GRASP Mourns Loss of Patron Nishida

07th Jun 2011 Press Releases

Prof. Toshisada Nishida, a Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) patron whose long-running study of wild chimpanzees helped define the social, cultural, and political structure of great apes, passed away on June 8 following a lengthy illness. He was 70.

Prof. Nishida spent 40 years observing chimpanzee behavior in the Mahale Mountains of southern Tanzania, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. His research yielded important findings regarding tool use, communication, female transfers between groups, coalitionary tactics, and a host of other topics.

Prof. Nishida was the former Head of Evolution Studies at Kyoto University in Japan, and served as president of the International Primatological Society (IPS) from 1996-2000.

“The great apes have lost a true champion with the death of Prof. Nishida,” said Doug Cress, coordinator of GRASP. “His research did much to increase our understanding of primate behavior, but it was his willingness to commit himself to the conservation of great apes and the protection of their habitat that may be his greatest contribution.”

Alarmed by human encroachment into the chimpanzees’ range, Prof. Nishida spearheaded a successful effort to establish the Mahale Mountains as a Tanzanian National Park in 1985, and he set up a non-profit conservation organization devoted to this cause, the Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society.

Prof Nishida - GRASP Patron

In 1973, Prof. Nishida’s article in the Journal of Human Evolution was the first empirical paper by a Japanese primatologist in a western publication, thereby crossing the divide that had existed between east and west. He went on to publish over 200 articles, papers and reports in his career, including the books The Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains: Sexual and Life Strategies (1990) and the essay collection, Great Ape Societies (1996).

Prof. Nishida’s research also included studies of Japanese monkeys, red colobus monkeys, and bonobos.
Named a GRASP patron along with Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey, Russell Mittermeier and Richard Wrangham, Prof. Nishida spoke on behalf of great ape conservation and welfare throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. He also joined with Wrangham and others in an attempt to establish great apes as the first “World Heritage Species.”

In 2008, Prof. Nishida received the IPS Lifetime Achievement Award, and later shared the Leakey Prize from the Leakey Foundation with Goodall.

Funeral services for Prof. Nishida were held June 9 in Kyoto.