On one visit to Gombe, Lonsdorf saw Glitter, one of Gremlin's twins, successfully fish out a termite with a tool at the tender age of two and a half.
"She put out the tool, looked quite suprised that there was a termite on it, didn't seem to know quite what to do with it, and so cupped it to her chest so it would [wouldn't] get away before she ate it," Lonsdorf recalled. "I was so shocked to see such a young, tiny chimp termite fishing that I almost fell off the rock I was standing on."
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Survival of the Chimps
As an undergraduate biology and psychology student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, Lonsdorf studied foraging skills in the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), a highly endangered and shy Madagascan lemur that also fishes grubs and larvae out of tree branches, but without using tools.
Summer internships took Lonsdorf to Hawaii and Florida to study how whales and dolphins process information.
But she had always loved chimpanzees, and jumped at the opportunity to study the primates as a graduate student at the Jane Goodall Institute's Center for Primate Studies at the University of Minnesota. Lansdorf got her Ph.D. in June 2003.
She now collaborates with the Goodall Center for Primate Studies on research and management strategies to ensure the long-term survival of the Gombe chimpanzee population.
"By understanding the complexity of animal behaviors, we can begin to better appreciate and want to protect the diversity of life on this planet," she said.
"By studying chimpanzees, we can gain insight into what the behavior of our hominid ancestors might have been like," she added.
New technology is enabling Lonsdorf to gain information that Jane Goodall could not get when she started her research.
"With video, you can capture everything and you can go back and reanalyze later," she said. "Say I'm studying termite fishing and recording data on a notepad. At the time of the study, I was not interested in whether they used their left hands or their right hands, so I didn't record it. Later, if I become interested in handedness, I'm out of luck, the data is lost forever. That's not the case with video."
Lonsdorf may be extending Jane Goodall's research into the next generation, but don't call her the next Goodall.
"No one can go out there and replicate what she did in the 1960s as a young woman out on her own in the forest," Lonsdorf said. "All we can do is continue to work on the path that she blazed."
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