When Dr. Jane Goodall was four years old, she wanted to know how hens laid eggs. She crawled into a henhouse and waited for four hours to find out where on a hen there was a hole big enough for an egg to come out. At the end of the day, the sky was dark, but Goodall’s mind was brighter. Instead of getting angry about four-year-old Goodall’s little adventure, her mother sat down to hear about how a hen lays an egg.
Goodall told this story at Convocation Hall on April 22. A world leader in primatology, conservation, and activism, Goodall was also featured in the Earth Day 2018 Google Doodle. But before that, she was a girl who was born loving animals.
“Isn’t that the making of a little scientist? The curiosity, asking questions, not getting the answer you want, deciding to find out for yourself, making a mistake, not giving up, and learning patience — it was all there in that little four-and-a-half-year-old child,” said Goodall.
The lecture hall met her with a thunderous standing ovation, and Goodall returned the welcome by taking her audience on her journey through Africa.
She first visited Tanzania’s Gombe National Park in 1960. Growing up, she was surrounded by a chorus of voices scoffing at her dream — World War II was raging, her family did not have much money, and, after all, she was ‘just a girl.’ Yet her mother’s voice told her not to give up. In October that year, she made the ground-breaking observation that chimpanzees, like humans, used tools.
This shattered the reigning definition of our species as ‘Man the Tool-Maker.’ In a famous telegram, her colleague Louis Leakey wrote, “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”
At the time of her discovery, Goodall had no postsecondary degree. When she finally underwent collegiate schooling at Cambridge University, her professors told her she had done everything wrong. “Jane, you shouldn’t have given the chimpanzees names — that isn’t science. You should give them numbers,” her professors had said.
However, her unconventional entryway into research enabled her to see beyond the traditional scientific paradigm. Goodall’s discoveries toppled the long-standing belief that personalities, emotions, and problem-solving capabilities were unique to humans. She helped establish what is now the longest-running primate study.
The girl who loved animals was finally surrounded by her beloved animals. “I at one time thought I would spend the rest of my life in Gombe,” she said.
From science to activism
A conference Goodall helped put together in 1986 changed the course of her life.
When the scientists came together, Goodall saw the enormity of human intervention on chimpanzee communities. Forests were being cut down, chimpanzees were being caught in snares, and babies were being stolen for medical research. She saw the secretly filmed footage of chimpanzees confined in five-foot by five-foot barred steel cages.
“I couldn’t sleep for nights. So, I went to that conference as a scientist, and I left as an activist,” said Goodall.
As she learned about the issues affecting chimpanzees, she discovered the plight of the humans living in and around chimpanzee habitat. “I knew I had to do something to help the people. It hit me like this — or else we couldn’t even try to save the chimpanzees,” she said.
There were three large banners behind Goodall in the lecture hall: one each to depict animals, people, and the environment. They are all interconnected. This principle is foundation of the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education (TACARE) program, which was established by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in 1994.
“It started off with the main things people wanted. They wanted more food, which meant restoring fertility to the overused farmland,” said Goodall. TACARE provides local residents with the information and tools necessary to establish sustainable farming, and control and prevent soil erosion and subsequent flash floods.
Other initiatives of the JGI include building schools and health centres and introducing water management, sanitation, vaccination, and family planning programs.
“We believe that when communities thrive and are healthy, they become our partners in protecting forests, chimpanzees, and other wildlife,” said Andria Teather, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada’s Chief Executive Officer.
Roots & Shoots at U of T
Roots & Shoots began as a meeting between Goodall and 12 Tanzanian high school students in 1991 and has since transformed into an initiative that spans 87 countries. Youth in these groups take on projects that aim to make sustainable changes in their communities.
At U of T, Roots & Shoots is two years old and earnestly growing. Led by Sabrina Lau, the U of T chapter is the first to bring the group to a post-secondary level in Canada.
The team has hosted No Waste November initiatives that encouraged students to stop using a waste product for one month, DIY beauty nights that taught members to make products using sustainable alternatives, and #CycleMyCell campaigns that promoted the proper recycling of old cellphones.
“The coolest part about some of these events is that it brings the community together at U of T,” said Lily Bateman, a first-year student who has been involved in Roots & Shoots since grade 11. “When there’s people coming together, it’s not just a big announcement like, ‘Protect the environment.’ If you have these small events and bring people from the school together, it makes it meaningful and memorable.”
“I think we’ve got a window of time. I don’t think it’s very big, but I think we have a little of window to try and turn things around. And that’s why I started the Roots & Shoots and program,” said Goodall.
After so many years, Goodall continues to travel the world 300 days a year because of her trust in the youth and in what she calls the “indomitable human spirit.”
Mr. H, a stuffed monkey toy, serves as the mascot for this hope. He was given to Goodall by her good friend Gary Haun, a blinded US marine veteran who succeeded in becoming a magician. Mr. H has been with Goodall to 63 countries.
Just prior the lecture, Goodall and Mr. H joined U of T and Glendon College’s Roots & Shoots members in planting the Tree of Hope — an Ohio buckeye, native to Toronto’s ecozone — in the Earth Sciences courtyard.
If you go there now, you might still be able to see biodegradable ribbon decorating the tree, each ribbon inscribed with a reason for hope.