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If you like Jane Goodall's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Lee Berger,
Susan Butcher,
Sylvia Earle,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Stephen Jay Gould,
Edmund Hillary,
Donald Johanson,
Meave Leakey,
Richard Leakey,
Ernst Mayr,
Greg Mortenson,
Sally Ride,
Richard Schultes,
Tim White and
Edward O. Wilson

Jane Goodall can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Jane Goodall's recommended reading:
The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

Related Links:
Jane Goodall Institute
Roots and Shoots

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Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall
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Jane Goodall Interview (page: 2 / 9)

The Great Conservationist

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  Jane Goodall

Who was living in the Gombe Stream Reserve when you and your mother arrived?

Jane Goodall: When Mum and I set foot on the sandy beach of Gombe for that very first time, we were greeted by the headman. There wasn't a village there. It was a couple of game scouts with their wives and kids. And then there was the headman, and he was called Idi Matata, and he had his wives, and that was it. That was that little handful of people on the beach. And Idi Matata, we found out later, was the most infamous witch doctor the area has ever known. He was supposed to have two crocodiles who were his familiars. Fortunately, he befriended me and my mother, and that made all the difference to all our relationships all around.

I remember being summoned in the middle of the night. Mum and I were summoned and somebody came over with a torch. We were taken over the stream to this little encampment on the beach. And one of his wives' daughters had had her first baby, but it was going wrong and Mum, very wisely, didn't touch the child 'cause she thought, "You know, if something goes wrong we'll be blamed." So she just kind of gave reassurance. And for some reason this girl was not... I don't know. Maybe she was having a child out of wedlock, I don't know. But anyway, the senior wives were not paying any attention. That's what Mum did. She got them to come and they delivered the baby. So we could do no wrong after that. And I never forget Idi Matata, when the baby's born, getting these really rusty scissors, holding the baby up and cutting the umbilical cord. That was about the second week we were there. What an introduction!

Was your mother really prepared for this kind of roughing it?

Jane Goodall: My mother had a pretty bad time. She never had a strong stomach. She didn't feel well a lot of the time. She doesn't like the heat, and it got hot. Fortunately, she left before the rainy season came, and that was when the tent leaked and everything was moldy and wet. So she was only there for four months. We arrived in July. The short rains had started, but she missed the long rain.

What was the toughest part of your study initially?

Jane Goodall: The toughest part of my study initially was getting the confidence of the chimps. So it started off, they were afraid. Then, when they began to lose their fear they became belligerent. They treated me a bit as though I was a predator, and that is very scary. I mean they're about eight times stronger than I am. And when the big males were bristling their hair -- and often it was in the rain, so they looked very black, because they feel kind of more belligerent in the rain, I guess -- and shaking branches, and even sort of the ends of the branches were hitting my head. And knowing they could actually tear me to bits if they'd wanted to. And then the belligerence went away. And it was David Greybeard who really helped me get into their world, because he lost his fear. He wasn't belligerent. He visited my camp one day to eat palm nuts. Saw some bananas lying around, took them, and then came back for more. So I would wait down in the camp instead of getting up at half past five every day. And one day David took a banana from my hand. That was just after my mother had left.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

How long had you seen David Greybeard hanging around before you had this first physical contact?

Jane Goodall: It was about three weeks, four weeks after I first got to know David Greybeard in the camp. We were still putting out bananas -- "we" being me and the cook, Dominique. When my mother left, she insisted Louis Leakey give me a way of communicating with the outside world. So his trusted boatmen from Lake Victoria came to join our little camp.

So I was in camp, and on this particular day I remember, can never forget, holding out a banana in my hand to David, and he came up and he was nervous. He hesitated, then he took the banana. And it was just like, you know, I imagine how the early explorers felt when they were holding out beads and things to the natives, and they were accepted for the first time. So after that, if I met a group of chimps out in the forest and they were ready to run as usual, if David was there then they would sit. "Well, she can't be so scary after all." That was the point at which some of them became belligerent. Those were the ones who were more fearful. Because you get over your fear by being aggressive.

