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Sept. 25, 2014 Volume 36, No. 5

Jane Goodall inspires young and old at Mizzou Arena


Jane Goodall spoke to an audience of 4,000 at Mizzou Arena Sept. 17. Atop the lectern is a toy monkey named Mr. H, a symbol of hope Goodall has brought to lectures in more than 50 countries. Photo by Lizz Cardwell.

Primatologist well known for her studies of chimpanzees in Tanzania

When world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall took the Mizzou Arena stage Sept. 17, she responded to the standing ovation and cheers from more than 4,000 attendees in the language of the animals she’s studied for more than 55 years. Translated, the howl meant, “This is me. This is Jane.”

The lecture was part of the annual Delta Gamma Foundation Lectureship in Values and Ethics, one of many events held during Mizzou’s weeklong 175th anniversary celebration.

Goodall, 80, delighted the audience with stories from her youth in Bournemouth, England, citing her supportive mother as the reason she is where she is today.

She remembered a vacation to a countryside farm she took when she was 4 years old. A curious child, she wondered where the barnyard hens’ eggs came from. When no one answered her question, she decided to find out for herself.

Always an observer, Goodall crawled into an empty henhouse where she patiently waited until she saw a hen lay an egg. When Goodall emerged hours later, although her mother was worried about her whereabouts, she listened to her daughter recount the afternoon’s discoveries.

“If you look back on that story, it’s the making of a little scientist,” Goodall said. “The curiosity, the asking of questions, not getting the right answer, deciding to find out for yourself, making a mistake, not giving up and learning patience.”

Goodall grew to love animals through books such as The Story of Dr. Dolittle and Tarzan of the Apes (“And, of course, I fell passionately in love with Tarzan. But what did Tarzan do? He married the wrong Jane!”).

In 1957, she had the opportunity to visit a family friend’s farm in Kenya, where she met paleontologist Louis S.B. Leakey. Goodall, who worked as a secretary in England, became Leakey’s assistant. He then sent her to Tanzania to study chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve.

Within three months, Goodall made breakthrough observations — that chimpanzees make tools and eat meat — that changed how scientists viewed the animals.

“Chimps made it so easy for me to assert that there is no sharp line as used to be thought between us and the rest of the animal kingdom,” Goodall said. But when Goodall shared her observations with others in the scientific community, she met resistance. She was criticized for naming the chimpanzees and describing their emotions and personalities.

“Fortunately, I had a fantastic teacher when I was a child,” Goodall said. “That teacher was my dog, Rusty. You cannot share your life in a meaningful way with an animal and not know that animals have personalities, minds and feelings.”

Goodall spent more than 25 years in the forest of Gombe studying chimps. In 1986, she attended a conference where scientists discussed conservation and the treatment of animals in medical research labs and in entertainment.

“I went to that conference as a scientist,” she said. “I left as an activist.”

Since then, Goodall has been traveling the world speaking about the importance of conservation and caring for the planet. She lectures more than 300 times each year, teaching her audiences about deforestation, erosion, the spread of the desert, the shrinking of fresh water supplies, the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of species and climate change. In 1991, she started Roots & Shoots, a global program that encourages youth to help impoverished people, animals and the environment.

“Every single one of us makes a difference every single day, and we have a choice as to what kind of difference we’re going to make.”

Despite the mounting evidence that humans are destroying the planet, Goodall said she has three reasons for hope: empowered young people, human intellect and the resilience of nature.

“It’s time we got together and joined hands around the world to start putting things right,” Goodall said. “It’s not too late. But we will reach a point of no return. We will if we don’t change.

“Only when we all learn to live with heart and head in harmony can we achieve our true human potential.”

— Kelsey Allen