Celebrating Jane Goodall

From Barbara King of the Friday Animal Blog:

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:

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, worldwide.
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 chimpanzee 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 crisscross 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 the Jane Goodall Institute or via any Google search.

* Follow through with the “take action” suggestions at the institute’s 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 Goodall’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 Goodall, I send you my gratitude and admiration on this 50th anniversary. Your fans stand with you—for the animals.

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4 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    Spaying and neutering feral cats that will be socialized for adoption into a loving indoor home or for placement in a sanctuary or outdoor enclosure is fine. But there is no logic and no kindness to our native wild animals when TNR is practiced – this is the scourge of nature. The method is not only ineffective, but produces collateral damage – there are public health risks, infringement on property rights, and many would agree, a not so humane outcome for domestic animals. More at http://www.TNRrealitycheck.com

  2. Steve says:

    I have to agree with Linda on this one. So much of our natural world has been destroyed by development, uncontrolled logging, and by introductions of invasive species both animal and plant. Because TNR is ALWAYS accompanied by feeding 365 days per year, those untrapped and continually fed cats soon make up for any reductions in breeding by fixed cats. It’s a great system in theory, but TNR (as practiced)just doesn’t work and these non-native invasive meso-predators continue to kill native wildlife.

  3. Barbara King says:

    It’s too bad that the main point of my piece is lost to debate about TNR, but I do appreciate the comments; thanks for writing in.

    The killing of native wildlife by feral cats is of course reality. Yet provisioned TNR ferals hunt much less than others.

    In our case, we TNR and either 1) socialize the cats to adopt out or 2) return them to our small well-maintained outdoor colony 2 miles from our home. We keep up with trapping and spay-neutering which is of course critical. These cats gather at a public boat landing and have for many years, and a number of people in the community feed and appreciate them. Of course not everyone likes and enjoys them, I can’t expect that.

    However, I think as with most things, generalizations are dangerous. I see no public health risks in this or many other feral colony cases, and I’m not sure how these “fed cats soon make up for any reductions in breeding”– the idea is of course for them NOT to reproduce and for the colony to dwindle by attrition and this can happen. In other words, we all want the same thing, FEWER feral cats, but accomplished in a humane way.

    The cats we care for are beautiful and healthy creatures, very shy most of them, and it’s not either/or for us- we put most of our resources into our indoor/ former-feral pen enclosure cats, but we don’t forget the ferals!

  4. Linda says:

    “Yet provisioned TNR ferals hunt much less than others”.

    Sorry, but there is no scientific evidence of this. In fact, the hunting instinct is separate from the urge to eat. This was proven quite a long time ago in Adamec, 1976. Well fed cats are no less motivated to hunt.

    I appreciate the work you do that helps cats and also prevents access to wildlife through adoption and pens and so on. But any time a feral is released again to roam, that is further degradation of habitat. Cats will never go extinct, but as the 2009 State of the Birds report tells us – wild birds need all the help they can get.

    http://www.stateofthebirds.org/2009/challenges/invasive-species

    The point I believe Steve is making is that because TNR takes place in an open system, more cats are simply drawn to the food and any cat that evades capture is fed and better able to breed.

    Here is some info about public health issues related to free-ranging cats:

    http://tnrrealitycheck.com/pubhealth.asp

    http://tnrrealitycheck.com/references.asp

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