How did you plan on defending yourself, not just from the elements, but from the chimps, crocodiles? Was it just naïveté that you weren't afraid initially?

Jane Goodall: Louis Leakey always told me that if you obeyed certain rules that animals wouldn't hurt you, and I had total trust. Admittedly, when the chimpanzees were threatening me it was scary. But fortunately, I was never scared until afterwards. So at the time I was quite calm, and I would think, "Well okay, they are being angry at me so I've got to convince them that I'm harmless." So I would be very busy digging holes in the ground, not looking at them, or I would pick leaves and pretend to eat them, and that seemed to do the trick. And then they'd give up and move away.

During your first visit to the Gombe Stream you observed some startling chimpanzee behavior. Could you tell us about your first sighting of the chimps using tools and eating meat?

Jane Goodall: I think it was really sad that my mother had just left when I made the breakthrough observation, because although I was in my dream world, and although it was bliss being at Gombe, I knew if I didn't see something really exciting before that first money ran out, that would be the end. That would've let Louis down. It would be the end of the study.

So on this one day, which I can never forget, walking back through the long grass. It had been raining. It was wet. It was cold and I suddenly saw this dark shape hunched over the golden soil of a termite mound and a black hand reaching out and pushing a straw piece of grass down into the termite mound and withdrawing it. That first time I couldn't see properly. The chimp had his back to me. When he walked away I saw it was David Greybeard, which is probably why he hadn't run away. And I went over to the heap and there were grasses lying around and termites kind of on the surface. So I picked grass and pushed it down a hole like he had, pulled it out, and lo and behold, termites gripping on it. I thought, "That's tool using." But, it was so surprising 'cause somebody had said to me, "If you see tool using, the whole study is worthwhile." And the next day it was the rainy season beginning, you see, so the termites were flying. This is when they eat them, mostly. So the next day I actually saw David Greybeard again. I had a much better view. He was with Goliath. And I could see not only the whole of the use of the straw as a tool, but breaking off a leafy twig, stripping off the leaves, which is the beginning of tool making. And that was the thing. We were defined as "Man the Toolmaker." That made us more different than anything else from the rest of the animal kingdom. We were "Man the Toolmaker" when I was growing up. And so it was after Louis Leakey got my telegram that he sent one back saying, "We shall now have to redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans."

Did you know at the time what a big moment this was?

Jane Goodall: Quite honestly, when I first saw that tool using and tool making, it was exciting. I wished mum was there to share it with, but it wasn't surprising to me. It didn't surprise me that chimpanzees could behave this way. They were so obviously intelligent. They were so obviously so like us. So, the full scientific impact of it didn't really dawn on me until I got back and heard the response of other scientists, some of whom said, "Well, why should we believe what this young untrained girl says," and pooh-poohed it, basically. But then the National Geographic Society gave money because of that observation and sent out Hugo van Lawick, the photographer. And it was his pictures and film that convinced everybody, well, yeah, she actually has seen this. Chimps actually do use and make tools. And then some of them said, "Well, she taught them." I'm thinking, gosh, that would've been clever to teach them to do something. They don't learn from us in the wild. In captivity, yes. In the wild, they learn from each other. They ignore us.

Did you observe chimps eating meat in this phase or was it after?

Jane Goodall: Strangely enough, (it was) about two weeks after I saw tool using that I saw David Greybeard up in a tree, and I could not think what he had in his hand. It was pink. And there was a female and a young one or two young ones, I can't remember, and she was begging. And there were bush pigs down below. And then the young one would occasionally rush down to pick something off the ground and would be charged by a bush pig. And after a bit, I didn't have very good binoculars, and I realized this is meat. How extraordinary! And then it wasn't for another probably two months that I actually saw hunting, hunting of a monkey. That was something that Louis Leakey felt, that early humans had used and made tools obviously, but wasn't quite sure when. And this was the first time that people realized, well obviously, before they used stone tools, which are quite complex, of course they used little bits of twig and grass, but they don't fossilize, so nobody'd found them. And Louis Leakey had always imagined them hunting and sharing food, and now here were chimpanzees hunting and sharing food.

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This page last revised on Aug 20, 2009 16:01 EDT
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