Field Work: Gombe Chimpanzees
Fieldwork at Gombe was begun in collaboration with Jane Goodall in 1984, a time when the field project was about to make a comeback after the kidnappings of 1975. My special focus was interventions that stopped conflicts within the group. The H.F. Guggenheim Foundation funded this research into a behavior that is rare but very important to the functioning of chimpanzee communities because they cooperate internally at times even as they show hostility to their neighbors. In stopping a fight, usually it is the alpha male who charges toward the fighters and threatens them so suddenly that they desist. At Gombe, I trained Goodall’s field assistants to use early versions of Sony Camcorders, which began a visual record of the chimpanzees there. This resulted in a field station operated with electric generators, which enabled us to charge batteries and view footage on playback. As a result of this visual record, I was able to make qualitative analyses of fight interventions and their political dynamics.
Six years of fieldwork led to the publication of Hierarchy in the Forest (1999), with Harvard University Press.