand toward an angry superior is quite likely to be attacked, whereas for the most part adult males do not persist in an aggressive incident if their intended victim runs off.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Writing of Jane Goodall

Self is on Chapter 13 of In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall.  It’s turning out to be quite an enthralling book. Chapter 13 is called “The Child,” and most of it focuses on a young chimpanzee named Gilka.  Her mother, Olly, did not attach herself to any other chimpanzee group and “so, often for days at a stretch Gilka wandered through the forests with only her old mother for companionship.” When termiting season came along, the situation became even worse because Olly would sit “fishing for the insects three or more hours at a time” and completely ignore her daughter, who was not yet weaned.

Goodall writes:

. . .  this combination of circumstances resulted in Gilka’s becoming increasingly lethargic — she who formerly had been such a gay and lively little chimp.  Small wonder that she began to show strange idiosyncracies such as putting one foot in the opposite groin, sometimes for long intervals, or senselessly doodling with pieces of bark.  Almost certainly it was because of her boredom, her lack of chimpanzee playmates, that Gilda during that period formed a very strange friendship indeed.

Gilka’s only friend was a baboon about her own age, named Goblina.  Goblina had, “at quite a young age,” lost her mother.  She and Gilka bonded and played together.  That is, until the time when Gilka’s mother decided to remove herself to a forest further north, and Gilka (not yet weaned), had to follow her.

One night, Goodall decides to follow the pair.  This is when self’s jaw almost drops to the floor in amazement.  Goodall, completely on her own, tracks the pair as they leave a feeding area one late afternoon.  Self cannot say enough about this woman’s absolutely consuming thirst for knowledge, her tenacity and her determination:

In the past I had spent many hours roaming the forests with these two chimpanzees, so they paid me scant attention as we walked briskly along one of the well-worn tracks leading into the mountains . . .  Presently we left the forest and moved on to one of the ridges overlooking the lake.  There the grass was high — on a level with my head.  Often I feared I had lost Olly and Gilka, but luckily the faint rustle they made as they proceeded along gave away their whereabouts, and so I managed to keep behind them.  Just before dusk Olly, closely followed by Gilka, climbed into a tall tree.  For twenty minutes the two fed on the yellow blossoms that grew in profusion. Finding a comfortable rock, still warm from the sun, I settled down to wait until their meal was over.  I had a view over the evening lake and watched as the reflected crimson and brick-red of the sunset gradually gave place to bluish-purple and steel-grey while the sun sank lower behind the dark mountains of the Congo on the far side of the lake.  The high-pitched shrilling of the cicadas gave way to the night symphony of the crickets.  Slowly the colors drained from the trees and grass and the thin sickle of the new moon and her attendant evening star became visible above the lake . . .  There was just enough light for me to see the tree ahead when Olly and Gilka climbed down and set off along a narrow track toward a small pocket of forest . . .  As they entered the trees the blackness of their coats merged with the darkness and I could no longer see them.

Goodall waits until both Olly and Gilka settle down for the night, then turns to make her way back to camp in pitch black darkness.  Of the experience, she writes:  “I have always found walking at night through tall grass rather unnerving.”  Yes, self wants to say.  Aren’t there lions and tigers about?  Leopards?  Belligerent baboon troops like in the movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?

Nevertheless, Goodall makes it back to camp safe and sound, and is able to record her observations.

She is such a tremendously powerful writer.  And brave, too.

Stay tuned.

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