JGI Jungle Journals: Notes From Gombe, Tanzania IV

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Dr. Jane Goodall had a single dream: to study wildlife in Africa. When she was 26 years old, she was given an opportunity, by a innovative scientist named Louis Leakey, to achieve this dream in a place called Gombe. Gombe, Tanzania, has since Dr. Goodall’s studies been the home of ongoing behavioral, biological, conservation and other research on wild chimpanzees (Learn more about Gombe here). Many exceptional minds have passed through Gombe, providing their own imprint on this significant location, leaving with a reshaped imagination.

Bill Wallauer, a man with his eyes on the pulse of the world as a wildlife filmmaker and photographer, lived for 15 years among the wild chimpanzees of Gombe National Park. Every year, he returns to the unparalleled magnificence and ever changing riddle that is Gombe, to capture more of its singular light, sounds and wild residents. Here we share his latest trek’s writings; a window into the Congo Basin through the lens of an adoring and ever inquisitive old friend to Gombe’s wild chimpanzees.


After five days of searching for an opportunity to get a shot of Golden’s new infant, I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with the G family today.

This morning, I helped guide JGI Vice President of Development Anna Gibson and two of our wonderful donors (Vicci and Mark Crowe) to the chimps.  It was an awesome morning; with some serious effort, we found a small group of chimps on the Kasakela/Linda ridge.  There were wonderful chorus calls echoing up and down the valleys.

There is food everywhere and the chimps can travel as large extended groups.  We climbed to a high ridge above the Peak and joined a group of moms and kids who were resting in the top of a Parinari tree.  It was wonderful for Anna and our guests to get to sit and relax and enjoy the peaceful interactions between the females and their youngsters.

After about an hour, we moved down the ridge again.  En route, I was delighted to find Golden who was climbing down from a think vine tangle.  It is amazing to watch how effortlessly they move through thickets that are so thick one can barely follow or see them.  It is remarkable to me that they do this while carrying tiny and seemingly delicate infants.   

P1230142 GLD baby head imp creditI said goodbye to Anna, Becci, and Mark and took advantage of my great luck in finding Golden.  I followed her through the vines back up the hill we had just descended.  

P1230137 GLD baby hand ear imp creditShe was calm and relaxed, and when she met her brother Gimli, she sat down and groomed with him. Again it was a bit frustrating. I could occasionally see a window through the vegetation, but there were so many branches and leaves cloaking them it seemed no matter where I set up with my camera, my view was obscured. 

P1230137 GLD PORT 02 imp creditThough I did enjoy getting the grooming and resting shots of Gimli and Golden, my favorite shots of the morning were of Glamour, Golden’s five year old daughter. Glamour was a bit bored with all the grooming so lay down beside them for a nap.  Luckily she was facing me so when she opened her eyes, I was able to get some beautiful albeit slightly obscured portraits. 

P1230147 GIM profile 01 imp creditP1230144 GLD PORT 01 imp credit

This was the best shot I was able to get of Golden’s infant.  The baby was sound asleep for most of the morning and all I could see was the back of her head, so I was delighted when her little face appeared for a few moments facing my direction. 

P1230152 GLA 02 imp creditAfter an hour or so, Golden continued traveling up the hill and joined Gremlin and others in the same Parinari tree I sat below earlier this morning.  As Golden approached her mother and sister in the top of the tree, she paused for a moment on an open branch and I finally got the chance I had been waiting for all week.  How thrilling it was to look through my long lens and see my first ever clear view of this amazing little face.  It lasted only seconds, but that was enough to record a nice portrait and little hand clinging onto Golden’s hair. 

P1230145 GLD baby profile 05 imp creditAfter a long grooming session, Golden stretched out on a branch and fell asleep, while tenderly cuddling the her baby.  I am always amazed at how well chimps balance on a single limb while they sleep. 

P1230158 GLD infant 01 imp creditWhat a joy it was to spend time trying to get these shots.  Like Jane, I just can’t get enough of watching the relationships grow between mothers and their children as they develop through time.  How exciting it is to think that we have a whole new generation of Gremlin’s progeny roaming the same trails that her mother Melissa and Jane did nearly seven decades ago… 


Stay tuned for more from Bill’s journey to Gombe, and support our primate research and conservation at JGI here. 

About Author

Bill Wallauer offers a unique and fascinating view of life among wild chimpanzees. For 15 years, Bill spent just about every day following the wild chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, capturing the intimate details of their daily life. He has commented that, during those years, he spent more time with chimpanzees than with humans. Bill has served as camera operator and scientific adviser for more than 30 productions, including BBC/Animal Planet’s “Chimp Week” and BBC/Discovery’s 10-part series, “Planet Earth”, Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee.”, and is working on three National Geographic films for 2014/15. Bill became part of the life at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Gombe Stream Research Center in 1989 while on assignment for the U.S. Peace Corps in southern Tanzania. After he successfully captured a wild chimpanzee birth on videotape, Dr. Goodall asked Bill to follow the chimps and record their daily activities and behavior—which he did for the next 15 years. Today, Bill is a sought-after speaker for adults and youth. He speaks about chimpanzee's behavior and emotional capacity and the similarities and differences between chimpanzees and humans.