When anthropologist Jane Goodall was a little girl, her mother gave her a baby chimpanzee doll. That was the beginning of her seeming obsession with what many call ''man's closest living relative'' - a creature whose brain is more similar to the human brain than is that of any other living creature.
Now, after 22 years living among the wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Game Preserve of Tanzania on Lake Tanganyika, she is the star of the 1984 premiere Gulf Oil/National Geographic Special: Among the Wild Chimpanzees (PBS, Wednesday, Jan. 11, check local listings).
In extraordinary footage filmed by Goodall's first husband, Hugo van Lawick, over a couple of decades, the special catches her in the act or reenactment of observing the chimpanzees making and using tools, waging brutal warfare on each other, cannibalizing chimp babies, and allowing themselves to socialize with and be groomed by Goodall. Viewers will even catch a glimpse of Goodall's photographer husband, her supportive and adventurous mother, and her son, Grub, born in Gombe and now almost 16 years old.
The camera and anthropologist Goodall have managed to depict the daily lives of three generations of chimps who came to be known to Goodall - and the viewers - as friends.
Since most of us cannot go to Tanzania, East Africa, to visit the Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Conservation, and Education in the Gombe Stream Preserve, viewing the National Geographic special is a marvelous second best - an exciting electronic safari into chimpanzee country.