Legendary primatologist and researcher Jane Goodall came bearing a message of hope and despair for the world’s environment to students and fans at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday, Sept. 17. With each step toward the podium, the crowd rose in waves to greet Goodall, but with the first words in her lilting British accent, a hush soon fell over the gathered audience.
“Let me greet you how I am accustomed to being greeted,” she began. Goodall then demonstrated a chimpanzee call. “It means hello, this is me,” she clarified.
A storyteller, Goodall took the audience “back to the beginning” with anecdotes of herself as the “curious little scientist,” waiting hours in a barn with a hen to learn where eggs come from. She encouraged the crowd to develop their own curiosity and explained that her mother was the most influential force in developing her curiosity. Goodall advised the crowd to follow her mother’s advice.
“Be true to your convictions,” Goodall said. “Don’t stop when you’re told something can’t be. Evaluate it yourself.”
She shared the struggles of her early years with the audience and explained that her first interactions with chimpanzees were not what she expected.
“Chimps are very conservative,” she said. “They never saw a white ape before, which is basically what I was and am.”
After the chimps became comfortable with her, she discovered the chimpanzees’ forms of communication, motivation, intelligence and primitive warfare in the struggle to become the alpha. She also discovered their ability to show love and compassion.
“Chimps made it easy for me to assert that there’s no line between us and the rest of the animal kingdom,” she said. “The difference is in degree, not in kind.”
Goodall told of her career as it evolved from primatologist to activist with the emergence of environmental challenges. Since 1986 she has been on a continuous tour to advocate for environmental activism, never staying in one place more than three weeks in order to reach as many people as possible. She spoke of The Jane Goodall Institute’s efforts to eliminate the bush meat trade, the trade of wild African animal meat and the effects of deforestation and its contribution to greenhouse gases. She addressed the controversial topic of modern factory farms and criticized the current commercial industry for its mistreatment of animals and natural resources.
“It was a little like being chastised by your mother,” said Sarah Humfeld, an MU postdoctoral fellow in biological sciences and a researcher in animal behavior. “It was like your grandmother telling you, ‘Things were better thirty years ago. Why’d you cut down those trees?’”
Despite these negativities, Goodall has the greatest hope for change in students. Humfeld agrees with this and hopes that students will expand their curiosity within their education.
“You guys shouldn’t be constrained by the types of questions that you ask in your education,” Humfeld said. “Nobody should ever tell you that that’s a stupid question or you don’t have the experience to ask that question.”
Goodall urged the young people in attendance to join her environmental youth program “Roots & Shoots.” She encouraged them to join hands around the world and show what they’re doing and how they’re changing the environment for the better.
Goodall was a sponsored speaker of the Delta Gamma Foundation Lectureship. This foundation is focused on sharing values and ethics. Their mission is focused on promoting character development and social responsibility.
Goodall emphasized this focus when she ended her lecture by saying, “Every single one of us makes a difference, every single day. It’s not too late to turn things around. That is the hope for the future.”
To learn more about Goodall’s work and activism, or how to start your own Roots & Shoots program visit www.janegoodall.org.