The passion of a celebrated animal activist
NEW YORK — The most celebrated primatologist in the world is Jane Goodall, who spent 40 years in the bush in Tanzania studying chimps.
Her scholarly book, "The Chimpanzees of Gombe," is seminal. But she is best known for her activism through lectures, films, Roots and Shoots (her environmental youth clubs around the world), and her tireless efforts to promote greater respect for wild animals.
In her new biography, "Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey," and in the PBS documentary "Reason for Hope" (airing on PBS through Nov. 8, check local listings), Ms. Goodall tells about her faith in God, her Congregationalist upbringing, and her certainty that humankind is evolving toward greater goodness.
"I think of England a hundred years ago and how children were barefoot in the snow, women and children were down in the mines, they were still dealing in slaves," she said in a recent interview.
"The poverty, the slums were ghastly. It's changed. There are still problems, but at least for every problem, there's a great group of people lobbying to put it right."
"I have this unshakable belief that human beings are moving away from cruelty and destruction," she says.
Her belief that the human spirit is innately good, strong, and godly is underscored in the film in several ways. That faith extends to and encourages all the young people she meets around the world.
"My zeal is entirely directed toward helping young people to realize their potential," she says. "And toward getting people to have more respect for animals. I'm trying to share my conviction that we have to think about animals in a different way. It's very interesting that there's all this movement about giving animals some kind of legal status. That's picking up. There's change afoot!"
Goodall says one of the most important things she has to offer young people is hope. Many people are apathetic because they think one individual can do nothing to help the environment, she says.
Every individual does matter, she says, and individuals together can make a difference. If a million of us all do what we are supposed to do, and don't do the things we shouldn't, that makes a difference. She's talking about modest changes people can make - recycling glass and aluminum, and buying cosmetics and household products not tested on animals - as well as grander schemes.
"Ethical choices," she calls them. "Don't leave it all up to politicians and scientists," she says. "Everything is driven by money in a consumer society...."
Two of the gravest problems facing wild animals in Africa are the disappearance of habitat (logging companies in Africa are good about replacing the trees they cut down, but indifferent to the animals living in the forests) and the indiscriminate hunting of wild creatures for meat.
The solution, she says reluctantly, may be in game farms. But it is primarily in education. Goodall now spends most of her time traveling around the world educating people about wild animals.
Though she makes the sacrifice gladly, it is in the wilds of Gombe that she is most at peace. She has spent many years in relative isolation - alone with the chimps and the jungle.
"I dreamt of it since early childhood, and when I first got there it was just like going home," she says. "To me, it wasn't ever strange. When I was small, I would sit alone in the garden for hours, apparently, just watching insects and things."
The most formative book she read as a child was "The Story of Doctor Dolittle," by Hugh Lofting. Dr. Dolittle talked to animals (and it is most amusing to hear Goodall say hello in "Chimpanzee").
All those hours in the garden as a child observing nature were Goodall's training ground. She didn't go to college, but at 25 she met anthropologist Louis Leakey, who sent her to Gombe. She later earned her doctorate at Cambridge University.
"Louis wanted women [for primate ethology] because he thought they made better observers," she says. "He thought they were more patient, which may be true. He thought they'd be less threatening to the primates than men, macho men, which is true."
And, she adds, Dr. Leakey felt that women were better able to communicate with nonverbal animals because of their long experience over the centuries with little children and perceiving what they need without words.
Her expertise is recognized everywhere. She has influenced the way zoos keep their animals.
"The best zoos are the ones that don't have too many different species, so they can really go to town and give the species they do have the best possible environment - social and physical," she says. "For chimps, the best situation is Gombe, or any other place that fully protects them - where they're safe."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society