Goodall leads chimp research reunion

Beth Hornby

Sounding a chimpanzee call before a packed auditorium, world-renowned chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall began a reunion of researchers Saturday at the University’s Molecular and Cellular Biology Building.

As the audience mimicked Goodall, the auditorium echoed with chimpanzee cooing and foot-stomping before a discussion of research and conservation in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park.

Anne Pusey, director of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Center for Primate Studies in the University’s department of ecology, evolution and behavior, said all Gombe research data on chimpanzees is preserved and digitized at the center.

Pusey said the center – which she began on the St. Paul campus in 1983 – houses more than 320,000 pages of research on more than 250 chimps, many of which were tracked their entire lives. The collection dates back to Goodall’s first foray into the Gombian wilderness.

Pusey said the University became a safe haven for the data in 1983, protecting it from the harsh Tanzanian environment and Goodall’s celebrity status, obtained in the 1970s.

“At that time (Goodall) felt the data would be safer here, and it’s been snowballing ever since,” Pusey said.

Pusey has used the University’s technology to advance the research, and the institute’s researchers work with the computer science department to transmute the data into digital forms.

“There is a big collaboration effort at the moment with computer sciences,” Pusey said.

Goodall said she is pleased to see how far technology has come in 43 years.

“There wasn’t even a fax when I began there,” Goodall said. “We communicated by telegram when we wanted something, and nobody even used a computer. Ö Everything’s changed. It’s almost exploded.”

Pusey also said advances in videography – which allows them to analyze footage frame by frame – DNA collection techniques and satellite imaging of chimpanzee habitats have also revolutionized research.

“I think one of the most important things is the new techniques in which we collect DNA samples,” Pusey said.

Goodall also said DNA testing – which identifies chimpanzee fathers – has been the biggest breakthrough.

“DNA, I think it’s fantastic,” Goodall said. “(Paternity testing) puts everything into perspective.”

A credit to the U

The research done at the center attracts many students to the University, and adviser Grant Wilson said it is a rare asset.

“Biological and behavioral researchers who need to know about (the center) know about it,” Wilson said.

Despite this, he said, many students are unaware it exists.

“It’s just that undergraduate students have no idea that something like (chimp research) could be going on right in their own back yard,” Wilson said.

Tanzanian Gombe field researcher Deus Cyprian Mjungu said the institute was pivotal in his decision to complete his master’s degree in ecology, evolution and biology at the University.

Mjungu completed undergraduate studies in Tanzania, doing field research in the Gombe, and is now reunited with data he helped collect.

“When I worked (in Tanzania) I knew maybe sometimes I would be coming to Minnesota to look for this data that has been collected for years,” Mjungu said.

Graduate student Ian Gimble, who collected chimp data in the Gombe, said the institute also brought him to the University, which otherwise would have been an unlikely choice.

“I came at it from an animal behavior background, and I never thought I’d be here studying chimps,” Gimble said.

Goodall said students and researchers interested in chimpanzees should get active – either with the center or by joining one of the 15 Jane Goodall institutes throughout the world.

“The most important thing is to get involved, keep your ears open, and never give up,” Goodall said.