Pusey Lab

Jane Goodall Institute Research Center

The Jane Goodall Institute Research Center, managed by Duke Professor Anne Pusey, is an archive of dawn-to-dusk observations containing the complete life histories of more than 200 chimpanzees at the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. That data was collected by British primatologist Jane Goodall over more than 50 years and is made up of original handwritten and typed field notes. A major activity of the archive curation is the computerization of systematically collected daily data to incorporate it with related material into a relational database for scientific analysis. Duke Professor Anne Pusey, who has worked with Goodall at Gombe for more than 20 years, is the data curator.

The collection receives new data with each day's observations through the Gombe Chimpanzee Project. Its scientific value grows as scientists convert the data into digital formats.

Archive Overview


Daily data about chimpanzee behavior, feeding and movement provides a rich, long-term picture of the animals. Follow two of them, with video examples, to see where they eat, groom and mate, and learn about the camp at Gombe.

'Everything Was Interesting' – Duke's Anne Pusey explains how the Gombe archive evolved from long-hand narratives to an abbreviated coding system that scientists are still using.



Goodall Visits her Data at Duke – March 29, 2011

It’s hard to imagine Jane Goodall being envious of anyone, let alone the undergraduate and graduate students in Duke’s evolutionary anthropology program.

But as the legendary primatologist visited the university’s new research center that houses her 50-year data-collection on chimpanzees, it became evident that the scientist longed to “sit down and dive right in” to the data.

Seeing it again is “bittersweet,” Goodall said during a press conference on March 28 at Duke.  “I love to analyze data” and rifling through the files “makes me homesick for that,” she said, noting how much easier the analysis has become since the data is now digitized.

For the past 20 years, primatologist Anne Pusey has worked with colleagues and students to scan and make electronic notes of Goodall’s long-hand narratives, audio transcriptions and grids of abbreviated data called "check-sheets." Pusey rescued the data from Goodall’s home in Dar Es Salaam, Africa in the 1970s.

The data “was just sitting in open shelves,” being chewed by mice, and it was at risk of being destroyed, Pusey said. With Goodall’s consent, Pusey brought the stacks of chimpanzee narratives to the United States and finally to Duke when she joined the faculty as the chair of the university’s evolutionary anthropology program last year.

Goodall arrived in what is now Gombe National Park in Tanzania in 1960. Since then she, along with field staff and students, have taken 18,000 days of meticulous notes on one of humans’ closest relatives in the wild. The data fills 22 filing cabinets with daily narratives on the feeding, mating and social behaviors of chimpanzees.

The data provides detailed descriptions of the first evidence of tool-use in animals other than humans. The observations document chimpanzee warfare and the need for males to earn social dominance, behaviors many scientists thought Goodall should not publish.

They thought the observations would be an excuse to say that human war and violence is inevitable, Goodall said. “I do think violence is part of our tendency,” part of human inheritance from chimps’ and humans’ common ancestor, she said. But the data also show true altruism, the willingness to help outsiders.

Seeing altruism in chimps and believing that characteristic is also inherited gives Goodall hope, she said, as do human intelligence, the resilience of nature and the indomitable human spirit. Her hope is for individuals, especially the younger generations, to work every day to help chimpanzees, other animals, each other and the planet.

After meeting Goodall and hearing about her activist program called Roots & Shoots, Dorian Hayes, 9, and Sohmee Kim, 10, were already planning play dates with friends to learn more about what they could do.

They listed examples like trying to get their parents to drive less and asking their teachers if they could start a Roots & Shoots program at their school.

“Jane Goodall is funny. She’s cool. I read about her before this, and now she’s my hero,” Kim said, adding that she was certain she would one day study several breeds of wild cats to see how their environments influenced their behavior.

Hayes said she too wanted to study animals but was not sure what type or in what regions of the world.

Aaron Sandel’s inspiration from Goodall’s visit came from seeing her “academic side,” he said. Sandel, a research associate in Pusey’s lab, along with other students and researchers, gave Goodall a tour of the research center that houses her data.

“You could see the scientist in her. You could see her first love was the chimpanzees and the data,” said Sandel, who graduated from Duke in 2010.

He added that Goodall seemed impressed with the available computer technology, and she was excited to show her colleagues in Tanzania what was being done with the data.

