Skip to main content

Jordi Sabater i Pi, ethologist and professor emeritus at the UB, passes away

By 6 de August de 2009November 18th, 2020No Comments
< Back to news

Jordi Sabater i Pi, ethologist and professor emeritus at the UB, passes away

Born in Barcelona on August 2nd 1922, Jordi Sabater Pi is one of the most renowned Catalan scientists who received international prestige for his contributions in the field of ethology. He initiated his career in ethology and anthropology as a self-taught scholar during his stay in Equatorial Guinea in the period spanning from 1940 to 1969. It was here where he started to perform field research which would make him one of the first world authorities in the study of primates in their natural habitat, amphibians and some African birds.

His journey in this African country was key for the development of his professional trajectory, given that it enabled him to study the behaviour and customs of indigenous people and the characteristics of several species of autoctonous animals, scarcely known at that time.

There are three reference points in the diverse and extraordinary research conducted by Jordi Sabater i Pi: the description of chimpanzees’ cultural areas, a result of discovering the elemental industry of sticks employed by these animals, who live in the Okorobiko mountains of Equatorial Guinea; the discovery of the giant frog in the waterfalls of the Mbia river (Conraua goliath) and the capture of the strange honeyguide bird (Melichneutes robustus).

At a more popular level, Sabater i Pi was also known for discovering a small albino gorilla, named Floquet de Neu (“Snowflake”)- an emblematic symbol of the Barcelona Zoo and the city itself- but his research work, less known by the general population, has been broad and significant in several fields of science, culture and society.

It was 1966 when several indigenous people brought a small albino gorilla in very poor health to the Ikunde Center. Jordi Sabater i Pi took took him in order to facilitate his recovery. Once he was in good health he was sent to the Barcelona Zoo. News of this acquisition spread throughout the world and the Barcelona Zoo obtained universal prestige. This rare finding gave Sabater i Pi great popularity, but he always claimed that this event was just an anecdote within his research work.

According to Sabater i Pi, his most significant contribution to the field of science was the discovery of chimpanzees’ cultural areas, a result of discovering some approximately 40 cm long sticks, some with frayed, brush-like ends, that were made by these animals and used to catch termites and eat a type of dirt which has medicinal properties, a fact which demonstrates that they have developed an elemental protoindustry. The article where this discovery was explained was published in the Nature journal in 1969, under the title “Sticks used by chimpanzees in Rio Muni” (Vol. 223, Num. 5201 July 5, 1969, Pages 100-101); however, his first primate studies began much earlier, during the 1950s, where he described the behavior of the so-called “Western lowland gorillas” (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), a research task that became known via several articles, such as “Beitrag zur Kenntnis des Flachlandgorillas”(1958) and “Beitrag zür Biologie des Flanchlandgorillas” (1960) which were published in “Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde”, a German journal specialised in mammals.