Happy Birthday Dr. Jane Goodall and Thank you!
Dr. Jane Goodall turns 85 today and she has changed the way we understand primates on our planet with her 50 years of love and research in Africa and around the world.
When she was a little girl, her mother “supported her love of animals that she was born with.” She brought earthworms to her bed to investigate them when she was one and a half and her mother helped her bring them back to the garden so they would live. When she was four and a half, she was on a family holiday in the country and went to visit the hens in the henhouse for four hours. Her parents were so worried the police were called but when she was found, her mother patiently listened to her observations about the animals.
Goodall explained to a group at the LA Zoo in celebration of United Nations International Day of Peace on September 23, 2018 about how her time in the henhouse is how we create scientists: “be curious, ask questions, search for the right answer, decide to find out for yourself, make mistakes, not give up and learning patience.”
Goodall wanted to learn more about animals and read books in the library and saved her pocket money to buy books at the second hand bookshop. When she was ten years old, she bought the book, “Tarzan of the Apes.” She told the crowd that she “fell passionately in love with the lord of jungle but he married the wrong Jane.”
She told us, “That was when my dream began. I will go to Africa when I grow up, I will live with wild animals and I will write books about them.” As with many dreamers who dream great dreams, Goodall told us, “Everybody laughed at me. They said, ‘Jane how will you go to Africa? You don’t have any money. The dark continent is far away.” Goodall explained that: “Girls did not have opportunities like that back then.”
But her mother said: “Jane, if you really want to do this thing, you are going to have to work really hard, take advantage of all opportunities but don’t give up.” And Goodall explained that “I have taken that message to young people all around the world particularly to children in deprived communities. I wish my mom knew how many children and people have come up to me and said: Jane you have taught me that since you did it, that I can do it too.”
Goodall stayed in school until she was eighteen but did not have enough money to go to college. When a school friend invited her to Africa, she worked for six months as a waitress to get enough money to go to Kenya by boat. There were no tourist planes at that time.
While in Kenya, she was introduced to Louis Leakey, the curator of the Natural History Museum, who spent his life searching for our earliest ancestors. Leakey offered her a job and suddenly she was surrounded by people who could answer all her questions about plants, birds, animals and insects. It was Leakey who decided Goodall was the person he had been looking for to study the animal most like us —the chimpanzee. She made the observation that a chimpanzee is capable of using a piece of grass to fish termites from their nest that he is capable of modifying an object by picking a leafy twig and stripping the leaves which is the beginning of tool making. At the time, it was believed that only humans used tools. This observation allowed Leaky to go to National Geographic Society and they agreed to provide money to carry on with the study with photographer, Hugo Van Larete to document their work. The recent Geographic Documentary called Jane, Making Use is footage from their work together.
Leaky arranged for Goodall to go Cambridge and work to receive aPhD in animal behavior. She told us her days at the research station were the best of her life. She spent hours every day in the rainforest understanding the interrelatedness of all living things.
In 1986, at a conference at the Chicago Academy of Science, there were people studying chimpanzees in 6 parts of Africa. Goodall learned about chimpanzees being treated badly in circuses, about research facilities doing painful procedures on chimpanzees and about forests disappearing. Goodall said she “went as a scientist planing to continue my wonderful life, but left as an activist and knew I had to do something.”
She visited medical research labs and saw the conditions, went to some of the bad zoos and led to a campaign to release all chimps into sanctuaries. She learned about the plight of African people living in and around chimpanzee habitats with crippling poverty, lack of good health and education facilities and very often the ethnic violence. She wanted to save the chimpanzees and the local villages. In 1994, they started programs with twelve villages and worked to restore fertility to farmland, create youth education programs, add more health facilities, create water management programs, develop microcredit for an environmental sustainable program, scholarships to keep girls in school after puberty and information about family planning. It was so successful that now 72 villages are involved and it has spread to 7 other African countries.
Goodall said that “people have become our partners in preserving the environment for future of their own children and not just to save the chimpanzees but to save the future of our environment for all.”
In 1991, Roots and Shoots began with 12 students in Goodall’s home in Dar El Salem, Tanzania. The students told her: “they were not just worried about wildlife, also worried about homeless children with no where to live, illegal dynamite fishing that was destroying the coral reefs, some were worried about the poaching in the national parks and why wasn’t the government prosecuting the poachers.”
Her main message has been: “Every single one of us makes an impact on this planet every single day. We all have a choice as to what kind of impact we are going to make. Are we going to leave the world a little better after today or don’t we care?”
Goodall explained that she does have hope for the future. There are now young people participating in Roots and shoots in 80 countries, with 150,000 active groups and it is growing all the time. There are 2,000 groups in China, and it is growing fast in Canada, Latin America, across Europe and in many African countries. The first groups have just started in the Middle East. She continued: “Young people who are so passionate and so determined to make change and so empowered and you cannot help but have hope. It gives me my greatest reason for hope. We are not the only beings with personalities, minds and emotions. It is changing how we think and act each day.”
Goodall told us “if we get together, if we each realize that each day we make a difference, and collectively we make a huge difference, if we realize at least in democracies, we can influence the government and as purchasers we can influence business in the way it conducts its business, there is a lot of hope in the future but only if we all get together. The young people and Roots and Shoots that is our great hope for the future, the young people, their parents and their teachers. We can make this a better world.”
Happy Birthday Dr. Jane Goodall and
thank you for all you have done to change the world.
I heard Dr. Jane Goodall speak at the LA ZOO for UN International Day of Peace on September 23, 2018.
Read about Dr. Jane Goodall on the Jewish Journal