Dr. Jane Goodall, internationally renowned anthropologist and world conservationist, filled Bovard Auditorium on Oct. 6 with both a capacity crowd and, more importantly, a renewed sense of hope for a world in need.
People of all ages — USC students, children, adults and others — soaked up the rays of hope in Goodall’s thoughtful words for a sustainable, peaceful and verdant future.
Goodall has been a distinguished adjunct professor and co-director of the Jane Goodall Research Center at USC College for 19 years. She also is an adjunct faculty member in USC's Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Goodall began her career in Gombe Stream National Park (Tanzania) in 1960. Next year will mark her 50th anniversary. “It’s a record to research one group of chimpanzees who can live to be more than 60 years,” she said. During this time, she said she has acquired fascinating insights that include a collection of life, family and community histories of chimpanzees.
Hers was a path that was not easily taken. She dreamed as a child of writing books about animals in Africa. It was a dream that seemed impossible at the time due to money constraints and, as she said, “being of the wrong sex.” The poet Robert Frost would certainly have agreed that Goodall took the road less traveled.
Similar to many iconic greats, Goodall received uplifting and life-altering advice from her mother Vanne, who was an author. “I never heard a single word that I could not achieve my dream. I took advantage of every opportunity and never gave up,” she explained.
In her early twenties, Goodall became a secretary to famed Kenyan archaeologist Louis Leakey and later became known as one of three Leakey Angels along with Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas. And the rest is history — her education at Cambridge University, her highly acclaimed research at Gombe, her ability to galvanize people around the world through her words and actions as well as Roots & Shoots, a youth-empowered conservation organization that she began in Tanzania that has skyrocketed in membership and is active in nearly 100 countries.
She was told she had gotten it all wrong. According to Goodall, her professors at Cambridge University, considered to be the best science institution in Britain, said that she should not give chimpanzees names, acknowledge they have feelings, or can think like humans. All of which she did.
Goodall discussed her long history of studying chimpanzees. “With the discovery of the chimpanzee genome, we learned that our DNA differs from theirs by only one percent,” she said. “Chimpanzees can use computer touch pads, solve complex mathematical problems, and learn more than 400 signs in American Sign Language.” Characteristics, she said, that were previously attached only to the human animal, became associated with chimpanzees through their demonstrated use of tools, problem-solving skills and in how they both hunted and shared their kill.
Having traveled and spoken to people in 64 countries around the globe about her research, Goodall shared several of her unique experiences that paint a vivid image of a world environment in peril. Thirty years ago she found a much different landscape in Greenland than what she discovered during a recent visit. She described the ice cliffs as “giant slabs of cracked ice that fell with thunderous roar, and water streamed from the base of the cliff like a raging river, year-round.” She recounted how the people from Greenland, with tears streaming down their cheeks, equated this as the sound of their country crying out for help.
She said she left Greenland thinking we must do something and not leave this unanswered. “Each one of us must do everything in our power to slow down climate change. We can’t stop it in its tracks, but we must do what we can to slow it down,” she said.
Goodall said that everywhere she travels and she travels often, 300 days a year, she encounters incredible people with passion in their hearts. She told the Bovard crowd, “You need to know that you should never give up.”
In telling a few success stories, Goodall emphasized the difference that each person or a small group of people can make in saving other creatures. She brought this point home in a story centering on the California Condor, which were quickly approaching distinction in the 1980s. These wonderful birds with a 10-foot wingspan only numbered three. As a result of a few passionate people, 300 of these amazing birds now fly freely in California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. She held up a big feather that showed the proof is in the plume.
Goodall, the tireless advocate for wildlife preservation, is highly decorated having received the Gandhi-King award, the title of Dame of British Empire, and the role of UN Messenger of Peace, to name only a few accolades.
Her protégé and collaborator of 19 years, Craig Stanford, professor of anthropology and biological sciences and co-director of the Jane Goodall Research Center at USC College, said, “Jane Goodall is not only a pioneering scientist, she is also a world-renowned environmental activist. USC is very fortunate to have the long affiliation with her that we have enjoyed, and from which our students have benefited."
And what a tremendous surprise and delight it must have been for the students of Anthropology 406, an upper division course in biological anthropology, when they saw Jane Goodall walk into their classroom on Tuesday.
The Jane Goodall Research Center, housed within USC College, sends graduate students to Gombe Stream Research Center for research on the behavior of wild animals and other primates in addition to storing the center’s research data.