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- May 14, 1990
- Vol. 33
- No. 19
After 30 Years of Living with Chimps, the Woman Who Knows Them Best Asks Their Closest Relatives—us—to Show a Little Family Regard
"I can't help it," says Goodall, who has come to the lab several times. "Visiting here is a special kind of hell for me. I know chimps are needed for medical research, but I also feel they were never meant to be enslaved by humans. They should be roaming free in the forests." Goodall's latest plea to respect chimpanzees—and by extension all animals—comes as she marks her 30th year studying the chimps of Tanzania's Gombe National Park in East Africa. The occasion will be celebrated with an HBO special, Chimps: So Like Us, broadcast this Tuesday (May 9); a National Geographic documentary on cable later this month; and publication this fall of her seventh book, Through the Window, an update on her work in Africa.
"For years I was selfishly concerned only with the Gombe chimps," Goodall says. "Now I'm worried about the treatment and survival of chimps everywhere—in labs, in zoos and in places where they're kept as pets or as amusements for tourists. Chimps are thinking, feeling beings capable of many humanlike traits. Genetically, they're our closest relatives, yet they face extinction because of human ignorance, greed and neglect."
Goodall, who is midway through a 21-city lecture tour of the U.S. and Canada, has just emerged from her visit with JoJo and the other chimps at New York University Medical Center's Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates. The lab researches AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases by conducting experiments on 250 chimpanzees—the largest biomedical chimp colony in the U.S. Goodall hopes her visit will spur public concern for these chimps as well as support for efforts to find alternatives to live-animal research. Until those alternatives—such as computer modeling and testing with tissue cultures—are in place, she says, "the suffering of chimps can be reduced by putting them in bigger cages, exposing them to the outdoors and allowing them more contact with each other. Toys and even simple video games can relieve the deadly boredom you see in all those empty stares." (By and large, researchers are receptive to her suggestions and are taking steps to meet her concerns.)
Later that evening, presenting a lecture and slide show at Princeton University, Goodall, 56, appears nearly as youthful and trim as when she first entered the Gombe forests in 1960. Her graying blond hair is still kept in a ponytail, and though her fund-raising lectures keep her globe-hopping for months at a time, her passion for her work in the wild is as strong as ever. "I've been blessed with good health and lucky to be with the chimps for so many years," she says. "Observing them in their natural paradise still gives me a great sense of fulfillment." It has also made a substantial contribution to science. "Jane had the ability to spend a long, long time before she got important results," says Dr. Michael Latham, a professor of nutrition at Cornell University who befriended Goodall during a nine-year stint in Tanzania. "She was dedicated to that above everything else, and it paid off."
From her earliest memory, Goodall has loved animals. Born in London in 1934 to Mortimer and Vanne Goodall—he was an engineer, she a homemaker—Jane was still an infant when she saw a man squash a dragonfly that had been hovering over her perambulator. "I cried and cried," she recalls, "not because I was afraid, but because I felt bad that such a pretty thing was destroyed." About this time, her mother gave her a toy chimpanzee, named Jubilee, which became a favorite and which she keeps to this day.
In 1939, the Goodalls moved with Jane and her 1-year-old sister, Judy, to a large brick house in Bournemouth, just a few blocks from the English Channel. Jane's childhood was filled with weekend horseback rides and long sessions observing insects and animals. "Although I always did well in my studies, I never liked school," she says. "I just wanted to be outdoors, watching and learning. Once I disappeared for five hours to sit in a hen house to see how a chicken lays an egg. My mother was very worried, but when I came home—all bedraggled and my hair tangled with bits of straw—she never rebuked me. On the contrary, she recognized my patience with animals and encouraged me to study them."
At 7, Goodall was captivated by Hugh Lofting's The Story of Dr. Dolittle, a book about an Englishman in Africa who talks with animals, including gorillas, monkeys and chimpanzees. "I think that's when I first decided that someday I had to go to Africa," she says.
Her parents divorced when Jane was 8, and she stayed on in Bournemouth with her mother and sister until she moved to London to attend secretarial school. "Mum said secretaries could get jobs anywhere in the world," she says, "and I still felt my destiny lay in Africa." When a friend invited her to visit her farm in Kenya, Goodall moved back home, worked as a waitress to pay for the trip, and in 1957, at 23, boarded a passenger liner bound for Mombasa.
After visiting her friend, Goodall found a "dreary office job" in Nairobi, then was hired as an assistant to Dr. Louis Leakey, the famed curator of Kenya's natural history museum. "He must have sensed that my interest in animals was not just a passing phase, because he accepted me on the spot," she says. Soon she was digging alongside Leakey and his wife, Mary, on the Serengeti plains, looking for prehistoric human remains. "It was fascinating work," Goodall remembers, "but I still wanted to study living creatures. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could—to be like Doctor Dolittle."
