Meet Jane Goodall’s Famous Chimpanzees Through Google Street View

Retrace the primatologist’s steps deep into the Tanzanian forest where she made the discoveries that redefined our understanding of wildlife.
Oct 26, 2014·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Jane Goodall had little more than a notebook and binoculars when she spotted a chimpanzee strip the leaves from a blade of grass and use it to dig termites out of the ground. In 1960, that was a revolutionary discovery—scientists still thought humans were the only species to make tools.

We’re left to imagine what that discovery looked like—Goodall didn’t catch the moment on film. But here’s the next best thing: a Google Street View that lets you explore Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, home of the communities of chimpanzees Goodall made famous.

Users get to glimpse Goodall’s house; retrace her footsteps during her groundbreaking study; and spot Glitter, Gossamer, Google, and other chimpanzees—descendants of those she made famous—living there today. (Here’s a tip: zoom into the trees).

The Jane Goodall Institute, an international conservation nonprofit that the primatologist founded in 1977, worked with Google Earth Outreach to realize the project. Members from both teams travelled to Tanzania in May to map the 20-square-mile Gombe Stream National Park. They carried “trekkers” with them—the same cameras Google mounts to cars to create Street View.

“We first stopped at a location Jane calls ‘The Peak’—her favorite vantage point,” Google Earth Outreach program manager Allie Lieber wrote in a blog post. “I could imagine her looking out over the canopies, peering tirelessly through her binoculars, writing in her notebook, and observing these beautiful animals as they swung through trees.”

Because of deforestation and commercial hunting (the apes are eaten, sold as pets, or used as research subjects), fewer than 250,000 chimpanzees survive in the wild. That’s a fraction of the more than one million chimpanzees that roamed Africa 50 years ago, around the time Goodall first documented their complex social behaviors and other ways in which they resemble humans. The species has already been wiped out in Gambia, Burkin Faso, Togo, and Benin. JGI estimates that if their current rate of decline continues, chimpanzee populations could drop an additional 80 percent within the next three to four decades.

JGI plans to use the thousands of 360-degree images it collected as an archive for researchers and as part of its educational outreach program. The snapshots will also supplement the satellite imagery and mapping the institute has been using to protect Africa’s remaining chimpanzees.

At a TED Talk conference back in 2002, Goodall spoke about the little difference between humans and the great apes.

“They kiss, they embrace, they hold hands,” she said. “They have a sense of humor. These are the kind of things [that] traditionally have been thought of as human prerogatives. This teaches us a new respect.

“The sad thing is that these chimpanzees, who’ve perhaps taught us more than any other creature a little humility, are in the wild disappearing very fast,” she continued. “We’re the ones who can make a difference.”