A Valentine for Jane Goodall
Fifty-eight years ago, Jane Goodall traveled to Gombe National Park’s chimp reserve in Tanzania and within a year made discoveries that were shocking not only because they revealed chimpanzees’ complex emotional lives, but also altered our idea of what it means to be human.
Jane told us about her discoveries through her simple yet poetic language and a photographer’s lens in National Geographic magazine.
Since then we’ve never stopped watching and listening. I think it’s safe to say the world fell in love with Jane Goodall in 1963 and hasn’t fallen out of love since. So, on Valentine’s Day, I ask, “How Do We Love You, Jane Goodall? “
Let me count the ways…
- As a young girl, Jane yearned to live amongst animals. But, not until she was twenty-six years old did that dream come to pass.
- She waited 1½ years for grant money to come through that would allow her to study chimps. When it finally did, it took five days to travel over 840 miles of rough, earthen roads to reach Kigoma, Tanzania, then another sixteen miles by boat to Gombe’s chimp reserve.
- “During the first two months of my field studies, I often despaired.” It was many, many months before the chimps would let her get close enough to observe their behaviors, but she never dreamt of quitting. She walked dawn until dusk searching them out until they finally accepted her presence.
- Things looked bleak for chimpanzees, and even with the world’s good wishes, Jane couldn’t stop the disappearance of chimps and their natural habitat, and she couldn’t stop the cruel experiments they were subjected to in captivity. About the chimps used in medical experiments, Ms. Goodall said, “I often think about what they’ve lived through. Some of them, the older ones, must remember a bit about the forest, though.”
- She began traveling most of each year speaking about the plight of chimpanzees and all animals. After decades, Jane began to win. According to “Impacts” on JaneGoodall.org, 3.4-million acres of habitat are now covered under Conservation Action Plans, and 290 chimpanzees and gorillas are receiving care in a sanctuary managed or supported by the Jane Goodall Institute. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final rule to classify all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Until this change, only wild chimpanzees were listed as endangered while captive chimpanzees were listed as threatened. This classification meant most chimpanzees would no longer be subjected to experimentation. What a monumental achievement. I certainly never thought this would happen during my lifetime.
- In Jane’s 1963 National Geographic article, “My Life Among the Wild chimpanzees” – her first article – Jane learned on her way to set up camp that chimps can be dangerous. “He [Gombe’s game ranger, David Anstey] told me of an African who decided to climb an oil palm tree to cut down some nuts for cooking oil. A chimpanzee was high in the tree, feeding on the nuts, but the African failed to notice the animal until he had climbed well up the trunk. The ape, intent on feeding, only then saw the African, started rapidly down, and as he passed the man, hit out at him, slashing away half his cheek and one eye as he did so.” This gruesome danger didn’t deter Jane from trying to get close to the chimps.
- Jane was once treed by two buffalo, and a leopard walked past her in tall grass.
- Jane dreamt a dream as a little girl and never stopped wanting to live that dream.
- She put her foot into every slightly-cracked-open door to get on the path to living her dream. Jane’s family didn’t have money to send her to college, so she worked as a waitress and went to secretarial school, saved for a trip to Nairobi, and got herself a position as Louis Leakey’s secretary. That led to his giving Jane the experimental position of chimp researcher, leading in turn to her scientific breakthroughs and efforts to save chimpanzees from extinction.
- Jane was a woman in a male-dominated field, but she pulled her hair into a ponytail, went to work, and made enormous strides in that field. She seemed to embody the George Lucas quote, “You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead.”
- Jane is her work. Jane didn’t look like she belonged in a jungle at first glance, but she exceeded all expectations. The English had done so much damage to the people and animals of that part of the world, but Jane came in peace. And then, Jane came in healing, championing chimpanzees in the wild and in captivity.
She Has Serenity.
- Here is an account of her brush with the holy. In Jane Goodall’s book, Reason For Hope, she talks about a moment of ecstasy within Notre Dame cathedral. “Many years ago, in the spring of 1974, I visited the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. There were not many people around, and it was quiet and still inside. I gazed in silent awe at the great Rose Window, glowing in the morning sun. All at once the cathedral was filled with a huge volume of sound: an organ playing magnificently for a wedding taking place in a distant corner. Bach’s Tocata and Fugue in D Minor. I had always loved the opening theme; but in the cathedral, filling the entire vastness, it seemed to enter and possess my whole self. It was as though the music itself was alive. That moment, a suddenly captured moment of eternity, was perhaps the closest I have ever come to experiencing ecstasy, the ecstasy of the mystic.”
- And then, again, in the forest, as she recounts in another part of Reason For Hope: “Lost in the awe at the beauty around me, I must have slipped into a state of heightened awareness. It is hard – impossible, really – to put into words the moment of truth that suddenly came upon me then. Even the mystics are unable to describe their brief flashes of spiritual ecstasy. It seemed to me, as I struggled afterward to recall the experience, that self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself. The air was filled with a feathered symphony, the evensong of birds. I heard new frequencies in their music and also in the singing insects’ voices – notes so high and sweet I was amazed. Never had I been so intensely aware of the shape, the color of the individual leaves, the varied patterns of the veins that made each one unique. Scents were clear as well, easily identifiable: fermenting, overripe fruit; waterlogged earth; cold, wet bark; the damp odor of chimpanzee hair, and yes, my own too. And the aromatic scent of young, crushed leaves was almost overpowering.”
- Jane found her Truth early and so there was no reason to bob about, looking for herself or her place in the world. Most people, if you look at photos of them throughout their lives, have different looks in style of clothing, makeup, hair, and even facial expressions – one decade soft and loving, another decade a little edgy and sophisticated. Not Jane. She always looked serene and thoughtful – maybe her thoughts were always in her beloved jungle with her chimp family no matter where she was in the world.
- Jane is always Jane. You can count on her to always be the same. She never changed her ponytail or her principles. She was Jane all her life and we watched her slowly become more Jane as she aged.
- Jane was the woman in the jungle managing to always look like she’d just had her Saturday night bath.
- How is it that Jane is not less beautiful now she’s in her eighties?
Jane Goodall was beautiful and is beautiful because love redefines beauty. There is so much to love about Jane Goodall.
For me personally, her discoveries created an explosion in my childhood brain that never ceased to fire whenever I think about those ground-breaking revelations: chimps using twigs to extract termites from mounds; chimps using clubs during warfare (chimps engaging in war!) Chimps murdering baby chimps; chimps dying from grief.
Dr. Goodall is in her eighties now and after watching her in a recently filmed documentary, I became worried for the first time that she might not be with us much longer.
What will we do without Jane to lead us in compassion? Without knowing Jane is somewhere in the world speaking for the voiceless?
“And always I have this feeling – which may not be true at all – that I am being used as a messenger,” said Jane.
Dear readers, I hope you are among the many who are listening to her message. Let’s join in wishing her a Happy Valentine’s Day, on behalf of the many humans and other animals, young and old, around the world, for whom Jane’s message of generous and lifelong compassion has and will always reverberate in the hearts of those of us striving to follow in her footsteps.
This post is by Cathleen Burnham, documentary photographer and author of Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon, Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica. and Tony and His Elephants: Best Friends Forever!, the first three installments in a six-book series profiling real kids around the world involved in wildlife rescue projects. Cathleen is the founder of the WAKA effort (World Association of Kids and Animals), a writer and globe-trotting photographer of wild animals and cultural communities working to help protect local populations of animals and their habitats.