Gombe Science Summary - Jane Goodall

Gombe Science Summary

Written By: Sarah Ruiz, JGI USA
Category: Great Apes

Gombe, Tanzania is where Dr. Jane Goodall’s legacy began and where we began to learn just how intelligent and complex chimpanzees really are.

The work that Dr. Goodall started at Gombe still continues today, and as we approach the 60th year of uninterrupted research at Gombe National Park, JGI would like to share with you just a few of the studies that have emerged from the incredible amount of scholarly work and observation happening in the middle of Gombe’s forests.

The following studies were published in a special issue of the American Journal of Primatology that was dedicated to the topic of chimpanzee health, a subject that is vital for those wishing to save wild chimpanzee populations from the threats of disease and extinction.

Socioecological Correlates of Clinical Signs in Two Communities of Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Gombe National Park, Tanzania

When protecting wild ape populations, it is important to not only preserve their habitat, but also look after their health. Infectious disease poses a serious threat to chimpanzee communities and is a leading cause of mortality in Gombe National Park. As such, it is useful to get an understanding of both the ecological (e.g. time of year) and demographic (e.g. age, sex) factors that predict indicators of ill health.

A recent non-invasive observational study on the health of the Gombe chimpanzees examined five different clinical signs: diarrhea, estimated weight loss, respiratory issues, wounds or lameness and dermatological issues over an 8-year period. The researchers then measured the prevalence of these signs in different subsets of the chimpanzee population, according to ecological and demographic factors. The findings help us to understand which categories of the population are at a greater risk for each type of health issue.

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Maternal Effects on Offspring Stress Physiology in Wild Chimpanzees

Events experienced in early life have been found to influence the development of an individual’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which in turn influences that individual’s reactions to stressors later in life. This study focused on whether maternal stress physiology in chimpanzee mothers was related to the stress physiology of their offspring.

In this study, researchers investigated the relationship between maternal dominance rank and non-invasive measure of her stress physiology (fecal glucocorticoid Metabolite (FGM) concentration) during pregnancy and early lactation. They then examined whether differences based on maternal rank were associated with dependent offspring stress physiology.Was a link found between maternal rank, FGM concentrations during gestation, and offspring stress physiology?

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Destabilization of the Gut Microbiome Marks the End-Stage of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus Infection in Wild Chimpanzees

Inside nearly every organism is an entire ecosystem of microbes known as the microbiome. Residing in the guts of larger organisms, the microbiome consists of a diverse array of bacteria and viruses that can have equally as diverse impacts on the host organism’s health. Observation of microbiome composition can give clues as to the status of the organism. Many chronic diseases are associated with a change in the gut microbiome.

This has particular implications for immunodeficiency diseases like HIV and the Chimpanzee equivalent, Simeon Immunodeficiency Virus (SIVcpz). Recent research on Chimpanzees from Gombe has shown that the microbiome of chimpanzees suffering from SIVcpz typically remains steady until the last few weeks before the individual dies of the disease. The destabilization of the microbiome indicates the end-stage of the SIVcpz infection.

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Oesophagostomiasis in Non-Human Primates of Gombe National Park, Tanzania

Wild chimpanzees are often infected by the Oesophagostomum parasite, which is an intestinal worm. Infection with this parasite can result in poor health in wild chimpanzees, including weight loss, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. This study set out to better understand these infections in non-human primates at Gombe.

The team used data collected over 11 years to look for links between fecal parameters in living chimpanzees and lesions found in post-mortem examinations of those same chimpanzees.

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Non-Invasive Quantification of Immunoglobulin A in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Gombe National Park, Tanzania

Disease plays a critical role in chimpanzee conservation efforts. Nearly half of all deaths recorded in chimpanzee communities have been attributed to Illness, so it is crucial to be able to monitor the animal’s health status. Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is an important antibody in most mammals’ immune systems and, as a result, it can be a good indicator of the effects of long-term stress in a variety of species, including chimpanzees. The use of IgA as a health indicator has been complicated however, by a preference for non-invasive practices when monitoring the health of wild animals.

A recent study has tested a new, non-invasive strategy for measuring IgA levels in chimpanzees using fecal samples. The researchers tested the impact of stress hormones on the IgA levels of a captive chimp. They also tested the feces of wild chimps at the Gombe Stream Research Centre to compare IgA across multiple variables like age, sex and season.

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Photo credits: Rick Quinn, Nick Riley, Kristen Mosher, JGI, Rob Sasser.