We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post to bring you an update of a woman we should all get to know.
Last night I had the honor of attending a talk by Dr. Jane Goodall, the primatologist who, at the age of 26 in 1960, discovered that chimpanzees create and use tools to harvest termites from mounds. This discovery blurred what previous scientists defined as a clear distinction between man and ape: that men were the only animals capable of using tools.
She discovered this on month five of a six-month grant that was her only hope to secure a more long-term assignment. Her mother accompanied her for her first four months because the government wouldn’t let a single woman work alone in the forest. These two women lived in a leaky tent as Dr. Goodall did her work. Her mother spent many hours alone while Jane tracked the elusive chimpanzees who distrusted the “white ape.”
She told us the story of the chimp she called David Graybeard. He was the first chimp to accept her as an observant and helped the other animals stop fleeing. And David Graybeard was the chimp that she observed breaking off first a long blade of grass then a switch to harvest termites.
In a soft, cultured voice, Dr. Goodall, now 74, described being a young woman with a high school diploma who entered Cambridge University to earn her Ph.D. in the late 1960s. Fellow scientists kept telling her she had done everything wrong with her research — that she shouldn’t have anthropomorphized the chimps, that she wasn’t objective in her scientific observations. But she used her childhood dog Rusty as proof that animals have personalities and feelings, and she eventually proved the critics wrong.
How inspiring this woman is! How strong! She now travels 300 days a year to speak around the globe about the need for conservation and peace to preserve the Earth and all its inhabitants. I was humbled to be in her presence, and I cried when she stopped at the podium and waited quietly while we welcomed her with a standing ovation. I waited in line for an hour (with hundreds of people behind me) as she signed each book and paused for a picture with each fan.
Thank you, Erin, for inviting me to share in this experience. And thank you, Dr. Goodall, for being such a leader.
Visit the Jane Goodall Institute.
Discover her Roots and Shoots program for children.
Something we can all do: Buy Green Mountain Coffee’s Tanzanian Gombe Reserve.