Long-Term Field Studies of Chimpanzees at Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania

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Abstract

Chimpanzee research in the Mahale Mountains, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, began in 1965. Although the Mahale Mountains did not initially have official protected status, researchers’ conservation efforts and the financial support of the Japanese government led to the designation of Mahale as a national park in 1985. The Mahale project is the second-longest continuous field study of chimpanzees. Long-term demographic data show that the habituated chimpanzee group has decreased in size, largely due to disease outbreaks. Recent research has focused on variation in the behavioral repertoire of chimpanzees, producing a detailed audio-visual ethogram as well as evidence of social customs, some of which are candidates for cultural variation. Many primatologists are beginning to accept the notion that some behavioral elements of nonhuman animals are socially shaped. Our long-term studies of chimpanzee behavioral variation will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of the ways in which human and nonhuman primate behavior is shaped by the interaction between genes and culture.