Barbara J. King

Friday Animal Blog

Celebrating Jane Goodall

July 16, 2010

This week, the Daily Press, one of the larger papers in my area of southeastern Virginia, published an op-ed I wrote. Here it is, doubling as this week's blog:

Wednesday, July 14, marked the 50th anniversary of Jane Goodall's stepping onto the shores of Lake Tanganyika at Gombe in Tanzania, East Africa, to observe wild chimpanzees. Or to be more precise, of Goodall's day after day waiting and hoping to see more than only dark ape shapes brachiating away from her in the trees. Five decades later, her patience—and her success-- are legendary, world-wide.

Like most primatologists, I owe a huge debt to Goodall. As is now known to every beginning anthropology or animal-behavior student, before Goodall we had no clue that chimpanzees make and use tools, or hunt other animals, or express deep emotions that undergird behaviors ranging from violence to compassion. If I had to choose one accomplishment and only one to highlight, though, it'd be this: Goodall opened our eyes to apes' individuality, to the variant and vibrant personalities of our closest living relatives.

Through her books and films we came to see that some chimpanzee mothers are loving and others indifferent; some chimpanzee males are striving alphas and others apolitical bumblers; some chimpanzees youngsters are innovative and others rely on brawn more than brain. Through Goodall’s unique blend of science and spirituality, of research and activism, we came to see that every single chimpanzee matters.

How amazing for an ape-watcher to have become a household name-- and a household face! One time when I was with her -- I've been lucky enough to spend small bits of time with Goodall in Williamsburg, in Santa Fe, and in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania—we entered a fancy hotel and the entire lobby plunged into staring silence. Desk clerks, porters, passersby, everyone knew who she was and they fell into a hush.

We read her books, we watch her films, and we attend her lectures to hear that gorgeous chimpanzee pant-hoot that she does.

Sometimes, though, it seems to me we care just so much and not quite enough—and I include myself in this charge. Yes, we learn about threats to apes and we may even send in some donation dollars to help. But if Goodall can criss-cross continents year after year to help chimpanzees, can we do more?

As a starting point, here are five things we can do to honor Goodall on her golden anniversary:

*Read the science and politics of the terrible bushmeat trade, where poachers kill animals for big-scale supplying of meat. Documents are available at Jane Goodall or via any google search.

*Follow through with the ‘take action’ suggestions at the Goodall website, so that we may press governments to take concrete steps to turn poachers into protectors worldwide.

*Spend our dollars not on observing apes in poorly run zoos or at the movies— and not on swimming with dolphins or other exploitative entertainment either—but instead to support Goodall’s work or the work of another animal-welfare organization of your choice.

*Recycle each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of cellphones in use in our community, because mining of coltan (used in the phones) is so harmful to African apes (gorillas, mostly).

* Apply Jane's logic in our own backyards, so that we stay inspired even in the face of animal suffering. Goodall’s philosophy is basically this: "Think you can't make a difference? When you save one animal, you make a huge difference for him.” More than once, this idea has lifted my spirits in the feral-cat rescue work I do with my husband. Even in challenging economic times, many of us can manage to spay-neuter one more feral cat; adopt or foster one more abused dog or abandoned rabbit; press for stiff legal punishment for people convicted of animal abuse; practice kindness to the birds, turtles, groundhogs, and other species around us every day; and eat and wear what will help and not harm animals. .

To Dr. Goodall, I send you my gratitude and admiration on this 50th anniversary. Your fans stand with you -- for the animals.

--Barbara J. King teaches anthropology at the College of William and Mary. Her latest book is Being With Animals, and she blogs at Barbara J King


  1. July 16, 2010 9:22 AM EDT
    People act like it's weird to care about animals in the abstract and also in the particular, as if one must do one or the other. Thanks for this reminder that we can do both, and for the recommendations of particular things we can do. I especially like the "recycle cell phones" point.

    People being animals, I suggest one way to recycle old cell phones is to look into donating them to the police department or women's advocacy groups. Old deactivated cell phones can be given to women in jeopardy of domestic violence so they can make 911 calls.
    - Marian Allen
  2. July 16, 2010 9:29 AM EDT
    Marian, your cellphone-recycling idea re: women's advocacy (and maybe women's shelters too) is superb! Thanks.
    - Barbara J. King
  3. July 16, 2010 10:27 AM EDT
    A beautiful piece, Barbara--I'm glad the Daily Press picked it up. Happy (Goodall) Anniversary!
    - Colleen
  4. July 21, 2010 2:17 AM EDT
    Great piece!
    - Raymond Ho

Selected Works

Why are animals so irresistible to us? Why do we live with and care so deeply about them? From the famous "art caves" of ice-age Europe, to the ancient villages where animals were first domesticated, to stories of apes, whales, dogs, and cats doing fascinating things today, King weaves together a scenario about the animal-human bond that encompasses our past, present and future.
Can scientists discover a prehistory of religion just as they have traced the evolution of technology, language, and art? What does compassion in chimpanzees, or burial patterns in our human ancestors and Neanderthals, tell us about the origins of religion? In Evolving God, named a Top Ten Religion Book for 2007 by the American Library Association, Barbara King explores these questions.
How do chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas-- the African apes -- communicate using body postures and gestures? Using her many years of experience studying these apes, Barbara King answers this question in a book that offers a new perspective on the evolution of language.