Climate Change and Sustainability,  Science

Jane Goodall:
wildlife’s researcher, animal and nature-protection activist you really need to know

I have teamed up with a friend, former roommate, and an extraordinary artist – Lorna Schütte to bring to you a short series about four outstanding women in science. I want to thank Lorna for her willingness to collaborate with me, as well as her wish to promote women in science. In case you need a great illustrator – reach out to her. Regarding this small series, she draws their portraits and I take care of writing a few words about the women’s lives and missions. First on our list, Dr. Jane Goodall. Enjoy!

Dr. Jane Goodall (April 3th, 1934- )

Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist, UN Messenger of Peace. Focused on studying chimpanzees in Tanzania.
Jane Goodall, drawn by Lorna Schütte. Instagram: lornaschuette

Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved. The greatest danger to our future is apathy. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. – Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall: primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, UN Messenger of Peace. The woman who taught us how we can learn a lot from anyone if we stay respectful and humble. One in only eight people to receive a PhD from University of Cambridge without previously having obtained a bachelor degree. The researcher who shed a light on the life of primates with her ground-breaking research in the 1960s in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. A truly beautiful and inspirational mind who taught us how we are not the only living species with emotions and intelligence and who – through her fight for animals’ rights and nature preservation – speaks up for those who cannot speak out for themselves.

Early Years in Africa

In 1957, only at the age of 23, Jane traveled to Kenya by boat. There, she met the famous anthropologist and palaeontologist Dr. Louis S. B. Leakey. Jane’s knowledge of Africa and the wildlife impressed him and he hired Jane as his assistant. They went on a fossil-hunting expedition; however, Jane was not as impressed by fossils as by living animals. She says:

I could have learned a whole lot more about fossils and become a palaeontologist. But my childhood dream was as strong as ever–somehow I must find a way to watch free, wild animals living their own, undisturbed lives–I wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets through patient observation. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could.

Thus, she decided to go to Tanzania and observe, research, and protect the wildlife there.  At first, the British authorities were strongly opposed to the idea to let a young woman live among wild animals in Africa. They only agreed to this when Jane’s mother offered to accompany her for her first three months of research. So, the revolutionary story of Jane began on July 14th, 1960 with her arrival in Tanzania.

Jane’s most significant contributions to our understanding of chimpanzees

It took more than a year for the chimpanzees to accept Jane’s presence. At the beginning, chimps were scared and ran away. However, Jane searched the forest with patience and diligence, and cautiously kept her distance so that she would not disturb the animals. Gradually, the chimpanzees accepted Jane’s presence. By 1961, Jane was shattering some of the most-common misbeliefes that we had about chimpanzees.

The three most-significant discoveries say that chimpanzees are:
  1. meat-eaters
  2. tool-makers
  3. emotionally-intelligent species that display a wide palette of complex social behaviors, a lot like men

1. Eating habits

Prior to Jane’s life-long research, we believed that chimpanzees were vegetarians. However, at the end of October, 1961 she saw chimpanzees hunt for and eat meat. Thus, we now know that chimpanzees are omnivorous.

2. Tool making

Her detailed, day-to-day observations and investigations, also showed us that these primates can manufacture and use tools. She firstly observed chimpanzees making tools to remove termites from their mounds. The chimps would take a thin branch from a tree, strip the leaves, and push the branch into the termite mound. Finally, they would pull out the stick covered with termites and eat them.

This discovery raised a lots of amusing discussions. One of the most famous discussion revolved around the anthropologic phrase “Man the Toolmaker”, i.e. around our wide-spread certainty that we are the only species which makes tools. In response to Jane’s discovery that chimpanzees can make and use tools, Louis Leakey wrote: “We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!”

3. Social behavior

The most fascinating discovery – at least in my opinion – is about the highly complex and developed social behavior of the chimpanzees. Other than their wish to play and spend time together, Jane also observed other behaviors that pointed to strong similarities between humans and chimpanzees. Showing emotions, intelligence to protect their offspring, complicated family and social relationships; but, also physical acts as expression of love, such as hugging, kissing, patting the back, and tickling. 

In the documentary movie Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees, Goodall states that these actions are evidence of “the close, supportive, affectionate bonds that develop between family members and other individuals within a community, which can persist throughout a life span of more than 50 years”.

Jane Goodall reshaped the way we treat and understand animals

In an interview for the New York Times during the coronavirus pandemic, Jane was asked if there were any particular achievements of hers that stand out in terms of their future impact.

She adresses two important points. The first one is how she decided to stand up to her professors in a polite, yet non-negotiable, manner. The second is about her research and humane approach towards the chimpanzees. By naming the chimps and distinguishing their sexes, Jane made chimps a bit more men-like. By not treating them as “it”, but as “she/he”, she did not separate us from the animal kingdom like superior species.

