The Nancho Consultations

Dr. Jane Goodall


Nancho Lite
Lady Jane


Jane Goodall's celebrated studies on chimpanzees have focused worldwide interest on primatology and humankind's relationship with its still existing cousins. Her years of intimate and insightful observation of ape families in Africa have also led her into a new career as an environmental warrior, tirelessly fighting and fundraising to preserve endangered species and habitats. .

- Verbatim Excerpts -


Nancho: Your work began over thirty years ago with Dr. Louis Leaky. What would you consider to be the greatest lesson you have learned from animal observations that could shed some light on the present human condition?

Jane Goodall: : Well, I think what I've learned most during the thirty years, looking back over it, is the fact that the chimpanzees are so like us in so many ways that they have really served for me, anyway, to blur that line that used to be drawn so sharply between humans, on the one hand, and the rest of the animal kingdom on the other. And it's humbling in a way, because we're not as unique as we used to think. On the other hand, this close study of our closest relatives does also help to pinpoint ways in which we as a species are unique.
Do you think that people are able to recognize that there is that link? Are we ready to accept this?
JG: I think a lot of people are getting ready to accept this, but there is still a tremendous intellectual upheaval every time it's demonstrated in chimpanzees or any other animal that they are capable of some kind of intellectual ability that we used to believe unique to ourselves. And I think that's why there is so much controversy over the recent ape language acquisition experiments where chimpanzees and gorillas are taught, for example, the signs of the American Sign Language, ASL.
What particular things are similar to human behavioral patterns?
JG: Well, there are many. To start with there is a long period of childhood dependency on the mother. It's five years between live births in a wild chimpanzee family and I think that that long childhood is very important as it is for us in relation to social learning because the youngster has an awful lot to learn and while his mother is caring for his basic, daily needs he is free to learn just as our children are.

Then we have these amazing long term supportive bonds that develop between mothers and their growing offspring and brothers and sisters; bonds that last through a lifespan of maybe fifty years.

Some of the most amazing similarities between chimpanzees and humans, I think, are in the sphere of non-verbal communication. So, that chimpanzees like humans kiss, embrace, hold hands, pat one another on the back, wave their arms angrily and these are not only postures and gestures similar to those that we use but used by the chimpanzees in the same context, and quite clearly meaning the same things.

Chimpanzees show sophisticated cooperation, for example, in hunting - they are quite successful hunters - and when they make a kill they share the prey. And perhaps, most fascinating of all, are the intellectual abilities of chimpanzees which, as I say, used to be considered uniquely human capabilities such as the fact that chimpanzees can reason. They can solve simple problems particularly using tools which they do in the wild. They have very good memories - to some extent they can plan for the immediate future. And their acquisition of human-type languages has shown that they're capable of using, understanding abstract symbols in their communication.

Well, your son was actually raised among the chimpanzees. What kind of influence do you think this has had on him? Do you think this has made him a better human being?
JG: Well, I think his upbringing was influenced by the chimpanzees in two major ways. First of all, I quite deliberately planned some of my child-raising techniques as a result of watching those of the chimpanzees. I learnt a tremendous amount about mothering from watching chimps, like the old female "Flo". I realized that it's very important for a small child that one uses distraction rather than punishment. I've learned over the years the tremendous importance for a young chimp of the type of mothering and the type of mother because this has such a great influence on subsequent adult behavior. And perhaps above all, I saw chimpanzees raising their infants and I saw what fun they had, what tremendous enjoyment they got out of raising offspring and I wasn't about to be denied that fun. So, I made a conscious decision that I would more or less stop following chimps while my son was small so that I could be with him; give him the kind of security I felt was important for him based on the knowledge of the chimps.
Have you talked to people about the importance of the early maternal/child bonding? Do you think one of the reasons that society is going somewhat awry right is now because of the separation between the mother and child at such an early age?
JG: I think it's very, very important and it used to be something I spoke about very frequently. In fact, the very first time I was invited to Japan in l984 was for a symposium on problems in raising Japanese children, as a matter of fact, and my role was to discuss the influence of early mothering on chimpanzee behavior and see what we might learn from that.

I think what's important for us to realize in the way that we raise our children today: we are doing something that is very different from maternal behavior as it evolved during evolution. And we are in many cases denying human infants the kind of early environment which evolution has prepared them for in a way. And because these children today are growing up in modern society, it may be that in some ways this kind of early experience fits them more for modern social life. I don't think so.

