Well, the part that always shocked me was the inter-community violence among the chimps: the patrols and the vicious attacks on strangers that lead to death. It’s an unfortunate parallel to human behavior—they have a dark side just as we do. We have less excuse, because we can deliberate, so I believe only we are capable of true calculated evil.
What’s better about spending time with chimps rather than humans?
On the day-long follows that I used to do with mothers and their offspring—these chimp families that I knew so well—there was hardly a day when I didn’t learn something new about them. Little things, when you watch very closely, and try to understand how their experiences in early life affect subsequent behavior—seeing them change over the years.
One anecdote that I love was with Fifi, a mother that I loved so much. At the time she had two offspring: Freud, who was 6, and his little brother who was 1. Fifi was hanging around by a termite heap, resting, and Freud was bored, and an elderly male baboon came and sat down. Freud began sitting over his head, and kicking it with his feet. After a bit, this old male got irritated and stood up on his legs, and grabbed at Freud and roared at him. Freud screamed, and Fifi raced over and hit the baboon. It all calmed down again, and then Freud did the exact same thing, and the baboon punished him a little more, and Fifi raced over and protected him again. Then, it happened a third time, but this time, Fifi ran over and punished Freud! Those little things are insights into how their minds work, and what it’s like to be a chimp.