“Seeing that definitely highlighted for her the promise of her research to inspire global and high-tech analysis,” he said. She even seemed “a bit jealous,” because she understands that the data keep coming in, making the “research possibilities almost endless,” Sandel said. “It was a privilege to share and generate research ideas with her.”

Originally published in Duke Research Blog on March 29, 2011 by ay37.

Jane Goodall did more than transform our understanding of chimpanzees. She blazed a path for other scientists, including several at Duke who talk about her influence.

Mining 50 Years of Chimpanzee Data

by Karl Leif Bates, April 2011

Almost every day since July 1960 someone has been watching the chimpanzees in what is now Gombe National Park in Tanzania, making careful notes of their every action from dawn to dusk.

Begun by Jane Goodall and carried forward by generations of the world's leading primatologists, this irreplaceable collection of data from 50 years of uninterrupted study is now being curated and digitized by researchers at Duke University so that it can become even more useful to science.

Duke has established a new research center to house and manage the archive, which is owned by the Jane Goodall Institute of Arlington, Va. Anne Pusey, chair of evolutionary anthropology at the university, will run the project, which will be known as the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center.

"Jane Goodall's contribution to primate studies simply cannot be overstated," said Pusey, who began working with Goodall in Africa in 1970. "She helped establish a new way of studying animals in the wild, and inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps. We're delighted to have Dr. Goodall visiting us to see what we're doing with her data, and to meet with the students and faculty who are making the work she started even more valuable."

At 26, Goodall arrived at Gombe Stream on the east shore of Lake Tanganyika to observe one of humankind's closest relatives in the wild. She had little training and no fixed methodology, but she was blessed with a keen eye for observation and endless patience. At first from a distance and then close up, she took meticulous notes of everything she observed chimpanzees doing.

"At 2:00 Flint suckled from the right breast - 2 mins. paused for half a min and then he suckled for another 1 1 / 2 mins. same breast. He then sucked his own thumb."

To build rapport with the chimpanzees and be able to observe them closely for longer periods, Goodall used bananas at a feeding station, a practice which has since been discontinued. Longhand notes gave way to audio transcriptions, typed each night on carbon paper copies. Narrative became grids of abbreviated data called "check-sheets."

Students and Tanzanian field staff joined the data collection. As the chimpanzees became more accustomed to these strange apes, their human observers were able to track them into the steep and tangled terrain surrounding the camp.

"7:08 ... FD raise a hand and shake branch calling SA, SA follow quickly and present her genitals to FD who mates her with copulation sounds. FD finish and then continue to feed."

Simply by watching carefully, Goodall revolutionized our understanding of chimpanzees: They make and use tools. They mate promiscuously, but have lifelong bonds with their mothers. They laugh and play. They have shifting political alliances and wage violent battles over territory. They hunt monkeys and bush pigs in groups and eat their meat.

"15:31 ... KS follows a female colubus (monkey) who was carrying a baby monkey on tummy. Grabs the baby and takes it in the bushes and feeds on the colubus. Other chimps continue to hunt."

"If you really want to understand how the minds of animals work, you have to go out and see how they behave in their natural environment," said Brian Hare, an assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology and director of the Hominoid Psychology Research Group at Duke. "(Goodall) challenged us to think about how their minds work in the real world. That's the major contribution Jane made."

All of these data, narratives in English and Swahili, check-sheets, hand-drawn maps, video tape and photographs, are being studied and digitized in a suite of rooms at Duke that houses more than 20 file cabinets full of documents dating back to Goodall's first observations. The collection continues to receive new data from the study at Gombe on a regular basis in paper and digital forms.

Jane Goodall and the chimpanzee Apollo in 1970. (c) the Jane Goodall Institute.

The Gombe archive is priceless for several reasons. First and foremost, it is only by watching a long-lived species for entire lifetimes that we can see the larger patterns created by social bonds and family relationships, said Duke biologist Susan Alberts, who has been studying baboons in Kenya for nearly 30 years.

And while each day of tracking data by itself may not add up to much, there are rare events and subtle patterns in the day-to-day events that can only be discerned by taking the long view, Pusey said.

"Just by watching animals over time you can learn so much," said Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center, which has a 40-year database of captive lemurs. "That informs your questions, so that the questions that you ask are really powerful. And the more you know, the more powerful the questions are."

The archive of Gombe data will be used to form new questions about chimpanzees and other primates, said Pusey, who recently co-authored a paper with Alberts examining the aging process across all primate species using long-term data from Gombe and other field studies.