On Wednesday, November 7, Jane Goodall, the world-renowned primatologist and environmentalist, visited the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) to speak about her work, her Roots & Shoots organization, and meet students active in Roots & Shoots. After her speech, Dr. Goodall participated in a question and answer session, the first part of which was conducted by two WAB students, grade 5 student Jacob K. and grade 11 student Luke C. Dr. Goodall opened up about profound moments, legacies, and even the mating rituals of chimpanzees.
Jacob K: When you were doing your research in Tanzania, if there was a huge forest fire coming, and you only had time to save one thing, what would it be? “One thing” not being like, all the chimps.
Jane Goodall: Well there was a point when I had my own child [with me], and of course I would have rescued him first. If I had to choose one chimpanzee, it would probably be the one nearest. It’s a difficult question because it’s hard to make choices like that.
Luke C: Is there anything that you’re most proud of? What do you think is your greatest legacy?
JG: Well, probably my greatest legacy will be Roots&Shoots I hope, because it can go on and on after I’m gone. And the other legacy I think, because of the chimps, is helping people understand that animal’s aren’t just things, that they have personalities, minds and feeling, and that we need to respect them.
Luke C: Have there been any things that you regret?
JG: Oh, of course little things, but you know, really when I made mistakes I learned from them, and when things went wrong I could look back and say “Oh, because it went wrong then it’s led to this which is better.” So not really, nothing major, just little things.
Luke C: Is there a specific moment that is your most profound moment or experience?
JG: Other than having my own baby, which is a very profound thing to do, which you will never know… [laughter in the audience]you can be a father, that’s profound too. With the chimpanzees there was probably two or three [profound moments]. One when [the chimpanzee]Old Flo, who started off being afraid of me, she came to trust me so much that she let her little five-year-old infant, her precious infant, come over towards me. He could only just walk, and [Old Flo] was with him, she kept a hand around him, but she had him reach out to touch my face. And that was a very proud moment.
And the other amazing moment when I was following [the chimpanzee]David Graybeard the first few times and he lost his fear, and then he disappeared in a tangle of vegetation and I nearly lost him. But when I emerged, he was sitting, looked as though he was waiting for me, and there was a ripe red fruit laying on the ground which I knew the chimpanzees like. So I picked it up and held it out towards him and he turned his face away. And I put my hand closer, and he turned, he looked directly into my eyes, he took the fruit, he dropped it, and then he very gently squeezed my fingers, which is how chimps reassure each other. So I knew he understood. He didn’t want the fruit, but he knew my motive was pure. And I understood that he understood.
Luke C: You said that you travel over 300 days a year and you have won a lot of awards and accolades. What still excites you?
JG: Well I always try and learn something new every day and I don’t like to waste a day. I’m always meeting new people, and every time you meet a new person you’re learning something new. Learning about their problems … so every day there’s always something if you really look. And I find that when I’m walking along with a group of people, they just walk past something and they don’t look. Like the other day, we were walking through a sort of grassy field, and it had been raining. And everybody was just walking by. And there was this little sparrow, and it was having such a wonderful time having this bath, and it went on having the bath, and everybody else walked by. Another time we were waiting outside a restaurant … and I was again in a group and we were just talking, but I saw up there, again it was a sparrow, and it was up [above us], it was a male and a female. And the female she wanted a mate, and she was flirting, offering herself to this male. And he was very young and he didn’t really quite know what to do. And she turned at him and flew at him and chased him away.
Luke C: Do you have any higher goals for Roots &Shoots?
JG: I would like every child in this school to be part of Roots & Shoots. I would like WAB to become one of the growing number of what we call “Roots & Shoots Schools.” And Roots & Shoots schools work Roots & Shoots philosophy into its subjects and curriculum…I want WAB to reach out to other schools and help us spread into different international schools and reach out further and further.
[editors note: at this point questioning was opened up to the audience]
Girl in the audience: Do you know the names of any of the baby chimps that you’ve been talking about?
JG: The baby chimp of Old Man was called Matt, I don’t know why but he was called Matt. Flo’s baby was called Flint. I don’t think I’ve talked about any more babies. All the babies born in the Gombe they all have names, I’ve known about 300 chimpanzees—
Boy in the audience: How do chimpanzees mate, exactly?
JG:I’m not sure that this is quite the time to talk about how they mate, but if you’re really interested I can show you pictures. But when the female is ready for mating, all the males mate with her one after the other. She is very promiscuous. And the mating is very quick. And then one male will take her away, and he tries to keep her away from the other males, and he’s probably going to be the one who’s the father of her infant. But I’ll tell you a funny story about that, a little girl was let at home being looked after by her father, and he’s reading her a story, trying to get her asleep. And she’s nearly asleep and she sits up and she says “Daddy, where do babies come from?” And he thinks “Oh dear, I don’t want to deal with this with my daughter.” So he says “I think you’d better wait til Mummy gets back and ask her about that.” So she accepts that and she lies down again, and he thinks that she’s gone to sleep and suddenly she sits bolt upright and says “Daddy, I know where babies come from.” And he said “Yeah, where do babies come from?” She says “All the babies in the world come from Jane Goodall’s tummy!”
Woman in the audience: What happened to David Graybeard?
JG: David Graybeard sadly died a long time ago in 1968 in a terrible epidemic of an influenza-type disease that was going through the community. A lot of chimpanzees died at that time.
To see Jane Goodall’s full speech and question and answer session, click here.
Photo by Ellis Friedman