I believe that it's desperately important for the young human child to be able to establish relationships of trust with the mother or a mother alternative, with two or three adults who remain constant in the child's early life. And the reason I believe this is that it's so obvious in chimp mother behavior - that if you have an infant whose mother is rather non-supportive, a little cold, a little rejecting, then that child will grow up and have great difficulty in forming meaningful relationships with others as an adult. And if that's true for our own children, which I truly believe it is, then this is something that society should be giving a great deal of attention to.

What actually got you involved with this kind of work? You were working as a film editor before you decided to run off to Africa with Dr. Leaky.
JG: From the very first moment I can remember I was interested in animals: watched them - animals meaning birds in the garden, insects, anything I could observe in nature; wrote about them - nature notes; drew them - proper drawings showing colors of wings and beaks and numbers of legs and so forth; read books about them.

My interest in Africa, as such probably began when I read Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan when I was quite a small child. And from then on, in my mind, I knew that I wanted to go to Africa. But, of course, in those days it was not the done thing for English girls to go off to Africa and study animals in the wild. I had an incredibly supportive, wonderful mother who never said, "No, Jane, that's impossible." She always said, "If you want to do something and you work hard and you seize the opportunities you will." So, I had that tremendous support.

And everything I did until I went to Africa was really filling in time waiting for those opportunities but continuing to read everything I could. So, that when I finally had this invitation to go to Africa from a school friend, I left my very fascinating job in London working with documentary films because it wasn't giving me any money; I saved up by being a waitress and living at home, had enough finally for a return fare. And then when I got there I heard about Louis Leaky, went to see him, and the value of all that early self-training was very apparent because he began asking me all kinds of questions about animals; he took me around the museum that he was curator of and he clearly was impressed because I knew quite a lot about African animals and snakes and birds and all kinds of things. So, he offered me a job and then he began talking about these chimpanzees living on a remote lake shore. Well, I would have studied any animal. It was just fantastic to be given the one that next to humans is probably the most complex and fascinating in the world.

Where do you draw the line between what is culturally transmitted and what is biologically inherited?
JG: Well, I think for the chimpanzees like humans there's quite clearly a mixture of both nature and nurture. I think that there's no question of doubt that for chimpanzees just like humans and all the higher mammals learning does play quite an important part in the individual life. It's equally indisputable that heredity plays an important role as well. There used to be such scientific controversy over the nature/nurture argument but mostly that is settled down now and most biologists believe that there is a mixture of the two.

As the brain gets more complex as with chimpanzees and humans, then the learning part of it plays an ever more important role. And in our own species, for example, cultural evolution has to a large extent taken over from physical evolution. Even in chimpanzee society we see the beginnings of cultural evolution in that chimpanzee populations in different parts of Africa have completely different cultural traditions.

If you were to take the chimp's perspective for a moment, observing your behavior during those thirty years that you spent with them, what kinds of things might they have noted in how you changed by being with them?
JG: I learned to be a better observer. I could follow them better through the forests, but I think that the same person that went to Gambi in l960 didn't really change that much. I was doing what I'd always wanted to do: learning from, being with animals. From the time when I was very small, animals meant a tremendous lot to me. And I grew up understanding that human society wasn't the only important society. And my time with the chimpanzees just served to emphasize that. But I'd always been the same. I knew that we weren't the only creatures in this world that mattered.

When I first went to Gambi, for example, and then returned to Cambridge to work for my PhD degree, I encountered a great deal of opposition to some of the things that I was beginning to write about the chimps: that they had personality, that they had minds, that they were motivated to attain certain goals deliberately and these things were not scientifically acceptable at that time.

The first article I ever wrote for a British scientific journal I talked about the chimpanzees as individuals and because they were males and females I talked about he and she. And the editor returned my manuscript and all the 'hes" and "shes" were struck out and "it" was substituted. And I got very angry and put back the "hes" and "shes" and they were left. So, that in a way was the first sort of victory over the then very rigid scientific community.

