Jane Goodall Visits Madrid!

03Mar13

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Last week, Jane Goodall spoke at the National Geographic store and cafe on Gran Via in Madrid. She began by speaking about her mother’s constant encouragement to follow her dreams – despite the fact that moving to Africa to write about animals was an unusual one, especially for a woman. She also recalled reading Tarzan when she was a young girl and thinking that “Tarzan married the wrong Jane.” 

Widely known for discovering chimpanzees’ use of tools, Jane Goodall also shared many lesser- known life experiences. Among them was her waitressing record of carrying 13 plates of fish (her stint as a waitress she remembers as “a really difficult job”). She also recounted meeting the queen, an event she prepared for by practicing the full state courtesy with a cup of coffee on her head. 

Goodall vividly recalled how the smells, as well as the climate, changed as the boat approached Africa. There, she met and worked with Louis Leakey, a British archaeologist and naturalist who would remain a stout supporter of her research throughout his life. She desired to observe chimpanzees in Tanzania, which at that time was part of the British Colonial Empire. The British authorities, concerned about her fate, would only allow her to enter Tanzania if she arrived with a companion. Her ever-encouraging mother agreed to spend the first four of Jane’s many months in Tanzania.  

“Camping today is fancy,” Goodall told us. Today’s tents have window zips with screens. When she was first staying in Tanzania, she had to leave a whole side of her tent open if she wanted fresh air – open to bugs, spiders, and snakes. 

Goodall suffered a period of depression when she started in Tanzania. The chimpanzees ran away anytime she came near. Again it was her mother who, boosting her morale in the afternoons, helped her to keep her dream fresh. Because of this encouragement, each day she woke up with renewed energy. Unfortunately, her mother departed a couple days before Goodall, who was now alone in Tanzania, made her first major breakthrough: the chimpanzees were using long pieces of grass as tools. The ability to fashion and use tools was, at the time that Goodall made this discovery, one of the factors that defined humanity; our facility with tools marked the fissure between human and animal worlds. Jane’s discovery gave many scientists the impetus to explore the division (which they saw a threateningly narrowed) further while a few others sought to draw the bridge and investigate the similitude of humans to primates. 

Jane Goodall went to Cambridge to pursue a doctorate at the suggestion of Louis Leakey. She told us that at Cambridge she was informed, by all professors but one, that her approach was simply not scientific enough. While she had given names to the chimps she observed – they told her she ought to have given them numbers; though she had come to know the distinctive personalities of the Gombe chimps – she was being told that they didn’t have personalities at all. The only “professor” that listened, and agreed to her method of research, went by the name of Rusty. It turned out that Rusty wore a collar and slept at the foot of her bed.  

When she returned to Tanzania, David Grey Beard stopped viewing her as a predator and began to see her as a companion. One day, while she was following him she lost sight of him in some thick underbrush. Thinking that she had completely lost track of him she headed back, passing, too, the place where she had first spotted him. David Grey Beard was sitting there, as though he was waiting for her – waiting for her to follow him. She offered him fruit by holding it out on the palm of her hand. He took the fruit, placed it on the forest floor, and then took her hand and squeezed it. 

Goodall was once asked if chimps have a religion. In reply Goodall proposed that they may have an animistic one. In her observations she saw that as the chimps approached a certain waterfall they would slacken their pace, and their short hair would bristle. The sense of reverence or awe that sometimes overcomes us when we encounter incredible beauty in the natural world isn’t the only sensation that we share with chimpanzees. Goodall reminded us that chimpanzees have a “dark side like us,” they are territorial and sometimes engage in what Goodall called “a primitive war.” Despite these failings, they, too, “show love, compassion, and altruism. There isn’t a sharp line that separates us from the animals,” she concludes. 

Towards the end of her talk, Goodall turned to the topic of how we treat sentient animals. She showed concern especially about the farming industry, medical testing, cruelty with pets, and she didn’t shy away from mentioning her discomfort with Spain’s bullfighting tradition. Only a few eyes were dry by the time she questioned, “Why, with so much intellect, more than other creatures, are we destroying the planet?”  She quoted Gandhi, “There is enough for everyone, but not for the greedy.”

“When I think of how we have destroyed this planet since I was a small child I feel shame.” Goodall is concerned about the future of our planet. She gave the example of a captain driving a ship who notices danger ahead, but notices it too late. If we wait too long, the inertia of the ship will overpower us, the crew. Though current environmental issues paint a bleak picture, Goodall believes there are at least four reasons for hope:

 One: there are young people in every part of the world “with shining eyes” that are excited to tell her about what they are doing to change the world. 

Two: the human brain. “We sent a man to the moon” she exclaims, “next time you look up and see a moon in the sky, look at it and say to yourself ‘we put a man up there’!” If we can do that, we can do anything we put our brains to. 

Three: the resilience of nature. 

And four: the indomitable human spirit will fight when faced with difficulty.  

Goodall illustrated the strength of this last point with the story of Rick and Jojo. Rick, a bystander, put his life at risk to save Jojo, a chimp who – fleeing angry macho chimps, and unfamiliar with the dangers of water – was drowning. When asked what made him jump the zoo barrier and dive into the water despite the dangers that kept even the zookeepers at a safe distance, Rick said it was due to a look he had seen in Jojo’s eyes. They reflected bafflement, terror, and pain at the same time that they posed the question “will nobody help me?” Goodall ended by saying that there are “more and more people in the world seeing that look, and they are jumping in to help.” 

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One Response to “Jane Goodall Visits Madrid!”

  1. 1 Allison Forsythe

    I love this post! Seeing Dr. Goodall speak really is a special experience, and you’ve captured it very well here.


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