The Time I Unknowingly Insulted Jane Goodall

From the Orlando Sentinel, dated February 17, 2000:

Famed Lady Of Chimps Enthralls Audiences

Jane Goodall Can Give A True Jungle Yell
February 17, 2000|By Charlene Hager-Van Dyke of The Sentinel Staff

DELAND – After squinting to notice the small figures high in the back of the 2,500-seat Edmunds Center at Stetson University on Wednesday night, famed primatologist Jane Goodall welcomed them with a unique greeting: a chimpanzee distance call.

Dressed in a green turtleneck, tweed pants and a camouflage-patterned jacket, Goodall offered a low gruntlike sound that escalated to a resounding high-pitched squeal.This was as close as Goodall could get to Africa’s Gombe National Forest on her lecture tour.

A few hours earlier – on her mother’s 95th birthday – the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees offered a similar hello to a large group of Stetson students and faculty in Elizabeth Hall Auditorium.

“I talked to my mother yesterday, and she asked me to send her love to all of those people in Florida. So here’s love from my mother,” she said with arms outstretched.Goodall is the fifth in Stetson University’s Stewart Lecture Series, which began in 1991 with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and continued with former President Jimmy Carter, journalist Bill Moyers and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel.At both of Wednesday’s venues, Goodall explained some of the programs provided by the Jane Goodall Institute, including the Roots and Shoots environmental education program for schools and the continuing work in helping both chimpanzee and human populations in the Gombe National Forest.Goodall, her varying shades of gray hair pulled neatly back into a ponytail, went straight to work at the afternoon session as she dropped to her knees near the edge of the stage. She said she wanted to get closer to her audience, which ranged from teenagers to senior citizens. Afterward, she opened the floor to questions and got comfortable.Comfortable for Goodall meant a familiar position: buttocks and feet on the floor with her arms wrapped around her knees as if she were ready to settle in for a day of observing chimpanzees. But, instead of binoculars, on this day she would hold a microphone.Despite occasional sound problems in the auditorium, Goodall fielded questions about topics ranging from chimpanzee language, psychotic primate behavior and medical research to zoos as natural habitats, her motivation to persevere and her evolutionary beliefs.One male student’s question – “How has your aging affected your research?” – seemed to stun the audience but to amuse Goodall, who will turn 66 on April 3.“I spend 300 days a year on the road and usually the most exercise I get is climbing the stairs at a hotel and then finding that the door is locked and having to walk back down,” she said. “But,” she shot back, “I find I’m usually more fit than most of the people I work with, even if they’re in their 20s.”
That comment drew much applause from the audience, many of whom had a copy of her latest book, the new bestseller Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, planted in their laps, awaiting her autograph.

Goodall also talked of her English childhood, telling the story of an incident when she was 4 years old and wanted to know how an object as large as an egg could come out of a chicken. When no one answered her question, she hid in a henhouse for more than four hours to find out for herself.

When Goodall was 11, she fell in love with Tarzan (she always thought Jane was a wimp), she told the delighted audience.”I thought I was a better mate for him than Jane – which I would have been,” she said.Goodall attended secretarial school and then got a job with a documentary film company before being invited to Kenya by a friend. To save money for the trip, she worked as a waitress, stowing away her wages and every nickel she received in tips.When she was 23 years old, Goodall met paleontologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey, who hired her as his assistant on a three-year fossil-hunting expedition in Olduvai Gorge.After receiving her Ph.D. in ethology – the study of behavior patterns in animals – from Cambridge University, Goodall went back to Africa to begin what has evolved into a 40-year commitment to chimpanzees and their well-being.Goodall made history in 1960 when she discovered that chimpanzees made and used tools to collect termites for food. She also has brought to light the similarities between chimpanzees and humans, including their passive tendencies of holding hands, kissing and hugging as well as their more aggressive behaviors of fighting, killing and even cannibalism.As head of the Jane Goodall Institute in Silver Spring, Md., she spends much of her time doing what she did at Stetson: spreading her message of conservation and awareness of our relationship with chimpanzees.”Instead of sitting in the Gombe Forest doing what I love most, now I’m traveling the world talking to people and trying to raise money,” she said.She left the afternoon audience with a vision of one of her first memorable encounters with the chimpanzee she named David Greybeard.”I thought I had lost him in the forest, and then I crawled through some branches and found him. I offered him a nut from my opened hand. He took it and then dropped it onto the ground, and then he touched my hand with some pressure. He told me that he didn’t want it, but that he knew what I was offering.”

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