This young eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), named Ficma, was just three weeks old when photographer Fiona Rogers captured a quiet moment between mother and daughter in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. A maze of steep, lush valleys and mountain grasslands, the park has long attracted scientists as well as photographers: Gombe is home to one of the most closely studied chimp populations on Earth. This is where Jane Goodall first began studying chimpanzees in 1960, launching one of the world’s longest-running animal studies—63 years and counting.

When Rogers first arrived at the site, she had to look up to find Ficma and her mother, Fanni. Fanni held her infant close, high in the trees, out of view from adult males, who sometimes kidnap and kill infants that are not their own. “Thankfully, after a few days Fanni started to relax and come down out of the trees,” Rogers recalls. “She had to keep track of her other two offspring who were of an age when their curiosity often got them into trouble.” When she saw Fanni and Ficma resting in a clearing one day, Rogers knew her patience had paid off. “As I had known her for several years, she was very comfortable in my presence, and she allowed me to get within photographable distance despite her expected caution,” she says. Shy but curious, the infant, secure in her mother’s arms, “took a furtive glance”—and Rogers clicked the shutter.

The Gombe chimpanzee study, which continues to this day and includes Fanni’s lineage, has yielded a mountain of insights about these close relatives of ours. Female chimps reach reproductive age at around 13, but as Fanni shows—she was 33 when she gave birth to Ficma—they can procreate for decades. High-ranking females like Fanni get first dibs on the best food sources—the choicest fruits, leaves, insects, and occasionally, meat—and reproduce more quickly than their lower-ranking sisters. As Goodall and others have documented, young chimps spend years with their mothers, although—akin to their human counterparts—some female chimpanzees are better moms than others.

In one of the more surprising of the 300 studies to emerge from Gombe, scientists found that moms have a major influence on their sons’ behavioral development. Researchers have long known that adult male chimps are more outgoing than females. But in 2014, the year Rogers captured this image, scientists revealed that mothers help instill this behavior in their male offspring. They found that mothers were “more gregarious” when they had sons than when they had daughters, particularly during the first six months of the infant’s life, suggesting that the moms are modeling this behavior for their sons to mimic. These mothers also spent more time in groups of chimps containing males, the researchers found, exposing their young sons to a good dose of adult male gregariousness. This approach to mothering “may provide sons with important observational learning experiences and social exposure early in life,” according to the study.

Despite their notoriety as one of the world’s most closely studied—and beloved—animal populations, the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park have suffered losses in recent decades. Logging, farming, and new human settlements have all led to more conflicts with humans, partly because Gombe is unfenced, so chimps are able to move freely in and out of the park. Today, about 90 chimps live in Gombe, down from about 150 in Goodall’s early days studying chimpanzee behavior. But a new land-use plan crafted by the Jane Goodall Institute with input from villagers offers hope for soothing human-chimp conflicts, and keeping Fanni and her offspring safe.

Gombe National Park, Tanzania

Fiona Rogers

Fiona Rogers's photographs have been published as full-length features in leading magazines including National Geographic, The Smithsonian, National Wildlife, Geo and BBC Wildlife. She is the co-author of the book, "Tales from Gombe", published by Natural History Museum, London.

April Reese

April Reese is a freelance science writer and editor based in Portugal. Her reporting has appeared in Scientific American, Discover, bioGraphic, Science magazine, Aeon, and many other outlets. She holds a master's degree in Environmental Studies from the Yale School of the Environment.

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