Liv­ing with chimps

In 1960, Jane Goodall trav­elled to Africa with the aim of in­te­grat­ing her­self into a com­mu­nity of wild chimps. Now nearly 60 years on, her ob­ser­va­tions have trans­formed the way we see our pri­mate cousins. She met up with Sarah Begum to look back over her

Focus-Science and Technology - - CONTENTS - Sarah Begum is a jour­nal­ist and film­maker.

Iconic con­ser­va­tion­ist Jane chimps4 Goodall chats to us about , women in science, and why we should look up from our phones.

How did your jour­ney be­gin?

I was born lov­ing an­i­mals. I had a sup­port­ive mother – she found books for me to read about an­i­mals, think­ing that I’d learn to read more quickly. I read Tarzan when I was 10, and that’s when my dream be­gan: to go to Africa, live with wild an­i­mals and write books about them. I never thought about be­ing a sci­en­tist, be­cause there weren’t women sci­en­tists do­ing those things in those days. It was wartime, we had lit­tle money and my fa­ther was off fight­ing, so Africa was a long way away.

I hadn’t been to col­lege – I couldn’t af­ford it. We had just enough money for a sec­re­tar­ial course, so I got a job in Lon­don as a sec­re­tary. When I was 23, I was in­vited to visit a school­friend in Kenya, so I gave that job up, moved back home and worked as a wait­ress in Bournemouth to save money for the sea voy­age. It was in Kenya that I met the palaeoan­thro­pol­o­gist Dr Louis Leakey. Some­body sug­gested I see him if I was in­ter­ested in an­i­mals. Guess what? He needed a sec­re­tary. So that bor­ing old course led me to a job with him. He was in­ter­ested in know­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween early hu­mans and chimps, and he even­tu­ally de­cided that I was the per­son he’d been look­ing for, for 10 years, to go to Tan­za­nia to study chimps.

What do you think has been your great­est discovery re­lat­ing to chim­panzees?

It’s hard to say. I mean, the discovery that led to press cov­er­age in Na­tional Ge­o­graphic mag­a­zine was chim­panzees us­ing and mak­ing tools, at the Gombe Na­tional Park in Tan­za­nia. The chimps used grass stems to fish for ter­mites, and leafy twigs where they re­moved the leaves to turn it into a tool. This was in 1960, and at that time, it was thought that only hu­mans used and made tools.

What’s your favourite mem­ory of your time spent with chim­panzees?

One re­ally spe­cial mem­ory was the first chimp to lose his fear – David Grey­beard. He showed me tool use and fi­nally al­lowed me to fol­low him in the Gombe for­est. I was crawl­ing af­ter him through thick bushes and bram­bles, and there he was look­ing back as though he was wait­ing for me. There was a ripe, red palm nut on the ground. I held him and held the nut out on my hand. He reached, took the nut, dropped it be­cause he didn’t want it, but he gen­tly squeezed my hand, which is how chimps re­as­sure each other. In that mo­ment, I knew that he

knew my ges­ture was good. That was com­mu­ni­ca­tion at a pre-hu­man level.

What was your most chal­leng­ing mo­ment?

It was get­ting the chimps not to run away. When I started my re­search, I wasn’t al­lowed to be alone in the field – the British gov­ern­ment wouldn’t al­low it – so I ar­rived on the shore of the Gombe with my mum and a cook. But the chimps kept run­ning away: they’d never seen a white ape be­fore! I’d get back from my ob­ser­va­tions de­pressed, and Mum would al­ways point out what I was dis­cov­er­ing: how they move around alone or in lit­tle groups, some­times all joined to­gether if they see a new, ripe fruit; how they make beds at night in the trees by bend­ing over the branches; how they make tools. She boosted my morale. To get the chimps used to me, I wore the same coloured clothes ev­ery day. I didn’t try to get too close too quickly. And I was pa­tient. It took over a year for them to ac­cept me.

You be­came close to the chim­panzees you stud­ied. Is this some­thing you felt was nec­es­sary to un­der­stand the an­i­mals?

I think you couldn’t pos­si­bly un­der­stand them if you didn’t know them, didn’t know their per­son­al­i­ties. And with them not mind­ing me be­ing there, watch­ing them, that was the key. Yes, it was nec­es­sary. David Grey­beard helped me in a way. Usu­ally, when I ar­rived, the other chimps would be ready to run. But if David was there, they’d just look from him to me and I sup­pose they thought, “well, she’s not too fright­en­ing af­ter all”.

Is there any­thing that, with hind­sight, you would have done dif­fer­ently?

I made mis­takes, but I learned from them. To­day, we wouldn’t feed the chimps ba­nanas – we try not to in­ter­act with them di­rectly be­cause dis­eases can trans­fer. Back then, no­body had done this be­fore. I think I was rather like an an­thro­pol­o­gist, meet­ing an un­con­tacted tribe, giv­ing them gifts. The ba­nanas got the chimps close, and if the chimps hadn’t come close, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic wouldn’t have sent a pho­tog­ra­pher, the be­hav­iour wouldn’t have been filmed, and the study would have ended. It would be a mis­take to­day, but I don’t be­lieve it was a mis­take then.

Do you think your time with chim­panzees has shaped how you view hu­mans, too?

In air­ports, I’m watch­ing the dif­fer­ent ways mothers cope with frac­tious chil­dren, the way young men and women behave when they’re about to sep­a­rate or when they re­unite. I watch peo­ple be­com­ing an­gry and shout­ing be­cause their plane is de­layed, even though the peo­ple they are shout­ing at can’t help it. I’m just watch­ing how peo­ple behave in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions as though they’re chimps.

Do you think that we’re still evolv­ing ?

