PAR­ENT­ING TIPS FROM CHIMPS

Dr Jane Goodall’s re­search on how chimps raise their young can tell us much about how to nur­ture our own off­spring. By Eloise King

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - LIFESTYLE -

Chim­panzees are our clos­est evo­lu­tion­ary rel­a­tives, so the study of their ge­net­ics, habits and in­ter­ac­tions is the most use­ful in­di­ca­tor we have of un­der­stand­ing our own bi­ol­ogy and be­hav­iours, says Dr Jane Goodall, the lead­ing ex­pert on the pri­mates.

Dr Goodall, 77, who is vis­it­ing Aus­tralia next month, is a Bri­tish pri­ma­tol­o­gist, ethol­o­gist and an­thro­pol­o­gist best known for her 45-year-plus study of wild chim­panzees in Gombe Stream Na­tional Park, Tan­za­nia.

Her award-win­ning re­search sug­gests the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween hu­mans and chimps are not just ge­netic but ex­ist in our emo­tions, in­tel­lect and re­la­tion­ships, which are heav­ily shaped by our fam­ily life.

“They are more like us than any other liv­ing crea­ture and un­der­stand­ing them helps us un­der­stand our evo­lu­tion and an­swer the ques­tion: what makes us dif­fer­ent?” says Dr Goodall, who was made a Dame Com­man­der of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire in 2004.

Here are Dr Goodall’s find­ings on how a chim­panzee fam­ily op­er­ates, com­pared with the views of child psy­chol­o­gist Dr John Irvine, au­thor of Hand­book For Happy Fam­i­lies (Finch).

Mum’s the word

“There are good moth­ers and bad moth­ers but it’s very clear in chimp so­ci­ety that the early years of a chimp’s life are crit­i­cal to their later well­be­ing,” Dr Goodall says. “The off­spring of moth­ers who are pro­tec­tive, but not too pro­tec­tive; tol­er­ant, but able to dis­ci­pline; af­fec­tion­ate and above all sup­port­ive have less prob­lems.”

She notes off­spring don’t even start to leave their mother’s side un­til the age of eight or nine. “Even at nine years of age, if a chimp ac­ci­den­tally loses mum they get up­set and cry, but they are old enough by then to make the choice to go off them­selves.” + Dr Irvine says: “Talk to any­one who has achieved any­thing and you’ll hear there is no sub­sti­tute for mum. Girls see mum as a role model and boys idolise her. Mum needs help if she is go­ing to do a good job, though. Delin­quent be­hav­iour is more likely to emerge if she is do­ing it all on her own.”

Pri­mary carer needed

If mum is not around, it can be a pri­mary carer who de­vel­ops the main bond with a baby chimp to pro­vide se­cu­rity and love. Dr Goodall says: “If baby chimps have a pri­mary carer they feel se­cure with, they de­velop and learn faster and be­come more out­go­ing due to feel­ing sure within them­selves.”

Dr Irvine says: “If mum’s not around, kids will al­most al­ways im­print on some­one else, whether

it be grandma, dad or any­one able to pro­vide sta­ble, se­cure, con­stant and con­sis­tent care. We are less com­pe­tent at birth than any other species so we de­pend on our pri­mary carer more than chimps.”

Dad, the pro­tec­tor

Daddy chimp does not play a hands-on part in rais­ing the kids.

“His role is in pro­tect­ing the en­tire area for all fe­males and young ones,” Dr Goodall says.

Young males make their first ten­ta­tive moves away from mum at about seven or eight, usu­ally for just a few hours at a time.

“They typ­i­cally choose to fol­low one of the adult males and may hero-wor­ship him,” she says. “By leav­ing the mother and im­i­tat­ing the cho­sen male they learn about male ac­tiv­i­ties, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ap­pro­pri­ate lev­els of ag­gres­sion.”

Dr Irvine says: “Young dads are pro­vid­ing much more hands-on care but many feel like a fail­ure be­cause they don’t know how to do it like their wives, who have a dif­fer­ent kind of hor­monal love.”

Safety in num­bers

Small chimps will usu­ally have a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship with an­other two or three chimps that are al­ways around and add to their se­cure start to life, Dr Goodall says.

Dr Irvine says: “For mil­lions of years kids were brought up in a tribe of ex­tended fam­ily. It’s only been in the last hun­dred years that we have moved away from the ex­tended tribe and formed nu­clear fam­i­lies with less and less tribal sup­port around and it’s not good for the fam­ily.”

Fun leads to learn­ing

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween mother and child chimp is re­ally fun, with lots of game play­ing. “Chimps learn re­ally quickly when they are in­ter­ested in what they are learn­ing,” Dr Goodall says.

Dr Irvine says: “Chil­dren learn so much through play; when the brain is force-fed it switches off.”

Dr Jane Goodall will be speak­ing at the Hap­pi­ness and its Causes Con­fer­ence next month in Bris­bane. www. hap­pi­nes­san­ditscauses.com.au

Dr Jane Goodall with an or­phaned chimp in 1995 in the Congo and (left) a young Jane Goodall in what is now Tan­za­nia’s Gombe Stream Na­tional Park

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