Jane Goodall's animal planet
In a surprising interview, the famous primatologist talks about her mystical experiences in the jungle and her ever-increasing passion for animal rights and cleaning up the "horrendous mess" of our environment.
BY STEVE PAULSON
Jane Goodall has an iconic status like no other living scientist.For decades, she's lived in the public eye, as we've watched her evolve from curious ingenue to celebrated sage. By now, she's so widely admired that it's easy to forget how she once rattled the cages of the scientific establishment.
At a time when wildlife biologists were taught that animals didn't have minds or personalities, Goodall wrote vivid accounts of David Greybeard, Flo and the otherchimpanzees she studied in Tanzania's Gombe Stream. She was the first scientist to observe that chimps not only use tools but make tools. And she was the first to discover that chimpanzees hunt other animals. In three decades of field study, Goodall revolutionized the study of primates and forced people to re-think what it means to be human. As Stephen Jay Gould said, "Jane Goodall's work withchimpanzees represents one of the Western world's greatest scientific achievements."
Goodall's appeal, though, has always stretched beyond her scientific accomplishments. Partly it stems from those old National Geographic shows of the lone white woman out in the bush with these wild apes. The cultural critic Donna Haraway once wrote, "There could be no better story than that of Jane Goodall andthe chimpanzees for narrating the healing touch between nature and society," though Haraway went on to say that our fascination with Goodall also played on Western stereotypes about Africa: "It is impossible to picture the entwined hands of a white woman and an African ape without evoking the history of racist iconography."
Goodall has remained a fascinating figure partly because she's kept onefoot outside of mainstream science. She's an outspoken advocate of animal rights and also the rare scientist who talks openly about mystical experiences -- from her transformative encounters in the wild to a ghostly vision she once had of her dead husband. Now 75, Goodall is a larger-than-life figure who looms over the field of primatology. Today she spends less time with her beloved Gombe chimpsthan traveling the world as a U.N. messenger of peace, campaigning for environmental causes and promoting her Roots and Shoots program for young nature lovers.
I caught up with Goodall after she received the Leakey Prize, awarded to "scientists who transcend the boundaries of their disciplines." The prize was fitting since it was famed paleontologist Louis Leakey who first asked Goodall toconduct a field study of chimpanzees. Leakey's choice was remarkable, as Goodall had not been to college and had no scientific training. As she explains, Leakey picked her "because he wanted to send somebody into the field with an unbiased mind."
As I've read the accounts of your early field work at Gombe, I'm struck by how much time you were out in the field, alone with the chimpanzees.
It wasabsolutely amazing. It wasn't only a beautiful place, surrounded by this timeless world, but also, everything I saw with the chimpanzees was new. I mean, how lucky can you get?
Didn't they just run away from you when you first approached them?
Oh yeah. They'd never seen a white ape before and they were horrified. They vanished into the bushes. Fortunately, one of them -- I named him DavidGreybeard -- lost his fear before the others and came to my camp, where he found some bananas. And it was because of him that the others gradually began to lose their fear. So it was as though he helped me open a door into a magic world.
Some of your early discoveries -- that chimps can use tools -- involved David Greybeard. Can you describe the first day you saw this?
It had been raining....