Home CommentaryStudent Life More than just the ‘chimp lady’

More than just the ‘chimp lady’

by Amanda L. Shore April 1, 2014
More than just the ‘chimp lady’

Famous for her work with chimpanzees, Dr. Goodall came to Concordia to spread a message of hope

“Oooo whoooo oo who oo who oo who oo who oo who oooo whooo oo who oo who oo 

Photo by Keith Race


“That’s me, Jane, in chimpanzee,” explained Dr. Jane Goodall.

Slight of stature but bright of countenance, all eyes were on Dr. Goodall as she made her way to the stage accompanied by raucous applause and an audience that stood up from their seats to honour the world renowned primatologist and environmentalist.

Dr. Goodall brought a stuffed cow and monkey with her to the stage, which she placed on the table next to the podium before launching into her introduction which included a greeting in chimpanzee-speak.

Dr. Goodall had been invited to speak by Concordia University, the Concordia Alumni Association and the CSU. Her lecture, entitled “Sowing the Seeds of Hope,” was part of her current 8-week tour which will next take her to the United States and then on to Europe.

There are a lot of accomplishments under Dr. Goodall’s belt. She pioneered the study of chimpanzee behaviour,  has written over 25 books, received numerous awards, started the Jane Goodall Institute, the Roots & Shoots program, and spearheaded a multitude of conservation and environmental campaigns. Her success is acclaimed worldwide and she is highly respected as an expert in the field of primatology, anthropology and ethology. Furthermore, she is a UN Messenger of Peace and was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2004.

How does she account for all this achievement? She credits her mother:

“I put a great deal of credit [to] my mother because she was an extraordinary mother. When I was born I seemed to have an innate love of animals. I don’t know where it came from, I just had it. And she always supported this.”

As proof of her mother’s hand in her accomplishments, Dr. Goodall captivated the audience with stories of her mother’s acceptance of Dr. Goodall’s curiosity and desire for knowledge.

“I was 18 months — I don’t remember this of course — but I was 18 months when she came to my room and found that I’d taken a whole handful of wriggling earthworms to bed with me. She said ‘Jane it looked like you were trying to work out how they walked without legs.’ And instead of getting mad at me, you know, ‘throw these dirty things out the window’ she said, ‘Jane they need the earth they’ll die here. And together we took them back into the garden.’ ”

Her mother also accompanied her during her first six month sojourn in Tanzania where she made the discovery that would launch her career and change the way scientists thought about animals.

But Dr. Goodall didn’t come all the way to Montreal to talk about her mother or give a biography of her life. She had come to talk about the fate of our planet: why we should be concerned and why we should also be hopeful.

Dr. Goodall is not a preacher. Although she advocates fiercely for animal rights, conservation, vegetarianism and environmental consideration, she does not stand on a soapbox and exhort. Rather, Dr. Goodall uses calm logic, reasoning and emotional sensibility to demonstrate the reasons for why we need to take an active stance in rehabilitating the earth, in stopping deforestation, the spreading of the desert, the rising levels of C02 in the atmosphere, the shrinking water supplies, the loss of biodiversity and species extinction.

“We’re destroying the planet. Fewer people understand the tremendous harm that’s being done as the middle classes grow around the world, in the developing countries, which of course is a good thing, less poverty, but it turns out very often as people get more money they feel the need to eat more meat and to eat more meat amongst all these billions of people means raising billions and billions of animals to feed them. And people want cheap meat. So the conditions in these intensive farms are truly horrendous but even if you don’t care about animal suffering, and some people apparently don’t, but even if you don’t care, huge areas of forest are cut down every year to grow the grain and graze the cattle for all these billions of different kinds of animals that we’re eating. As the animals are fed slightly richer food than they normally would have to make them grow quicker the process of digestion is producing more and more methane gas. That’s what you get from the process of digestion in people, I don’t know a polite way of saying it but you all know exactly what I mean.”

And thus we came to what Dr. Goodall described as her “greatest reason for hope,” the Roots & Shoots program.

The Roots & Shoots program is a youth-oriented initiative that began with 12 students on the verandah of Dr. Goodall’s house in Tanzania. The students were concerned with the problems they saw in the world around them and wanted Dr. Goodall to fix them. Instead, Dr. Goodall suggested that they get together the other students who felt as they did and work as a group to improve things on an environmental, human, and animal level.

Dr. Goodall expressed that she believes the damage to the earth can be reversed but it’s up to the people of this world to make that happen, specifically youth. That’s why the Roots & Shoots program is her “greatest reason for hope,” she sees the youth of this earth as the answer to preserving our planet.

“It’s my greatest reason for hope I think, Roots & Shoots, because everywhere I go on this endless circuit around the planet there are young people with shining eyes wanting to tell Dr. Jane what they’ve been doing to make this a better world. And its a group of young people around the world that share our philosophy, a group of young people that understand yes we need money to live but when we start living for money in and of itself that’s when it goes wrong. To make a lot of money, there’s nothing wrong with that if you use it for the right purpose, to make the world a better place.”

The Roots & Shoots program is now in 136 countries, including Canada. In fact, representatives from the Vanguard Intercultural High School Roots & Shoots group, were at the lecture and presented Dr. Goodall with a booklet that cited all the ways she had inspired them.

They were not the only youth in the audience. During the Q&A, bright-eyed children as young as eight stood in line to speak to Dr. Goodall. They were inquisitive and eager and Dr. Goodall clearly meant a lot to them as a role model, and if any proof is needed to show Dr. Goodall’s message is getting through to the younger generations, this was it.

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