Craig Stanford


On his book The New Chimpanzee: A Twenty-First-Century Portrait of Our Closest Kin

Cover Interview of June 10, 2018

The wide angle

My own involvement with chimpanzees came about fortuitously. In the late 1980s, I was conducting my doctoral research in Bangladesh on a previously little-known monkey called the capped langur. I was living in a ramshackle cabin on stilts at the edge of a rice paddy, spending my days following a group of the monkeys on their daily rounds in the nearby forest. Capped langurs are handsome animals, their gray backs set off by a flame orange coat underneath, and a black mask of skin for a face. Unfortunately, their behavior is not as interesting; they traveled only a hundred meters per day and spent nearly all their waking hours calmly munching on foliage. The most interesting observation I made in thousands of hours with the langurs was the death of an old female at the hands of a pack of jackals. Jackals were not thought to prey on an animal as large as an eight-kilogram monkey, but with the extirpation of leopard and tiger in the area, they may have taken on that role. As I strolled along behind the group one afternoon, the matriarch feeding on the ground right in front of me, a pair of jackals burst from a thicket, grabbed her and dragged her off. It was a vivid demonstration for me of the potential for predators to make a powerful impact on the survival of an individual, and on the population of monkeys in this forest.

As I looked ahead to the completion of my Ph.D. and considered post-doctoral options, I sent off letters to a number of primate researchers in Africa and Asia, proposing projects that involved the study of predation’s effects on wild primate populations. A colleague suggested I write to Jane Goodall. Goodall’s field site in Tanzania had been attacked by a rebel militia in 1975. Four western students were kidnapped and held for ransom in neighboring Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Although all were eventually released unharmed, the park had been generally off-limits to visiting researchers for more than a decade. I mailed a thin blue aerogram – this was pre-internet – expecting no reply. When I returned to Berkeley months later, a letter from Goodall was waiting, inviting me to come to Gombe to study the predator-prey interactions between chimpanzees and the red colobus monkeys, whose flesh they so relish. A year later, with a permit from the Tanzanian government and a shoestring budget in hand, I arrived to begin several years of back-and-forth travel to Gombe to study the hunting behavior of chimpanzees, and its impact on the behavior and population biology of the monkeys they hunt.