AR Philosophy > Morality of AR > Speciesism - Index

04 June 2005
Lucy Middleton & Liz Else

Jane Goodall started working with chimpanzees in 1960. She became director of the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in western Tanzania in 1967. All her research was conducted there, and her books include In the Shadow of Man (1971), The Chimpanzees of Gombe (1986), and The Ten Trusts: What we must do to care for the animals we love (2002)

How did you end up studying chimps in western Tanzania?

I had a dream about working in Africa, but I had no money and went to secretarial college. Then I was invited to Africa by a friend, and I met Louis Leakey the palaeoarchaeologist out of the blue. He took me on as a secretary.

He suggested I study chimps, but nobody, least of all a young girl, did that sort of thing then. It took him over a year to get the funding. He wanted me to study chimps because he felt it would give him a better feeling for how early man might have behaved. But for me the main significance ended up being to show there is no sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom, and that there are other beings on this planet that are so complex and so like us, and about whom we are still learning.

Did being naive help?

I don't think I thought so at the time, but looking back, it was terribly helpful, because I didn't know that animals weren't supposed to have personalities, minds and feelings. I was 27 by the time I got to Cambridge to study for a PhD in ethology. I was shocked to find that the professors and students were very disapproving of me giving the chimpanzees names and personalities and describing their minds and abilities. But the great thing about going was that I learned how to express myself scientifically and to analyse data.

Do modern methods of researching animal behaviour reflect what you did at Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve?

I am sure that some of what came later has been guided by what we did at Gombe, in that animals began to be given names rather than numbers. Also more and more scientists were prepared to admit complexity and a wide range of behaviour, and became less crudely reductionist.

How long was it before you gazed into the eyes of a chimp?

Probably about nine months - and the chimp was David Greybeard. It took that time before that I could get close to them. I didn't try and follow them at first, I let them go so they didn't feel harassed. David was the one who lost his fear first and he let me follow him.

What do you think they thought of you?

They had never seen a white ape before, they just ran away. I was something new and they don't like new things. After they got over their initial fear they considered me a predator. And that was very scary for me. They threatened me, gave me this terrible alarm call, they swayed branches, they charged near me. Eventually we moved on to tolerance and trust.

What was your best day?

Seeing David Greybeard fashion a tool to dig in a termite mound, that has to be special because it was the first time anyone had seen a non-human use a tool. And then the day in the forest when David Greybeard almost seemed to be waiting for me to struggle through some thorns. When I offered him fruit on my outstretched hand, he turned his head away. I put my hand closer - and he took the fruit and dropped it and gently squeezed my hand, which is a chimp reassurance gesture. The magic was that we communicated perfectly in a language that pre-dates words.

Was there a worst day?

The worst day was when the first chimp was struck by a polio epidemic, It was terrible. It was old Mr Macgregor. He couldn't use his legs and he had to drag himself along sitting on his bottom and pushing. The others ran away - nobody would touch him. He made all this effort. It was such a sad time.

What is the most human-like behaviour you saw in chimpanzees?

Chimps can be deliberately deceptive. For example, when we wanted the young males to get the bananas, the big males would come and take them all, so we took to hiding some of the bananas up in the trees. One day a young male called Figan suddenly looked up into a tree and there was a banana nobody else had seen. He glanced over at three older males grooming. Chimps follow each other's gaze, and if the males had noticed where Figan had been looking they would have immediately taken the banana, and if he had tried to get it quickly they would have attacked him. I think he knew if he stayed there he wouldn't be able to resist looking, so he went out of sight. The moment they left, he came back to fetch it.

What's the biggest difference between humans and chimps?

Talking. Because we can discuss ideas, we can teach about things that aren't present. We can draw from the distant past and teach each other from it and we can plan the distant future. Mostly it is this discussion of ideas.

What do you feel when you look into the eyes of a chimp?

It has changed from when I first set out. It is a great wonder now because I know so much about them. When you look into the eyes of a chimp, or another animal, you know you are looking into the eyes of a thinking, feeling being. To me the wonder and the mystery is that you never really know what they are thinking. What do they think of me? What is it like to think without words?

Why did you quit research?

I made that decision literally overnight at a conference in 1986. I was planning to go back to Gombe, but after I heard all the delegates speak about the extent of habitat destruction across Africa, I came out knowing that I would never go back. Since that day I haven't spent more than three weeks in any one place, but have spent my time travelling the world lecturing on conservation and cooperation.

What do you miss?

Just being in the forest, being out there in nature. And I miss the movement of the seasons, the cycle of life and death, the feeling that everything is interconnected.

Overall, is there anything you regret?

We have been lousy stewards with our fancy sophisticated language and all the technology we have. We have really, really betrayed the planet. Worst of all, we have betrayed the future of our children and grandchildren, and that is why I am so passionate about my Roots and Shoots movement, which aims to help young people change their world by learning about conservation.

When it comes to animal and human minds, where do chimps fit in?

Right up next to us. The way their mind works, the way they tackle problems, and the reasons they tackle them for, are very much like ours.

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