Chimp study one of the top science stories of last year

A Congo field study of chimps by Crickette Sanz, a doctoral candidate in anthropology in Arts & Sciences, ranked No. 24 in Discover magazine’s guide to the top 100 science stories of 2003.

As reported in the May 2, 2003, Record, Sanz and Dave Morgan, a field researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, spent 365 hours between February 1999-June 2001 observing chimpanzees in a remote forest in the northern Republic of Congo.

Their study “offers a glimpse of an extreme rarity in the modern world: chimpanzees that have had little or no previous contact with people,” according to the January 2004 issue of Discover.

Sanz and her adviser, Robert W. Sussman, Ph.D., professor of anthropology, are quoted in the article.

Sanz and Sussman also appeared in a British Broadcasting Corp. television program called Horizon, a 50-minute science documentary series. The two are interviewed in the show titled “The Demonic Ape,” which first aired in January and features Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees.

The show’s narrator says Sanz’s research in the Goualogo Triangle in the Congo “could call in to question some of the observations made over the past four decades” at Goodall’s research site at Gombe National Park in East Africa — in particular the demonic male theory.

“The chimpanzees of the Goualogo are like those at Gombe: They too use tools, and they have their own culture,” the narrator continues. “But there is one crucial difference: They are not as aggressive.”

Sanz says in “The Demonic Ape,” “So far, we haven’t seen any abnormal levels of aggression. We’ve never seen chimps killing other chimps. We haven’t seen highly elevated territorial disputes. If I had to guess, I wouldn’t expect to see it.”

Sussman adds: “I think the demonic male hypothesis is basically a speculative idea about how the relationship between chimpanzee and human behavior might have evolved. And I think it’s actually wrong.”

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