Jane Goodall, famed primatologist and anthropologist, visited Trinity University on Thursday in celebration of the release of the book “The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall.”
Published by Trinity University Press and edited by Marc Bekoff and Dale Peterson, the book is a compilation of more than 100 testimonies by Goodall’s friends and colleagues honoring her as a scientific pioneer, inspiring teacher, and engaging spirit.
With tickets selling out in only 17 minutes the day of their release, avid fans of Goodall all over San Antonio and the Trinity Campus ached to meet what many call their idol and childhood hero.
Her riveting speech, “Sowing the Seeds of Hope,” brought the audience in Trinity’s Laurie Auditorium into the world she has so passionately fought for throughout her life — that of the Gombe chimpanzees. She greeted the audience with a perfect chimpanzee greeting call, transporting them to Gombe and outlined the challenges of her research.
Why would a young woman of 23 dare to go to Africa on her own to observe chimpanzees?
“In a nutshell, I dreamed of it when I was 10, was inspired after reading Doolittle and Tarzan, and had a supportive mother,” she told the audience.
Everyone thought she was crazy. A young woman venturing into the unknown for the sake of scientific research was unthought of. For Jane, the lack of findings available at the time was disconcerting.
“When I began there was no interest at all, but fortunately I had the courage of my conviction,” Goodall said.
She spent many months in nature observing behavior through her binoculars, until the chimpanzees finally became comfortable enough to come into contact with her. When she discovered a chimpanzee engaged in making and using tools, and it became clear that it was not only men who could be called a toolmaker, she shook up the science community. Her findings were revolutionary.
Goodall’s work gained momentum when National Geographic took notice of her efforts during her youth and gave her a platform to voice her discoveries and reflections on chimpanzees and the natural world.
She has been the subject of countless television programs around the world and has been named a United Nations Messenger of Peace as well as Dame of the British Empire. Commonly known as the “Chimp Lady,” her work is credited as catapulting environmental issues into the forefront of conservationist efforts. Now a familiar face, her signature pony tail and soft smile is recognizable anywhere.
Goodall also shared her work concerning the Jane Goodall Institute, a leading nonprofit that aims to protect the fragile habitats of chimpanzees. Operating in more than 28 countries around the world, the institute continues to support the study of the Gombe chimpanzees and establishes development programs in Africa as well as community driven conservation efforts.
The institute involves the people living in the surrounding villages in its projects. She explained to attentive audience members that establishing trust with villagers and becoming partners with them is key to keep the chimpanzees safe.
“Where we used to see bare hills there are now trees,” she said proudly.
Problems such as deforestation, bush meat trade, unsustainable greedy lifestyles, and climate change are some of our greatest perils, but Jane Goodall believes that although we have little time there is still something that can be done. Her greatest hope lies in the youth.
In 1991, Goodall established a youth program in Tanzania called Roots & Shoots, which is a global environmental and humanitarian youth program currently in more than 140 countries. The ever-growing program empowers young people to identify issues in their local communities and make a difference for animals, people, and the environment.
“If you look around the world and think of what’s happening, it’s pretty grim. But if you roll up your sleeves and take action locally to try to solve a local problem, you see change,” Goodall said.
She ended her speech by sharing the story of Wounda, one of the more than 160 chimpanzees from a rehabilitation center in the Republic of Congo. Wounda, whose name means “close to death,” was orphaned as a child and near death when she was rescued.
Goodall was present during the chimpanzee’s release and shared a video with the audience of that emotional moment. Never having met Wounda before, what happened next was a tear-jerking surprise. Upon release from her cage, and after looking around her surroundings, Wounda suddenly looked at Jane and gave her a warm embrace for several seconds before embarking on her new life of freedom.
“Nature is amazingly resilient and we can restore places. Animals on the brink of extinction can be given another chance,” she said.
Wounda’s warm and genuine embrace brought many in Laurie Auditorium to tears and made everyone reflect on all the beings with whom we share the Earth. Jane Goodall has remained one of our environment’s biggest advocates. She has dedicated her life to a noble cause. For all that she has done for our planet, I’m sure everybody in the audience wanted to embrace her too.
*Top image: Jane Goodall at the book signing for “The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall,” following the lecture at Laurie Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Trinity University.