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Promoting Peace and Primates

Renowned chimpanzee scholar Jane Goodall speaks about her passion for primates, peace and environmental conservation at USC event.

By Pamela J. Johnson
October 1, 2006

Promoting Peace and Primates

The bell Jane Goodall rang was small but reverberated in loud, low-pitched clangs and clanks.

It didn’t matter that the sound wasn’t pretty. Patched together from pieces of a bazooka anti-tank rocket launcher used during the 15-year Lebanese Civil War, the bell symbolized peace.

“I hope that soon, all around the world,” Goodall told a crowd of roughly 1,000 at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Oct. 2, “bells will be rung that were made from war.”

The acclaimed primatologist’s visit was organized by Craig Stanford, chair and professor of anthropology and co-director of the Jane Goodall Research Center in USC College. Her talk and Q-and-A session was presented as part of Visions and Voices, the USC Arts & Humanities Initiative that includes a series of lectures, theatrical productions, film screenings and other events.

“So, there’s a vision here,” she said, still jangling the bell. “We need visions to help us move forward in this difficult world.”

Goodall’s message has evolved since the late 1950s, when she began observing the social behavior of free-living chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Her animal rights’ activism has blossomed to a message of environmental conservation and world peace.

During her two-hour talk, Goodall broached issues from global warming to terrorism. A major thread was hope.

“Do I really have hope for the future?” asked Goodall, a distinguished adjunct professor of anthropology and occupational science and occupational therapy at USC since 1990.

She expressed deep concern with the current warfare and terrorism plaguing many countries.

“The world is in a real serious mess right now," she said. "With the invasion of Iraq and contemplating some kind of attack on Iran. I mean, this is very frightening.”

Goodall’s USC appearance dovetailed with her talk at Griffith Park a few days earlier. There, she addressed the ChimpanZoo conference, held at the Los Angeles Zoo, and presided over the annual Day of Peace, organized by chapters of the Jane Goodall Institute’s youth service program, Roots & Shoots. Similar peace rallies were held the same day (last Saturday of September) around the world.

At USC, Goodall described the giant, white dove puppets that youths from Roots & Shoots had constructed from bedsheets. The doves have become the mascot for the Day of Peace and were the centerpiece for that event’s procession.

“The vision is, as the sun moves slowly around the world on that day, so these great white wings will spread out,” Goodall told the crowd. “Because the children who make the doves weave their own commitment to peace.

“I can imagine the wind just moving through these fabric wings and taking some of these wishes,” she said. “And perhaps some will fall on these tragic war-torn countries, where children are waking up every day in fear. And many of them are injured or killed.”

Goodall also discussed at length her first passion: chimpanzees. Now, her nonprofit organization near Gombe National Park aids local villagers in a quest to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.

She recalled the early days when, in the late 1950s, British archaeologist Louis Leakey gave her the opportunity to study chimpanzees in the wild. The first time she observed a chimp making and then using a tool — stripping leaves off a twig and using it to retrieve termites from hollowed logs — she was overcome with joy.

First off, the observation meant she hadn’t failed.

“After all, it was a ridiculous idea, wasn’t it?” Goodall said. “This young girl who had no degree straight up from England. It was very difficult for Louis Leakey to get me the money to start.”

The astounding discovery meant that Leakey could obtain additional funding from the National Geographic Society to continue the research. But it also became a watershed moment in the field of primatology.

“It was really exciting the first time, looking through the thick vegetation, seeing a chimpanzee making and using a tool,” she said. “At that time, it was thought that humans and only humans could use and make tools. We actually defined man as a toolmaker.

“I could hardly believe that I had actually seen it happening,” she said. “Finally, I sent a telegram to Louis and he made his well-known reply — that we must redefine man or redefine chimpanzees as humans.”

Decades later, much more is known about chimpanzees.

“We go on learning more and more about the ways in which chimpanzees resemble humans,” Goodall said. “We know that they can make plans for the immediate future. We know that they can generalize and abstract. We know that they can learn three or four hundred of the signs of American Sign Language and use those to communicate with each other and their teacher.”

Goodall said she was shocked to learn after 10 years in the field that chimpanzees also have a dark side. She was saddened the day she witnessed chimpanzees from neighboring social groups warring.

“I had thought chimpanzees were very much like us, but nicer,” she said, adding that some scientists warned her not to discuss the brutal intercommunity attacks.

“They argued that if we truly believe that the behavior shared by humans today and chimpanzees today has been brought with us by that early human evolution from that early ape-like, human-like ancestor, why then, war and violence are inevitable in our species.”

Goodall didn’t buy it. The aggressive tendencies humans have inherited from an ancient primate past do not mean war is inevitable, she said.

“Most of us, most of the time, manage to overcome our inherited tendencies,” she said. “We learn to adapt to the social norm of the culture of which we were born.”

More important, she said, “Even if we have inherited aggressive tendencies, so have we inherited characteristics of compassion and altruism. Because these, too, are vividly illustrated in chimpanzee society.”

During her talk, Goodall applauded the contributions of Stanford, who is best known for his groundbreaking work on the meat-eating behavior of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, among other places.

Goodall, who visits the campus every few years, also found time to meet with students in the biological sciences department’s Integrative and Evolutionary Biology (IEB) Ph.D. program.

Angela Jeansonne called Goodall a hero — a word the fourth-year IEB doctoral candidate doesn’t take lightly.

“She would be the only person I would ever call a hero,” said Jeansonne, who plans to study chimpanzees in Kabale, Uganda, in August 2008. “She paved the way for women scientists.”

Jessica Hartel, a first-year IEB graduate student, said Goodall helped to shape her life.

“My mom tells me that I was watching Jane Goodall on T.V. and I turned to her,” Hartel said. “I announced then, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I was six.”

Rob O’Malley, a third-year Ph.D. student in the IEB program, said that Goodall’s love for animals resonates with people all over the world.

“I can’t think of too many scientists who are household names,” O’Malley said. “But she is. Just about everyone in the western world has heard of Jane Goodall.”

In an interview after the event, Goodall said she hoped that each person in the room that day walked away realizing that their life matters.

"Their lives can make a difference," she said. "Every little thing you do each day has an effect."