Jane Goodall's revolutionary study of chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe preserve altered the very definition of "humanity" for some.

As a toddler she was entranced by all living things, and over the years the little girl inspired by Tarzan and The Jungle Book became the woman who found herself working with famed paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey; accomplished scientific breakthroughs in Gombe; and, ultimately, became a champion of the environment.

In her autobiography, Reason For Hope, she says that hers "has been a life blessed with faith, resolve, and purpose, though not without its crises." Jane Goodall endured the horrors of the London blitz and World War II, postwar hardships, vicious rumors and "establishment" assaults on the integrity of her work, a terrorist attack and hostage taking in Africa, and her husband's slow, agonizing death. Still, she went on to introduce the world to the Gombe chimpanzees nearly 40 years ago, then went on again to found the Jane Goodall Institute for People, Animals, and the Environment in 1977.

INTRODUCTION and EARLY LIFE

Jane Goodall (Born Valerie Jane Morris Goodall) is a primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist best known for her study of chimpanzees and their social life. Her pioneering work with chimpanzees has given the world insights on ‘humanness’ and ‘humanity’, as we humans approach our own emotions, behaviour and practices in a completely new light.

Born on April 3, 1934, Goodall grew up in Bourenmouth, England in a large house with her parents Mortimer and Vanne Goodall. As a young girl, she loved the “great outdoors” and spent as much time as she could outside her house.

She shared a very close relationship with her mother, (after her parents got divorced in 1946) who supported her career and choices throughout her life:

”My mother used to tell me, 'Jane, if you really want something, you work hard enough, you take advantage of opportunities, you never give up, you will find a way.'”1

It was this hard work and determination that made anthropologist Louis Leakey hire her as his secretary. After a few small studies, he eventually invited her to the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Neither she nor Leakey knew then, what her time at the National Park would grow into.

She received her Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1965, even though she did not spend too much time there:

"I didn't want a Ph.D.; I spent as little time there (Cambridge) as possible."2

Now, after forty-eight years of revolutionary research, and the founding of one of the world’s leading organisation that supports the efforts to protect chimpanzees and their natural habitat (The Jane Goodall Institute), she is still as energetic as she was at the start of her work in 1960.

RESEARCH and WORK

Throughout her stay in Gombe since 1964, Goodall has discovered many startling facts about chimpanzees. These discoveries have challenged the long-standing traditional beliefs about these primates, and the distinction between humans and animals. In short, these revolutionary discoveries were (as described in her book In the shadow of man, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Publishing, 1971) :

  • Meat eaters/Cannibals – Goodall found that chimpanzees ate bushpigs, as well as (later on) that they were cannibalistic and ate rival chimpanzees’ offspring.
  • Tool users – Two chimpanzees were observed as they stripped off leaves from twigs and fashioned a ‘fishing pole’-like device to remove termites from a mound and eat them.
  • DiseasePolio and AIDS affected chimpanzees as well.
  • Warfare – A four year long ‘war’ broke out between two groups of chimpanzees. The larger group was found to systematically isolate and kill the males of the smaller group.
  • Emotion – Goodall says that the primates warmed up to her only because she used to “bait” them with bananas, which were kept in a table in her tent. The first chimpanzee that saw it there started “stomping and screaming” at the sight of it. Another recorded instance is that of awe, when the primates spontaneously danced at the sight of a waterfall.
  • Adoption/non-maternal attachment- A young adolescent adopted a baby after its mother died of pneumonia. Another chimpanzee was attributed to be the ‘aunt’ (Not as a blood-relation) of many chimpanzees.
  • Medicinal Plants - Eating of a medicinal plant Aspilia (Aspilia Africana) as a countermeasure to internal parasites. {Although, it could have just been a by-product of adaptation and not a ‘discovered’ knowledge among chimpanzees}

As such, these papers created quite a flutter when they were published in 1985 (marking Goodall’s twenty-five years of research).

Her unconventional methods viz. naming the chimpanzees instead of assigning a number them (to prevent subjective and emotional attachment). Her reply to such criticism is bold:

"It is not easy to study emotions even when the subjects are human. As we try to come to grips with the emotions of beings progressively more different from ourselves the task, obviously, becomes increasingly difficult. If we ascribe human emotions to nonhuman animals we are accused of being anthropomorphic-a cardinal sin in ethology. But is it so terrible? If we test the effect of drugs on chimpanzees because they are biologically so similar to ourselves, if we accept that there are dramatic similarities in chimpanzee and human brain and nervous system, is it not logical to assume that there will be similarities also in at least the more basic feelings, emotions, moods of the two species?"3

Her use of feeding stations to attract the Gombe chimpanzees (instead of allowing them to forage on their own) have become targets to flak from other primatologists, saying that her research has distorted and deviated from the natural behaviour of chimpanzees. 4

However, her work continues through the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) she established in 1977. Of the many programmes it heads, the Roots & Shoots youth activity group has garnered international acclaim because of its organisation (it is composed predominantly of teenagers) and their grassroot-level solutions and debates on both major and minor problems of today (hence the name).

Several awards, including being named the Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2004, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and the French Legion of Honour have been bestowed on Goodall owing to her priceless research on chimpanzees. She was also named the United Nations Messenger of Peace by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in April of 2002.


References

  1. Davies, K. (1997). Jane Goodall: A researcher in her prime. Associated Press.
  2. Montgomery, S. (1991). Walking with the great apes. Boston Houghton Mifflin Publishing.
  3. Goodall, J. (1990). Through a window. Boston Houghton Mifflin Publishing.
  4. Frans B. M. de Waal, Nature, Sept 2005, "skeptics attributed chimpanzee ‘warfare’ to competition over the food that researchers provided"

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