CHIMPANZEES AND AIDS

The well known ethologist, Dr. Jane Goodall, widow of the late Mr. Derek Bryceson, the former Minister for Agriculture, who has become an international authority on chimpanzees and works mainly at Gombe, near Kigoma, spoke to the Bulletin recently in Dar es Salaam about her fears for the future of chimpanzees. For, as D. J Eichberg, head of a major AIDS research programme in Texas was quoted as saying recently, ‘Chimpanzees are the only model available to do human AIDS virus vaccine work. They are 100% affectable with the disease. Once you get to the nitty gritty, essential questions like the efficacy and efficiency of vaccines have to be tested in chimpanzees” The centre in Texas has 172 of the.. Now, in Britain too, the Porton Down research centre is looking for 30 chimpanzees for similar work.

It was in 1960 that the famous palaeontologist/archaeologist Dr. Leakey persuaded Jane Goodall to undertake a long term study of chimpanzees at Gombe. During the intervening twenty seven years she has written numerous scientific papers, and received many international awards. She has also published the definitive work ‘The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behaviour’ which is now in its 4th printing. And this is what she told us.

She lives in a house on the lake shore in the midst of a high canopy forest. In the forest is the spectacular Kakombe falls. The water hurls itself over a rock ledge and drops forty feet on its way to a stream and ultimately, the lake below. And there, up in the giant fig trees chimpanzees can sometimes be seen at play.

The Gombe park is only 30 square miles in area. It is situated 30 miles north of Kigoma. The research work, which can be expected to continue for many years yet, involves many visiting scientists and some 30 Tanzanians work there. . Tourists find it difficult to get there although they can arrange to be brought to the beach by boatmen from Kigoma. When they do arrive, they stay in an old student hostel. “We share with chimpanzees 98% of our genetic make-up” she said. “Chimpanzees are much more like us than are baboons. There are only 150 chimpanzees at Gombe. They live in three social groups of about fifty. I know one group quite well.”

Apparently, they can be capricious and brutal as well as charming and friendly. Jane Goodall has always responded to them as individuals. She writes in her book about Gigi, considered very sexy by males despite her unusual (for a female) size and aggressiveness. Fagan was ousted as dominant male in the group by his former protege, Goblin. He regained his position when he and four other males ganged up on Goblin. There was Passion, a psychotic primate who, with her daughter Pall stole infants from other chimp mothers and ate them. There was Honey Bee, who stayed with her mortally wounded mother for five days, grooming her and shooing away flies, after the two were attacked by a group of males.

To the usual human ear the sound made by chimpanzees is a sort of hoot. “But”, says Jane Goodall, “I have managed to record 25 different chimpanzee sounds. But they find it difficult to make a sound on purpose.”

Normally chimpanzees used in research have been bred in captivity. But young chimpanzees captured from the wild – an extremely difficult operation – rarely breed satisfactorily in captivity. Jane Goodall fears that, with the greatly increased demand for them now because of the needs of AIDS research, there will be increasing pressure on wild colonies to provide extra chimpanzees for testing purposes.

Jane Goodall realises that such is the enormous concern about AIDS that there is no way anyone can prevent chimpanzees being taken from the wild. But she is angered by the way in which many of them are being kept in captivity. She spoke of conditions being like in Nazi concentration camps. “Sometimes they are shut up in little cells only 6 ft. square”.

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