I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Dr. Goodall speak at Roy Thomson hall here in Toronto last month. When I initially found out Dr. Jane was coming to town, I re-read Allison’s post about how inspired she was when she first heard her speak. I eagerly anticipated the same for myself.
I didn’t realize that, as much as her talk was a message about saving our planet and being responsible stewards of the environment, it was also a story about her life. She spoke about her childhood, her parents, her yearning to visit Africa, and her first experiences with chimpanzees. As her talk passed the half-way mark, her message moved from an auto-biographical angle, and focused much more on advocacy for chimpanzees, other endangered animals, the rainforest, and engaging youth to create change. Allison was right – it was quite an in inspiring experience!
One thing that really struck me as she spoke was when she began describing her chimpanzee research in what is now Gombe National Park in Tanzania. She often referred to chimpanzees as individuals. She would talk about them like they were not just her friends, but their own… ‘people’.
Now, I’m not trying to say that Jane Goodall is trying to make an argument that chimps are exactly like human beings. She really hit home the point, however, that chimpanzees have a sense of community, they communicate with each other, they play, they emote – these are all very important facets of our concept of individuality. Calling them individuals, though at first a bit strange, seemed perfectly rational!
This was a bit of an awakening for me. I had long understood that chimpanzees were physically a lot like us: the similarities in our DNA, our shared evolutionary history, we look the same in many ways, for example. I had never realized that mentally we could be very similar as well. Call me crazy, but I think that’s one point Dr. Jane was trying to hit home when she spoke to the individuality of chimpanzees. For me, it makes the case for improving their plights in Africa even stronger than it was before. These individuals need our help to thrive once again!
While I was absorbing this message of chimpanzee individuality, Dr. Jane was articulating the hardships we impose on our closest relatives. We are the most intelligent species on the planet, and yet we knowingly cause massive harm to the earth, air, forests and water that chimps (and we humans!) rely on for survival.
The million dollar question popped into my head: could the fate we are creating for chimpanzees right now be the same fate for our future generations of children, nieces, nephews and godchildren? After listening to Dr. Jane articulate just how similar we are, I believe the answer is a loud and resounding “Yes”!
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