A chimp on her shoulder

Christian Jenkins/For the Diamondback
Christian Jenkins/For the Diamondback

Jane Goodall speaks to about 600 on wildlife protection
By Jenny Hottle, staff writer
Monday, October 15, 2012

Originally posted on diamondbackonline.com

She came without a flashy PowerPoint presentation or musical accompaniment — only a stuffed toy monkey with a banana.

But when the 78-year-old woman stepped onstage and greeted her audience in chimpanzee, the Dekelboum Concert Hall fell silent.

About 600 people packed into the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Saturday to meet the world’s most famous primatologist, Jane Goodall. The U.N. messenger of peace spent more than 45 years studying chimpanzee social behavior in Tanzania and she now travels 300 or more days each year to advocate for environmental conversation and wildlife protection across the globe.

Students of all ages came from as far as halfway across the country to meet the woman they said inspired their fascination with wildlife.

“We’ve been planning this trip for months,” said Teri Santucci, who brought her sixth-grade son, Kenneth, from Hamilton, N.J. “She’s somebody he’s always wanted to see.”

Like some audience members, Goodall discovered her love for animals at a young age and spent hours rereading Tarzan of the Apes by a tree in her garden.

“I fell in love with Tarzan,” Goodall said. “But he married the wrong Jane.”

However, Goodall could not afford to go to college and was told she would never have the chance to do research. Still, her mother told her she would find a way, and eventually Goodall saved up enough money from a waitressing job to travel to Africa.

Archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey sent Goodall and her mother to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and it was there Goodall began venturing off into the forest in search of chimpanzees.

“I wasn’t having that great of a time,” Goodall said about the first few months. “I would get back in the evening disheartened. If I didn’t see anything exciting in the first six months, that would be the end.”

But then came the moment Goodall referred to as, “the Great Observation” — she saw a chimpanzee using grass stems to clear termites from a hole.

“He was a toolmaker — what we thought set us apart [from other animals],” Goodall said. “It was very exciting to see this.”

Despite having no official scientific training, Goodall continued her work by naming the chimpanzees and studying their personalities and emotions.

“[The chimps] had the same dark side as we do,” she said. “They also have characteristics of love, compassion and altruism.”

However, in order for her to continue as a credible researcher, Goodall left Africa to work toward a doctorate degree from the University of Cambridge. Afterward, she headed right back out to the forest and began to build her own research team, which marked the start of her famous chimpanzee research project.

“It was the life I dreamed of and more,” Goodall said.

Goodall would later learn that the habitats of her beloved chimpanzees were threatened by man-made developments. While flying over the national park where she worked for so long, she saw complete deforestation and overuse of the land. Goodall realized it was important not only to advocate for wildlife protection, but to teach conservation and development to the African people, which led her to found the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977.

“How could we even try to save these chimpanzees if these people are having such a struggle to survive?” Goodall said.

Through her institute, Goodall also established a youth program called Roots & Shoots, which enables young students to discuss troubling environmental problems and come up with potential solutions. Hundreds of thousands of students around the world are now involved in the program, Goodall said.

“It’s using the methods we use in Africa and then getting the children to do the same sort of mapping of their own community and learning so much,” she said.

William Holland, a fifth grader from Chevy Chase, said he hoped to follow in Goodall’s footsteps and study wildlife conservation in college. He had begged his dad to take him to hear Goodall speak after seeing the tour dates on her website.

“We got our tickets in July,” said Kent Holland, William’s father. “We planned our whole weekend around this.”

University students who attended the event said Goodall had also inspired them to seek to make a difference.

“Dr. Goodall’s been a hero of mine for a long time,” junior biology major Spencer Brodsky said. “She’s revolutionized and advocated for observational biology and observing the world around us.”

As for Goodall, there’s no sign of stopping. Her loyal companion Mr. H — the 16-year-old stuffed monkey — will accompany her to Antarctica this winter for its 60th trip. She said she hopes to continue encouraging young people, who she believes can solve world issues.

“We can do it,” she said. “And if we care about it … we must jump in and do our part every single day.”


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