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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: 3 / 9)

The Great Conservationist

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  Jane Goodall

Chimps may not learn from humans in the wild, but unfortunately chimps contract human diseases in the wild. In 1966 there was a polio outbreak among the chimpanzees at Gombe. How did you deal with that?

That polio outbreak in 1966 was one of the most traumatic times. I think it was even more traumatic because at that time I was pregnant with my son, and we didn't realize at first that it was polio. It was just this one chimpanzee, Mr. McGregor, coming in, dragging both paralyzed legs, and finally falling out of the tree and dislocating one arm. So he's then totally unable to move, and we had to shoot him to put him out of his misery. Gradually, other chimps appeared that we hadn't seen for a while, and they'd be dragging an arm or dragging a leg, or they never came back. It was an absolutely terrible time. The doctor in Kigoma -- the European doctor -- knew there was an outbreak among people. He should have been administering the polio prevention drops.


Jane Goodall Interview Photo
Jane Goodall: He hadn't done it. He should have. He didn't report it, so we didn't know there was polio among the human population, so we didn't know it was polio to start with. As soon as we realized, we immediately got the whole dose of the vaccine from Nairobi, and we would put the required number of drops into a banana. We were feeding all of them bananas at that time. It was a nightmare, because you had to give three doses. And if you gave a dose to a chimp who'd had one dose just the day before, he could get polio, because it's a live vaccine. So there'd have to be a week's space between doses. It was a nightmare making sure that a high-ranking one who'd just had a dose didn't seize a banana from a low-ranking one. So it was a horrible, horrible time, and we lost many wonderful chimpanzees.

It was quite devastating to the study. Even though the casualties might not seem great in the big picture, they were big losses for Gombe Stream.

Jane Goodall: Gombe Stream never had many chimps, and it was a devastating impact on the population. We traced it to two human polio victims. In the South we saw chimps dragging limbs. So we presumed it came from fishermen and villages in the South, and then from chimp to chimp, until it reached us.

What did you observe about chimpanzee behavior that taught you about human behavior?

Jane Goodall: One of the real shocks for me in this whole long-term study was finding out that -- whereas I thought chimps were very much like us, but nicer -- that in certain situations they can be just as brutal, just as violent as we can. And they have this very aggressive territoriality, so that the males will patrol the boundaries of their territory in groups of three or more quite regularly. And if they see a "stranger" -- stranger in quotes, that's an individual from a neighboring social group -- usually if it's one by him or herself, they chase. If they catch the unfortunate victim, subject them to really, really serious brutal gang attacks, leave them to die of their injuries. And there was one four-year period where the males of one community systematically attacked and left to die the members of a smaller neighboring community. Annihilated the whole group, except for young females that they encouraged to come into their community. It was what I called a four-year war. And then they took over the now vacated territory to the South, very humanlike.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of the chimpanzee's aggression?

Jane Goodall: I've been dragged, hit, buffeted. It's a chimpanzee trying to prove he's stronger, which we know anyway, but they like to prove it. One -- Fifi's second son, Frodo -- is a bully. He bullies other chimps, he bullies people, and especially bullied me. And it's actually very scary because he's the biggest, toughest, strongest chimp we've ever known. And it's like being charged by a tank. There's nothing you can do except pray, really. Hang on to a tree and hope.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

When you first came to the Gombe Stream, what were you hoping to find?

Jane Goodall: When I first got to Gombe we knew nothing really about chimpanzees in the wild, nothing at all. Not much about them in captivity, but nothing in the wild. And so everything I found was new. Everything was important, everything I wrote down in long journals. I would write it up every night, take out my little field notebooks. And it was after I'd been collecting information in this way for about 18 months that I got this letter from Louis Leakey saying that he wouldn't always be around. He wouldn't always be able to get money for me. I would have to stand on my own two feet, and that meant I had to get a degree. And there wasn't time to mess with the B.A. I would have to go straight for a Ph.D. And he'd got me permission to do a Ph.D. in ethology at Cambridge University in England. Ethology? What did that mean? I hadn't a clue. I'd never been to college.

There were no e-mails in those days. So I eventually found out it meant studying animal behavior. And...

