Before Jane Goodall’s work began, the human fascination with primates was mainly focused on studying individuals. Her genius was to find a way to establish trust and ongoing relationships with chimpanzee populations. This enabled her to describe chimpanzee society in situ, and observe familial and group behavior that was hidden from the laboratory or zoo-based scientist.
Other scientists have followed her work and we now have field reports on bonobos, gorillas, baboons, and mountain gorillas as well as chimpanzees. The recommended books and videos below vividly picture the social lives of the primates, our near relatives.
Recommended Books and DVDs on Monkeys and Gorillas - The Primates
Bonobos are intriguing primates who - though similar in appearance to chimpanzees - behave rather differently. While chimpanzees hunt, fight, and politic like mad, bonobos are peaceful, often ambisexual, and matriarchal. Their most striking idiosyncrasy is their readiness to use sex as a social lubricant. Any tension within a bonobo group is normally resolved by a quick orgy in which they all have sex with one another, in all positions and combinations. de Waal and Lanting provide an excellent framework for understanding these fascinating creatures. 1998, University of California Press
This volume, which creates the discipline of cultural primatology by using the tools of the cultural sciences and encouraging the use of ethnography in comparing chimpanzee populations, presents the best up-to-date collection of the current state of knowledge of most aspects of chimpanzee behavior, and it spells out the dangers facing these apes and their threatened environments. 1996, Harvard University Press
Over the past 100 years, humans discovered and nearly destroyed the gorilla. Great Apes details how a few gifted people changed the world's perception of gorillas. Archival footage and beautiful cinematography reveal the unique relationship between pioneers of animal understanding and the wild animals sharing 98 percent of their DNA with humans. Film exerpts profile the work of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Adrian De Shriver. 2006, PBS
Jane Goodall, who has studied chimpanzees over 40 years, narrates this absorbing documentary. Chimps, like gorillas, share 98% of their DNA with humans; this film shows many behavioral similarities as well. We see chimpanzees on the ground and in trees, playing, grooming, teaching - even "fishing" for termites and ants using a stick for a tool. Includes behind the scenes footage of the filmmaking process. 2003, Sling Shot
This engaging story documents the incredible development of Koko, a gorilla who learned American Sign Language and understood spoken English. Witness Koko expressing wants and needs and also creativity and complex, human-like emotions. After being told that her pet kitten died in an accident, Koko demonstrates deep and sincere sadness when left alone that night. Koko maintained a deep, decades-long friendship with her human teacher and playmate, Dr. Penny Patterson. The film addresses the basic questions of the nature and possibility of true inter-species communication. Narrated by Martin Sheen. 2004, Questar
Filmed in the lush mountain cloud forests of Rwanda, Mountain Gorilla provides an amazing encounter with this highly social species. Eat, nap, travel, eat, interact, eat: that's a typical routine for adult gorillas. But for rambunctious 3-year olds, the routine is more like play, play, play as they tumble, swing, wrestle and twirl. Overseeing all of the troop's activities is the proud, massive silverback male whose dominance is unchallenged - until a young silverback tries to exert his newfound sense of power.
Outstanding Film Documentary - The Genesis Awards
In Next of Kin, Fouts, the codirector of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, unfolds a fascinating account of how a young chimp named Washoe and four others learned to communicate with humans and with each other using standard sign language, shattering the long-held scientific belief that language was a defining barrier between humans and other animals. Fouts also breaks another barrier -- declaring love for his research subjects, considering the chimps as his extended family. 1998, Harper Paperbacks
Writing in a conversational style, Ethologist Kummer intertwines observations and theories of baboon behavior and social structure with biographical sketches of life in Ethiopia. His format makes for a fascinating and accessible delivery of hard science to lay readers. Though many primate studies have been conducted since Kummer began in 1961, he holds that "the hamadryas baboon stands out among the other species with respect to three characteristics: the rigid, hierarchical social structure, the perfection with which the males lead their harums, and the [baboon's] decision process." 1997, Princeton University Press
In the Shadow of Man, first published in 1971, remains one of the most extraordinary observations of chimpanzee behavior in the wild. Goodall learned to recognize individual chimpanzees and came to know their distinctive personalities, describing in compelling detail the smallest of moments that illuminate who these great animals are. Unlike most scientists of the time, Goodall documented emotions and complex political behavior, the social hierarchy and parenting abilities, the aggression and the bonds formed between chimps that can only be described as friendships. In eloquent prose, Goodall tells the stories of these chimps. 2010, Mariner Books
Year of the Gorilla, the fascinating story of the author's expedition to study Mountain Gorillas in 1959-60, is as much an adventure story as a scientific analysis. From the riveting first encounter with a family of gorillas through the identification of several distinct groups, their daily routine is revealed. The gentleness that Schaller found dispelled many long-held myths about gorilla behavior. Beyond the gorillas, this is also the complete story of a region, its people and other flora and fauna. The issues of preservation of these animals and their habitat are much the same as those faced today. 1997, University of Chicago Press