Jane Goodall says if it wasn’t for one particular teacher, she wouldn’t have been nearly as effective at detailing differences among the individual chimpanzees she has spent her life studying. In fact, it’s possible that without learning from this one teacher, she may not have gone to Africa in the first place.

This instructor didn’t assign homework or even use a blackboard, but he did sometimes bark. “Rusty the dog taught me that animals have personalities, minds and feelings of their very own,” says the eminent primatologist and author. Rusty was her childhood companion, though not really her dog. She explains, “Rusty belonged to a hotel around the corner. He would arrive at six in the morning, bark outside the door, and then he was with me all day, except when I was in school or he trotted off to have lunch. I’ve had dogs my whole life.”

Jane Goodall’s Life

Hectic is an understatement to describe Goodall’s schedule nowadays. She’s on the road 300 days a year, and having a dog wouldn’t be practical. One day she may be meeting with African tribal leaders, and then head off to speak at a black tie event in the United States. Her message to audiences anywhere in the world is always pretty much the same. “You, as an individual, can make a difference.” And she remains optimistic about saving the environment. Her two most recent books (The Ten Trusts, with Marc Beckoff, from Harper, and Reason for Hope from Warner Books) explore the reasons for this optimism.

Still, even for Goodall, it seems maintaining optimism has to be more of a challenge with each passing day. A recent television show she did for Animal Planet, “Return to Gombe”, chronicled her return to the Gombe Stream National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. That’s the place where in 1960, at age 26, she first stepped into the shadow of humans by opening a door into the world of chimpanzees. At Gombe, her research took a personal approach, even giving her chimp subjects names like Freud, Fifi and Frodo. At the time, her colleagues, who considered naming animals to be “unscientific”, roundly rebuffed her.

Chimps are just like humans

It was Goodall who discovered that chimps are more like ourselves than we had previously imagined. They wage wars over territories. They fashion crude weapons. They make and use tools to help them find food. And chimps also exhibit real love. “People would be amazed if they knew how smart the great apes are,” says Goodall. “Some human beings may not want to think about it, but chimpanzees do share at least 98 percent of our genes.”

Today, Gombe and all the animals that live there–including her beloved chimps–are increasingly threatened. Deforestation destroys habitat, and the roads built by logging companies enable cars — and therefore people — to gain access to places like Gombe. But, Goodall says, “The greatest threat is the bush meat trade, commercial hunting of wild animals for food, or just because.”

Meanwhile, populations of animals become restricted to increasingly shrinking ranges. Without connections to chimp groups outside Gombe, those inside the park will eventually suffer from genetic issues related to inbreeding. The same is true for other great apes. For example, living at high elevations mountain gorillas on one peak have no way to gain access to other gorilla populations without traveling at great risk though low land now used for farming and/or exploited by hunters.

Goodall does have some answers, and they seem to be working where she’s been able to try them out. At Gombe she has involved local residents. “These people live in abject poverty, earning less than a dollar a day. We have a program called Take Care, which now extends to 33 villages around Gombe. We teach them about why protecting their homes is in their own best interest. We’ve persuaded many of the villagers to stop hacking the tree stumps. So leafy forests are growing up in the five years [of the program], and there are again 20-foot high trees. This gives us hope to create corridors so the chimpanzees can move out of Gombe and others can move in, which is their historical pattern.”

Goodall reaches out to young people

Goodall’s program is called Roots and Shoots (from her Jane Goodall institute). The idea is to teach environmental and humanitarian awareness to future generations. One recent project included making peace doves — kids from around the world participated, from China to the Middle East to Manhattan. In all, there are 6,500 Roots and Shoots groups, representing 87 nations.

“We can all start by teaching children about humane treatment of animals with our own dogs and cats,” says Goodall. “We have a long tradition with these animals, especially dogs. And I think there is so much we are only beginning to understand. There appears to be a telepathy that some dogs know when their owners are coming home. Dogs and cats can actually bring new life to the elderly, or people who perhaps haven’t spoken for several years, retreating into their own worlds. They may not allow us to enter these private worlds, but dogs and cats can get inside. Clearly, just being with a pet seems to be healthy.”

Goodall is still serious about saving animals

But she’s equally serious about saving us from ourselves. In 2001, U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan named her a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations. She may well earn a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts some day. Far more than politicians spewing rhetoric, her earnest message strikes a universal cord. The thing is that not everyone has heard her message, especially the younger generation; that’s a part of the reason she’s coming back to TV with a several upcoming specials on Animal Planet.

Goodall adds, “As we continue to urbanize and become further separated from the natural world, I believe we instinctively yearn for some connection [to nature]. That connection can be a pet. Even as I visit little villages around the world, generally one common link is that there are dogs to play with. I think we’ve evolved together. Maybe, that’s why they seem naturally attracted to be with us. And we seem to need them as well.”

Unlike many of her scientific colleagues, Goodall isn’t hesitant to talk about the higher power that guides her optimism. “I feel in my bones that there is an intelligence guiding the universe, and that all will be okay,” she says. When she returned to Gombe, for example, she felt and also heard that small voice, the voice of a large power. “It’s just a feeling that comes into your heart and you can’t translate it easily into words. We can all open our hearts to it, if we only give it a chance.”

Article written by Author: Steve Dale

More books written by Jane Goodall

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