I got to Cambridge, and I was quite excited but a bit nervous. I mean, you know, going in straight with never having been to college before to do a Ph.D. And to my horror, I was told I'd done everything wrong. I shouldn't have given the chimpanzees names. They should've had numbers. I couldn't talk about personality, mind and thought, and certainly not emotions, because they were confined only to the human. No animal. So why didn't I capitulate? Why didn't I go back and call David Greybeard "number one," and Flo "number six" and Fifi "number 12" and so on? Because I thought back to my childhood, and there were two things which made a big difference to how I reacted to the professors at Cambridge. First, my mother. She always taught us that if you meet somebody who disagrees with you, the first thing to do is listen, then you think. And you really try and see whether what they've said is more true than what you have believed. And if you still feel that you're right or partly right, then you must have the courage of your conviction. That's one. Secondly, I thought of the teacher I had as a child who taught me absolutely that animals have personalities, minds and feelings, and that was my dog Rusty.

I had a wonderful supervisor, Robert Hind. And although at first he was my sternest critic, he came out to Gombe. He actually met the chimpanzees. He realized very quickly that this way of thinking about nonhuman animals, of the time, was very reductionist, and didn't explain complex behavior at all. And he really taught me how to write in such a way that I couldn't be torn apart by all these erudite scientists, this poor little naïve Jane who had no degree at all. And he taught me something, which I tell all the students that I come in contact with, because it's so clever. I'd written that Fifi, Flo's daughter, loved her new baby brother, and she was very jealous 'cause when the others would come she would bristle up, chase them away, making angry noises. And he said, "Jane, you can't say she was jealous, 'cause you can't prove it." So I said, "Well no, I can't. But I'm sure she was, so what shall I say?" He said, "I suggest you say: Fifi behaved in such a way that had she been a human child, we would say she was jealous." That is very, very clever. It's got me through my whole life.

People who read your books feel connected to Flo and Fifi, as though they'd met them.

Jane Goodall: They wouldn't feel connected to "number 12" and "number six." No way.

Flo was particularly remarkable. Can you tell us about the maternal behavior that Flo displayed?

One of my things I loved learning about the most is chimp maternal behavior, because we find, just as in human society, there's good mothers and bad mothers. And the good mothers are affectionate. They're tolerant. They're protective but not overprotective. But most important, they're supportive. So they're prepared to risk being bashed themselves to go and support their child if that child gets into social difficulties. And those young ones tend to grow up to be assertive, to play an important role in the reproductive history of their community. The mothers have more offspring. The males tend to reach high rank. Whereas, the young ones of the less good mothers tend to find it difficult to make close, relaxed relationships when they're adult. And they're always a bit tense and nervous, although this decreases with age. And the females do not have as many babies, and the males tend not to be very high-ranking.

What did you learn from chimpanzee mothers that you incorporated into your own mothering?

Jane Goodall: When I had my precious baby, I thought that I was actually learning from Flo. I realized the importance of having a secure base, always being there for the child. Not punishing, but distracting until the child's old enough to understand. But mainly, you know, being there, having this physical contact, playing with. I always determined, having watched chimpanzee mothers loving their children and having such fun, that I would have the same. And I was lucky, because I could have my son with me all the time. Although in most mornings I was doing whatever work I had to do, was doing a research station, but the afternoons were his. And in fact, I didn't leave him the first three years for any night. Not once. And so, afterwards, thinking back over it, I realized, well, actually, my mother had brought me up in much the same way. So I don't know whether I learned from Flo or learned from my mother subconsciously, because children with good mothers tend to be good mothers and those with bad mothers tend to be bad mothers.

Jane Goodall Interview Photo
They're not conscious of learning when they're babies, but somehow it seems to come through. And of course today, human child psychology and psychiatry is pointing more and more to the importance of early experience in our own children, in the first couple of years of life. So I believe this is something which governments should put at the top of their agendas, and they don't. Again and again, we find early childhood programs being cut, and this is the future. This is our future. If bad experiences in early childhood are at least partly responsible for some of the dysfunctional behavior of adolescence today, then it becomes very, very important to pay more attention to this.

So a woman has to go to work, so she's got to leave the child. The husband's working or there isn't a husband. Some families can't afford good daycare centers, and there is some question as to whether any daycare center can be really good. So we need to get together as a society to find a way of compensating the child for the fact that the mother isn't always there. And we find it doesn't need to be the biological mother. It's got to be, I think, between one, three, four people that that child can build up a trusting relationship with. That's the key thing. Somebody or some people, a little group, who can provide absolute security for the child. So a child knows that he can rely on them.

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