Goodall speaks at Schweitzer conference

By on November 2, 2005

The Albert Schweitzer Institute hosted the “Reverence for Life Revisited: Albert Schweitzer’s Relevance Today,” conference with internationally respected primatologist and keynote speaker Dr. Jane Goodall, who welcomed a whistling and roaring crowd with a bellowing chimpanzee greeting.

“I travel the world 300 days a year trying to raise awareness,” Goodall said. She stood poised at the podium between two white doves that hung from the rafters. Their wingspan seemed to engulf the audience.

“How did a little girl growing up in England before World War II get involved with studying Chimpanzees,” Goodall said. She described how she became involved with primatology.

“I owe just about everything I’ve done right with my life and nothing I’ve done wrong in my life to my mother,” Goodall said.

Her mother supported her passion and curiosity for all living things. She introduced Goodall to the book “Tarzan” by Edgar Rice Burroughs when she was 11 years old.

“Of course I was jealous when he married that wimpy other Jane,” Goodall said. At 11 years old decided she would move to Africa and study the native animals of the undiscovered dark continent.

Goodall’s mother told her to work hard, take advantage of opportunities, and never give up. “Don’t let anyone laugh you out of a dream,” Goodall said. She vividly remembers the skeptics who told her to pick a more achievable dream.

In the summer of 1960, a 26-year old Goodall arrived on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa to study the local chimpanzee population. There was no precedent for a girl from England with no university schooling to study animals in Africa.

“A girl, on her own, in the forest, with potentially dangerous animals,” Goodall said with a gasp as she described the skepticism of the adventure she says started in 1960 and has never stopped. Her mother came for four of the six months she spent in Africa studying the chimpanzees.

Initially the chimpanzees fled at the first sight of Goodall. “Chimpanzees are very conservative,” Goodall said. “They had never seen a white ape before.”

She watched from a distance with binoculars, and gradually the chimps allowed her closer.

She observed chimps David Greybeard and Goliath strip leaves off twigs and use them as tools to fish termites from their nest. Scientists had thought humans were the only species capable of making and using tools, Goodall presented evidence to the contrary. Goodall’s mentor, Louis Leaky, responded to her observations by saying, “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”

The chimpanzees seemed to possess personalities, minds and feeling. Goodall described Old Flow as the assertive female, Golith, as the tempestuous male, Mike and his desire to improve social status, and her favorite David Greybeard, who was the first to reach out and squeeze Goodall’s fingers.

That “magic moment [David Greybeard squeezed her fingers] helped to bridge the two worlds, humans and chimps,” said Goodall who wanted to stand up in proper circles and talk about what she saw in Africa.

In 1965, Goodall earned her Ph.D in ethology from Cambridge University. At Cambridge she was told she had done everything wrong in her observations. Only humans, her professors said, were capable of having personalities, minds, and feelings. Goodall insisted in her observations that animals have distinct personalities, minds, and emotions; at an early age her dog Rusty had taught her so.

“We are not separated by a sharp line between humans and animals. If we admit we are not the only ones with personalities, minds, and feeling it helps us toward the reverence for life on earth,” Goodall said. She defines Albert Schweitzer’s message for reverence for life on earth as, “Respect for all living things.”

Goodall believes chimpanzees are the ambassadors of the animal kingdom: “Chimpanzees taught us humility, a lot about ourselves and where we came from.

She has established the Jane Goodall Institute to promote the creation of healthy ecosystems, promotion of sustainable livelihoods, and nurturing new generations of committed, active citizens around the world. Goodall also established “Roots and Shoots,” a program designed to inspire youth of all ages to make a difference by becoming involved in their communities, implementing service and learning projects that promote care and concern for animals, environment, and the human community.

“We all have to jump into the act, roll up our sleeves, and do our bits,” said Goodall.

At the conclusion of the first conference on the life and legacy of Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer, four Quinnipiac University students accompanied Goodall on stage to fly a giant peace dove.

The conference aimed to develop a holistic view of how global, cultural and economic issues are interlinked with the growing concern for environmental, ethics, and the reverence for the life that Dr. Schweitzer espoused.

“That applause proves you all agree,” Goodall said . “We can change the world. We shall change the world.”


About Tanya Lagatella