After a few months, Dr. Leakey asked her if she would like to study a group of chimpanzees in the Gombe stream on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. "I could hardly believe it," she says. "It didn't matter that I had no degree and little experience. He wanted to send someone whose mind was uncluttered by theories and who had endless patience. No one had studied chimps in the wild for more than a few months. He wanted me to watch them for years. Of course I accepted."
But first Goodall had to return to England to learn as much as she could about chimpanzees—mostly in zoos and labs—while Leakey raised funds for the project. Finally, in 1960, with their supplies and Tanzanian government permits in order, Goodall, accompanied by her equally adventurous mother, left Kenya for Tanzania in a rickety Land Rover. "I'll never forget when Mum and I arrived at last in our little boat on the Gombe shore," Goodall says. "It was a dry, beautiful day. The hills were lush with green, and after we set up our tents with the help of two African game scouts, I slipped away and climbed up into the hills. I met a troop of barking baboons and knew then that my dream had come true."
Months passed before Goodall made any useful sightings of chimpanzees. Then she discovered the "Peak," a vantage point high above the valleys where she could view them with binoculars. They soon got used to "this peculiar, white-skinned ape," she says, "and became less fearful of me until I could get close without them running off. I even gave them names, which is something scientists in those days didn't do. But I've always felt you don't have to be completely detached, emotionally uninvolved, to make precise observations. There's nothing wrong with feeling great empathy for your subjects." Nor, by all accounts, was Goodall maniacal about her research, despite her extreme commitment. "She struck me as being very serious; her work was above everything," says Professor Latham. "But she's always been a very humane and open person."
Goodall's first momentous encounter with a chimp occurred about a year after her arrival at Gombe, when a male she called David Graybeard approached her, apparently without fear. Then Flo, a mother, came close and allowed her infant to touch Goodall. Soon the young Englishwoman was trekking with the chimps over the entire 30-square-mile protected range, observing the habits she would later describe in various popular and scientific books, including her best-seller In the Shadow of Man, first published in 1971. In these and several National Geographic articles, she was the first to describe how chimps make tools of long twigs to dig termites out of their mounds and how groups make war on each other. She also chronicled scenes of cannibalism among the chimps and leadership struggles among the top males. "Goodall's approach was very humble and extremely receptive," says Dr. Roger Fouts, a psychologist who studies sign language in chimps. "She let the chimpanzees tell her about themselves. Her life is a progression of discovery after discovery."
In 1961, an aristocratic Dutch nature photographer arrived to shoot Goodall and her chimps, BARON VAN LAWICK emblazoned on the side of his Land Rover. One year later, Goodall married Hugo van Lawick, with whom she had her only child, Hugo, nicknamed "Grub." Goodall took six years off from field trips after Grub was born to spend time with her child. Nevertheless, he developed a teasing, antagonistic rivalry with the chimps and often had to be kept in a big wire cage for his own protection. "If you raise your eyebrows and stare at them, it's like a threat," Grub once explained. "Of course, if you're safe in a cage it's quite fun—they will come and bang on it. But they remember you, and when they see you outside, they will come for you." Grub had to be rescued several times before being shipped off to an English boarding school at age 9. Though today he works with his father filming Serengeti wildlife, he still avoids apes.
Goodall and Van Lawick divorced in 1974. The differences in their backgrounds were exacerbated, says a friend, by "working together 24 hours a day and sharing the same tent year after year, with no communication with other people." Soon afterward, she wed Derek Bryceson, the only white cabinet member in Tanzania's government, who was in charge of the national parks. The next year, the Gombe project—now staffed by volunteers—was attacked by Zairian rebels who kidnapped four white students and held them for ransom. Good-all and her crew fled to Derek's home in Dares Salaam. The ransom was paid, the students were released, and Goodall returned to Gombe. Then, in 1980, Derek was stricken with cancer and died three months later. Though grieving, Goodall set to work with renewed determination to help save the world's dwindling population of chimps—175,000 at present—caused by poachers, hunters and the destruction of forest habitats. In 1977, to help make the world aware of what is at stake, she founded the Tucson-based Jane Goodall Institute, for which she lectures one month a year in the U.S. and raises funds throughout the world. Lately, Goodall has spent only two months a year in Gombe.
Late in the evening, after 2,000 Princeton students and faculty members stand and applaud her, Jane Goodall raises a hand and imparts one last story. "It's about a man who used to feed a male and three female chimpanzees on an island preserve in Florida," she says. "He was told they were dangerous and to leave the food on the beach. But the man ignored the advice and soon befriended the male. However, one day when the man was alone with the females and one infant, he accidentally fell against the baby, and they attacked him. Suddenly the male came rushing up, hair bristling, and hurled the females away. Now, if a chimp can save a man's life, shouldn't we try to save them? Shouldn't we try to help these creatures who can't speak for themselves and who are so much like us?"
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