I don’t think we’re evolv­ing. I think tech­nol­ogy is evolv­ing and chang­ing peo­ple. It’s not the kind of evo­lu­tion that has brought us to be what we’ve be­come. Lit­tle kids of three are given video games; chil­dren on a bus text each other, rather than speak. They’re not in­ter­act­ing with na­ture at all. This is a tragedy be­cause there’s proof that chil­dren need con­tact with na­ture for good psy­cho­log­i­cal devel­op­ment.

What if this con­tin­ues?

I don’t know, I don’t want to think. My Roots & Shoots pro­gramme is try­ing to get chil­dren back out into na­ture, or bring­ing na­ture into the class­rooms, en­cour­ag­ing cu­rios­ity and hands-on ex­plo­ration rather than do­ing every­thing vir­tu­ally. Wher­ever I go, I see lit­tle bits of na­ture, lit­tle bits of an­i­mal be­hav­iour. And no­body else is watch­ing be­cause they spend nearly all their day on some kind of tech­nol­ogy – they’re miss­ing out on an aw­ful lot of en­joy­ment and fun.

As a wo­man in science, did you en­counter any bar­ri­ers?

I did, but I don’t think it had any­thing to do with be­ing a wo­man. I went to Cam­bridge to do my PhD in 1961, but

I had no un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree, so my pro­fes­sors were a bit ner­vous. They told me I had done every­thing wrong in my field re­search: I shouldn’t have given the chimps names, they should have had num­bers. I couldn’t talk about their per­son­al­i­ties, their minds or their emo­tions be­cause those things were unique to us. In my first sci­en­tific pa­per, ev­ery time I put ‘he’ or ‘she’, the ed­i­tor crossed it out and put ‘its’ and ‘which’. I was fu­ri­ous, so I put them back in. You can’t deny that chimps have sex­ual dif­fer­ences. I had a won­der­ful su­per­vi­sor, Robert Hinde, who was very crit­i­cal, but then he came to Gombe and he could no longer dis­pute what I said.

“Many young peo­ple have told me that they have lost hope be­cause we’ve com­pro­mised their fu­ture and there’s noth­ing they can do about it”

Do you think young fe­male re­searchers to­day face bar­ri­ers?

Women can do many things now that were frowned upon back then. When I was 16, 17, 18, my friends at school were plan­ning to be­come a sec­re­tary, air host­ess, nurse or mis­sion­ary’s wife. I was lucky be­cause Louis Leakey felt that women were bet­ter in the field. He be­lieved we were more ob­ser­vant – that, evo­lu­tion­ar­ily speak­ing, women need to be good mothers, and to be a good mother, you need to be pa­tient. He was right, but he also wanted some­body who hadn’t been to univer­sity, some­one whose mind was free from the re­stric­tive train­ing at the time. That was why he chose me. To­day, there are hun­dreds of doors open to women. It may be more of a strug­gle for them to go through than for a man, but doors are open.

What would be your ad­vice to women who want to fol­low in your foot­steps?

Work hard, take ad­van­tage of op­por­tu­nity, and never give up. You’ve got to re­ally want to do this be­cause there’s a lot of com­pe­ti­tion and it’s hard to get money for re­search, so you’d bet­ter re­ally be pas­sion­ate about it.

Hav­ing trav­elled the world for so many years, what changes have you seen?

Hu­mans are de­stroy­ing the planet very, very fast. We’re cut­ting down the rain­forests, cov­er­ing huge ar­eas of land with devel­op­ment and con­crete. We’re pen­ning an­i­mals into fac­tory farms with un­speak­able cru­elty, de­stroy­ing en­vi­ron­ments to grow grains to feed those an­i­mals. We’re us­ing masses of fos­sil fu­els to trans­port the grains to the an­i­mals, who get slaugh­tered into meat at the ta­ble. It’s adding to the CO re­leased into the at­mo­sphere by our fos­sil fu­els. The sea is in­creas­ingly pol­luted. The ice is melt­ing and the sea lev­els are ris­ing. We’re us­ing up na­ture’s re­sources as though they’re un­lim­ited, and they’re not. Many young peo­ple have told me that they have lost hope be­cause we’ve com­pro­mised their fu­ture and there’s noth­ing they can do about it. We have com­pro­mised their fu­ture, but I think there’s a win­dow of time to try and heal some of those scars.

Do you feel hope­ful for the fu­ture?

I think the hu­man brain has the power to come up with tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions to these prob­lems. Na­ture is also re­silient: I think that places that we’ve de­stroyed can once again be re­stored, and an­i­mals on the brink of ex­tinc­tion can be given an­other chance. An­other hope is so­cial me­dia, which is ef­fec­tive in unit­ing peo­ple from all around the world to protest about plas­tic pol­lu­tion and sim­i­lar is­sues. I think there’s an in­domitable hu­man spirit, which taps into what seems im­pos­si­ble and in­spires us not to give up.

Where should we fo­cus our ef­forts?

Ev­ery­one should re­alise that ev­ery sin­gle day we live, we make some im­pact. If it was just you pick­ing up plas­tic, just you turn­ing off the lights, just you walk­ing in­stead of driv­ing, then it wouldn’t make much of a dif­fer­ence. But if it’s mil­lions and then billions of peo­ple mak­ing eth­i­cal choices – what they buy, what they wear, what they eat, how they behave, how they treat an­i­mals – then the world would start mov­ing to­wards a bet­ter way. We should think of the con­se­quences of the lit­tle choices we make each day, and how that will af­fect fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

In 1965, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic pro­duced its first film, Miss Goodall And TheWild Chim­panzees, which fol­lowed Jane and her re­search

Tak­ing field notes on chim­panzees in 1987

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