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Grandmother chimp’s baby-snatching shows ‘we still have a lot to learn’
November 17, 2006, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories

GOMBE NATIONAL PARK, Tanzania — One recent night, in the cabin Jane Goodall uses when she returns to the park where her work began, researchers discussed a new and astonishing finding: An older female chimp had recently taken her daughter’s newborn and was raising it as her own.

Researchers had previously witnessed terrible moments with newborns — older females in the group have killed some. But the decision by Gremlin, one of the matriarchs in the chimp population, to snatch away her daughter Gaia’s baby remained a mystery.

‘‘It could be a protective act,’’ said Bill Wallauer, an American from Oregon City, Ore., who has been videotaping Gombe’s chimps since 1993.

He said an older female chimp had appeared moments before Gremlin took the baby and hypothesized that Gremlin believed the baby would be safer with her. ‘‘But,’’ he added, ‘‘that still leaves a lot of questions.’’

‘‘Like, why was Gaia OK with it?’’ Kristin Mosher, an American from Oswego, N.Y., who photographs the animals for the institute, said. ‘‘And does Gaia try to get the baby back?’’

“It tells us that we still have a lot to learn and to see,’’ Wallauer said.

JOHN DONNELLY (THE BOSTON GLOBE)

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