The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jane Goodall

Prime mover Jane Goodall
Created: 2010-10-24
Author:Li Wei

JANE Goodall has spent a lifetime challenging assumptions and breaking barriers and stereotypes - about primates, science and what females can do - and at 76 years of age, she is still a passionate advocate.

She is a renowned primatologist, anthropologist, ethnologist, UN messenger of peace, environmentalist and activist for animal welfare.

Traveling 300 days a year to spread the word, Goodall was recently in Shanghai to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her research into chimpanzee behavior; it officially started in Gombe Stream National Park in 1960.

In Shanghai she also supported Roots & Shoots, the international youth-focused environmental protection organization that she founded in 1991, and opened in Shanghai in 1999.

"A big problem is that people think the situation is terrible and they can do nothing; they feel helpless," said the British humanitarian. "But our message is terribly important: everyone can do a little bit every day to make things better." The simply dressed woman, her silver hair pulled back on a ponytail, addressed a gathering in late September.

Mention Goodall, a revered figure in primatology, and one automatically thinks of chimpanzees - she personally spent 36 years in Africa observing wild chimps and her Jane Goodall Institute has been involved with chimps for 50 years.

She indeed rewrote the book about primate behavior and links between man and ape. She received wide acclaim, and also some criticism for her unorthodox research methodologies.

Her groundbreaking research observing chimpanzee social interactions and families has shown that the line dividing humanity from animals is blurry. She overturned thinking at the time, showing that chimps make and use tools, that they are skilled social manipulators; that they have unique personalities with a range of emotions and considerable mental abilities, such as reasoned thought and abstraction. They can also be aggressive and warlike and sometimes eat smaller monkeys (experts once thought they were strictly vegetarian).

Goodall's work has forced a reassessment of what it means, anthropologically speaking, to be human.

She also challenged ideas about research and methodology - far from maintaining scientific detachment, objectivity and numbering chimpanzees, she became attached to her chimps, and gave them names such as David Greybeard and Flo. She set up feeding stations that critics say changed natural feeding patterns and lead to rivalry for food and aggressive behavior. She loved them and mourned them when they died.

Not least of her achievements (though not so often mentioned) is breaking, or at least challenging, gender barriers and stereotypes - starting when she was an untrained, enthusiastic 24-year-old animal lover who visited a friend's farm in Kenya in 1957 and became hooked on Africa and wildlife. She had only worked briefly as a waitress and a secretary.

She then returned to the UK to study primate behavior (she later earned other degrees) and returned to Tanzania for close up research of chimpanzees when she was 26.

She would spend 36 years in Africa. In 2004 she was named a Dame of the Ralm by Queen Elisabeth for her contributions to natural science.

Goodall has also been a role model for women in science and various nontraditional fields. She entered science at a time when few women were accepted and she has been an exemplar of strength, perseverance, independence, resourcefulness and empowerment. That was long before the women's movement began in the West.

She was the first of "Leakey's Angels," referring to three women chosen over the years by famed anthropologist Louis Leakey to observe primates in their natural environment in East Africa.

"Looking back over the 50 years, I think the most interesting thing is that we found how alike we and chimpanzees are. We are not the only beings in this planet with personality, minds and feelings," Goodall said in Shanghai when she delivered remarks and answered questions from reporters.

"Chimpanzees biologically are very like us in DNA structure, you could even get blood transfusion from a chimpanzee. Chimps can kiss, embrace and hold hands, pat each other on the back and throw rocks.

"They know happiness, sadness, fear and anger. They have a sense of humor. But it is sad because these amazing beings are in danger of extinction in Africa."

During her visit, Chinese questioners were amazed that a young woman of 26 would choose to spend what they called the "golden time of a woman's life" in an isolated African forest.

Asked whether she felt lonely while doing research, she said, "I never felt lonely, being alone and feeling lonely are two different things. And I love being alone." Goodall was married twice, first to a wildlife photographer, then to the director of Tanzania's national parks.

"What I missed most in the forest was having someone who could share the excitement, because what we think is exciting is taken for granted by Africans who see these things all the time." Her mother chaperoned her for the first four weeks, then she was on her own.

"There were no e-mails back then, no fax or things like that. Gombe was totally isolated. There was no communication at all."

In China, women have long been regarded as the weaker sex and those notions persist today. Famed novelist Cao Xueqin ("A Dream of Red Mansions") in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) considered women to be made of water - timid, pure and sensitive.

To some Chinese journalists who met her, Goodall seemed a superwoman who defied conventions, sought personal fulfillment and acted with courage and grace.

In 1977 Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute to support Gombe research and protect chimpanzees and their habitats.

"A very obvious problem is related to development," she said. "Animal habitat is lost as agricultural land and forest is taken away to develop new shopping malls, roads and things like that."

Hunting and selling animals for food and animal parts for medicine is another serious threat "not limited to China," she said.

"Hunting is the biggest threat to the chimpanzees in Africa and hunting endangered animals goes on around the world."

Water pollution, air pollution and climate change also threaten wildlife around the world.

Since Roots & Shoots started in China in 1988, Goodall has visited occasionally in her campaign to get people, especially young people, involved in saving the environment.

"Since I first came to China in 1988, the level of awareness about the environment has been hugely increased everywhere," she said.

"So many people outside China think all the Chinese are cruel to animals. But from all the years I have been here, this is so untrue," she said, while admitting she was not an expert on animal welfare in China.

"But it's almost certain that if people do understand that animals have feelings and personalities, and they are still cruel to animals, then they could also be cruel to other people."Roots & Shoots

Goodall founded Roots & Shoots in 1991 and visited the Shanghai branch (opened 1999) as part of the global celebration of Gombe 50, her 50 years of pioneering research in chimpanzee behavior.

Roots & Shoots is part of the Jane Goodall Institute and has offices and projects around the world, including in Beijing, Chengdu, Nanchang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Her latest trip involved a series of activities and the promotion of Roots & Shoots' Million Tree Project aimed at planting 1 million trees to push back the desert in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. All proceeds from her events are donated to the tree project.

Started in 2007, the Million Tree Project set the goal of planting 1 million trees in Inner Mongolia by 2014. The trees are part of a sustainable development project to reduce carbon emissions and halt desertification.

Around 400,000 trees have been planted so far; the survival rate is reported to be around 90 percent.

Roots & Shoots aims to educate children and youth about environmental issue and humanitarian values. Members have common values: devotion to the environment, love of animals and care for their community.

The project originated in Tanzania with only 16 students. Today there are 8,000 groups in 100 countries. What we can do

People ask me "What can I do"? I think if we all just spend a very little bit of time each day, thinking about the consequences our choices, just the small choices °?- what we eat, what we wear, how we get to A from B, how we treat people or animals, or the environment - then we start making small changes. And millions of small changes lead to big changes.

Everyone of us matters, every one of us makes a difference.

China's environment

We find in China exactly what's happening elsewhere. As the economy develops, the environment suffers terribly. Once the economy has begun to stabilize a little bit, then you find concerns to protect the environment.

There is no question that China is very, very well aware of the environmental problems, and taking steps to solve them.

It is encouraging that China has become the No.1 country of choice for investment in green energy development.


Roots & Shoots' mission is to involve young people in preserving the habitat in China. We help people in poverty, old people, migrants, homeless children - all these people.


I would not say I was happy, since traveling almost 300 days a year is not happy. But I am fulfilled by doing what I mean to do. I know it is making a difference. Hundreds of people have told me so. In that way I feel a kind of happiness and contentment. 

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