Her answer truly touched me, so I have decided to share it here in full length:

I was the eighth person in the history of Cambridge to come in without an undergraduate degree. And I was really scared. You can imagine. And of course didn’t help when the professors told me I’d done everything wrong. I shouldn’t have named the chimps, they should have been numbered. And I couldn’t talk about personality, mind or emotion because those were unique to us.

But, luckily my dog had taught me otherwise as a child. So I could stand up to them, not in an aggressive way. I just calmly, you know, went on talking about it that way. And I remember the first scientific paper I wrote was for Nature and it was about tool using I think. And so I described the chimpanzees, I gave them names and they left the names.

But when I got the article back, they made corrections and they crossed out everywhere I put he or she. I mean, one thing is very clear, the difference between the sexes. But animals were “its.” So I angrily crossed out the “its” and they left it. So that was the first breakthrough. And I think because the chimps had been found to be so biologically like us, along with the behavior shown in Hugo [van Lawick’s] films and photographs, that really pushed science into thinking in a less reductionist way.

We are not separated from the rest of the animal kingdom, we’re part of it. Gradually that’s gone more and more mainstream. So that’s one thing, helping people understand that animals have personalities, minds and emotions, and now you can study those things.

Jane Goodall nowadays

Jane nowadays lives in England, in the same house where she grew up. Although she is no longer among the wildlife in Africa, she is still thinking about her friends – the chimpanzees. In the above-mentioned interview for The New York Times, Goodall  talked about what it means for her to be isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, but also, how chimpanzees also suffer from isolation. She says:

Being isolated has made me think of what it must be like for chimpanzees who were isolated in captivity, who depend on physical closeness and touch. […] It’s bad enough for us, but we have all these other ways of distracting. And what about these animals who have nothing?

However, she also talks about the bright side of the situation. The silver linings in this horrible time for her is the reactivation of the discussion about animal trafficking, product testing on animals, and selling wild animals for food or medicine. She says:

Everybody’s pointing fingers at China, but already the government’s made a total ban on the markets, selling animals for food and on trafficking, importing wild animals. So we just have to hope that because of the magnitude of this pandemic they will keep that ban. At the moment it’s temporary, but let’s hope they enforce it forever, and close down the market for animals used in traditional medicine.

Regarding the fact that there will be animal testing in the search for a vaccine against the coronavirus, Dr. Goodall says that she hopes that the time will come when there will be no animal experimentation at all. She says that it is understandable that we cannot sharply just stop something, but a large part of the problem is that the “people who are working on alternatives just don’t get the right support”.

But, regardless of where testing (medical) products on animals would lead us, Dr. Goodall remains one of the most-avid advocates for animals and nature protection. In fact, when she began her work, medical researchers frequently used chimpanzees in their work. However, she and other advocates against this practice helped for it to be stopped in the USA.

Honoring Dr. Jane Goodall

If you want to find out more about the life or research of this remarkable woman, then reach out to some of the documentary movies made in her honor or to some of her books.

Documentary movies

  1. Jane (2017)
  2. Jane’s journey (2010)
  3. Jane Goodall’s wild chimpanzees (2002)
  4. Chimps: so like us (1990)

Books by Jane Goodall

Wikipedia provides a complete list of her books, but here are a few that frequently stand out:

  1. My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees (1967)
  2. In the Shadow of Man (1971)
  3. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior (1986)
    • R.R. Hawkins Award for the Outstanding Technical, Scientific or Medical book of 1986
    • Award for “Outstanding Publication in Wildlife Ecology and Management”
  4. Through a Window: 30 years observing the Gombe chimpanzees (1990)
  5. Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey (1999)
    • “We have a responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet. The thoughtless behavior of our own human species threathenes their continued existence. Environmental responsibility – for if there is no God, then, obviously, it is up to us to put things right.”
  6. Africa In My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters, the Early Years (2000)
  7. Beyond Innocence: An Autobiography in Letters, the later years (2001)
  8. Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink (2009)

The Jane Goodall Institute

Here we are, the most clever species ever to have lived. So how is it we can destroy the only planet we have?

In 1977,  Jane Goodall formed the  Jane Goodall Institute “to ensure that her vision and life’s work continue to mobilize the collective power of individual action to save the natural world we all share”. Thus, this institute not only enables the continuation of the research she started in Tanzania, but it also supports programs that focus on community involvement and education in vulnerable areas. Goodall remains as active and as inspirational as ever. She keeps on fighting for what she believes in and encourages us to be part of the change we want to see by saying:

Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right. Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long as your values don’t change.

So, what are your values? What are you willing to compromise on? What are the chanes you want to see in the World?


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