I was reading some reviews of your earlier work and one said that "it was acclaimed because of your avoidance of anthropormorphic associations" and I was wondering how possible that really was after knowing them so intimately as individuals and seeing all of the individual variation amongst them?
JG: By explaining the facts very carefully in quite an objective manner, people will draw their own conclusions. They'll be then guilty, if you want to call it guilty, of anthropomorphism. But in fact, we can take this whole discussion about anthropomorphism a whole step further. Because chimpanzees are used by medical research, because their bodies physiologically are so like ours. They've been used in all kinds of research into the brain because the structure of their brain, the anatomy of the brain and of the central nervous system is so like ours. Genetically they differ from us by only just over one percent. These things have been very readily pinpointed by those people who want to use chimpanzees to learn about human disease and to search for cures and vaccines. But they have been so reluctant to admit to the equally striking similarities in behavior and emotions and in intellect. And it stands to reason that if you have a being that differs from us by only just over one percent and has all these striking physiological, anatomical and genetical characteristics shared with us, that you would expect the expression of the emotions to be similar, you would expect the intellectual capabilities to be similar. And yet that, if we talk about those we're accused of being anthropomorphic.
So, how do you deal with that situation publically and in the scientific community?
JG: I think that the old hardline was really derived from the behaviorist school which started in America with Watson. He promulgated the idea that animals were just machines; bundles of stimulus and responses. And this is why some of the horrendous conditions in the labs grew up in the first place because animals weren't supposed to feel pain. I think that even right through that era most people did believe that animals felt pain and most people did believe that animals had emotions. And you would have scientists going into the lab and putting on their white coats and treating animals in a way, from the point of view of the animal, is torture. And those same people going home, taking off their white coats, locking the lab door and telling people stories about how human-like their dogs were.

I think that over the last decade really, there's been an increase of research into the animal's mind and that most scientists today are quite prepared to talk about personality, mind, motivation.

What is your stance on using animals in experimental situations?
JG: I think we were extraordinarily arrogant in the first place to decide that we could use animals in this way. But not only in medical research also in the intensive farming, the fur industry, the horrible way we abuse pets and the whole spectrum of what we do to animals for our own ends is horrific.

As far as medical research is concerned, we should be trying much harder to find alternative ways of using any live animals and they are just around the corner. Many have been found. There is no mechanism at the moment to enforce some new kind of alternative, even if it has been proved to be effective and cheaper in animal research. I think we need some Nobel prizes for this kind of research. I think it's time that scientists stopped treating scientists who search for alternatives as some kind of people who didn't quite make it in mainstream science. In the meantime, while animals are still used, because it's not going to stop tomorrow, we ought to be treating them a whole lot better than we do now.

When you go to a zoo, what is the first reaction that you have seeing these chimpanzees and other animals in cages?
JG: It depends very much on the type of zoo. The old-fashioned cement-floored, steel-barred zoo should be done away with. The more modern type of zoo with large enclosures and animals in social groups with its emphasis on education is a whole lot better. I'd prefer that the animals are out in the wild. But we have them now. They're all over the world in countries that they don't belong. Mostly they can't be returned to the wild. So, we have to look after them and a really good zoo is one way of caring for the animals that we have in captivity and trying to spread the word about how wonderful are some of these other beings with whom we share the planet.
Do you think that until there is this consciousness of our relationship with the other animals on the Earth that there will be any way to save "Gaia"? Are we reaching an end here?
JG: I'm very encouraged by the changing attitudes towards animals and the environment, too, of course around the world, particularly among the young people. I think we're raising a generation now that will not go into labs and do the kind of things that our generation has done to animals. I've been very encouraged by the attitude of African governments toward conservation and there are those that say, "Well, they only want to conserve because they believe that that will bring in some foriegn exchange." Of course they've got to think that way. They wouldn't be very good rulers of their own people if they weren't trying to bring in some foreign exchange, because most of these countries are very poor. And if we're going to expect a government in a poor country to set aside a large area of forest for chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants and all the other amazing creatures that live there, then there must be some alternative for them as opposed to selling off the timber to the West or clear cutting it for their own people to cultivate.

So, it's terribly important for anybody who cares about conservation to try and encourage donor countries to put money into rural development schemes, agro-forestry programs, to provide some conservation education programs, some health care, to develop controlled tourism so that the habitat isn't destroyed by an abundance of visitors, and above all to remember that these are sovereign countries. They're proud people and the only possible way that a conservation project is going to work is if the people perceive it as theirs.

You are in Japan to receive the Inamori Foundation Kyoto Prize. Why do you think that you've been chosen at this particular time to receive this and what would you like to convey to the Japanese people?
JG: Well, I'm still wondering why I was chosen. I feel it's a tremendous honor. I think there's no question but the entire award ceremony is one that I will remember all my life and was one of the most meaningful experiences ever. Another reason why I find this Kyoto Prize particularly meaningful is that Japan, in a way, started primatology. It was Professor Imanishi in the early '30s who began watching monkeys and writing about them here in Japan. And he started the great school of primatology with his students, Professor Itani and Professor Kano and they with their students, such as Professor Nishida whose now conducting the second longest chimpanzee project in the world, also in Tanzania incidentally. And so it was particularly meaningful for me to be given this prize in Kyoto which is the center of Japanese primatology and surrounded by some of the people who have contributed more to our understanding of chimpanzees and more to the conservation of chimpanzees in Africa than anybody else that I know.

- End -

Nancho Rep: Kathy A. Sokol



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