In retrospect and to our collective embarrassment, it’s almost impossible to believe we’ve all been so blatantly ignorant.
As one species occupying this singular planet, we humans were almost completely oblivious to the other species occupying our rock — those animals. The human species claims to have the intellect of reason, curiosity, logic, invention and self-preservation, but seemingly lacks that one important component: awareness. Awareness that there was something else in the room.
Until Jane Goodall.
The list of people who have influenced the modern world is very short, but Goodall is on that list. And we all owe her a debt of deepest gratitude for opening our eyes to the fact that animals have an equal place on this planet and should be treated with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect.
Before Goodall entered our collective consciousness, wild animals were to be avoided unless we had captured them and put them in cages or in a circus. Chimps were sort of cute and even funnier little guys if they rode a little tricycle and smoked a cigar. Elephants looked menacing, but when they walked around a circus ring with trunks wrapped around tails, they were rather docile beasts.
We even put wild animals in our cartoons and festooned them with funny voices. Nothing wrong with laughing along with mischievous hippos, crocodiles or a Curious George on a Saturday morning. We made animals into characters.
In actuality during those years, we really knew nothing about the “other” species with which we share Earth, and we didn’t have to. We were in charge here, thank you very much.
How blind we were. “Ecosystem” and “endangered” were only good scores in Scrabble. The balance of nature was never a consideration.
Until Jane Goodall.
When she burst upon the collective reality in the 1960s, she showed us how animals not only live, but also feel, fear and protect their families. Just like us. And by doing that, she showed us, to our amazement, the many similarities we have with the other animals occupying our planet.
They protect their homes and their families, they search for food, can play with one another and feel pain. Turns out, they’re just like us. And she taught us how to communicate with them.
And the world’s nations were humbled and gave thanks to her for exposing this reality — buried in all these generations until she came along. The latest was Canada, which, in November 2020, introduced the Jane Goodall Act, which, if passed, will protect great apes, elephants and other wild animals in captivity and will ban the import of elephant ivory and hunting trophies into Canada, continuing the influence and impact Goodall has had in the world.
“Jane Goodall is a hero who inspires us to do better by all creatures of Creation with whom we share this earth,” says Senator Murray Sinclair, who introduced this notable bill. “Named in Goodall’s honour, this bill will create laws to better protect many animals, reflecting Indigenous values of respect and stewardship.”
“We live in a time, and a world, where respecting and caring for one another and our shared planet is the only way forward,” says Goodall. “As humans around the world accept that animals are sentient beings, there is a growing call for improved living conditions and treatment of captive animals. This bill being tabled by Senator Sinclair has the best interests of captive animals in mind. And the proposed ban on elephant ivory products and hunting trophies in Canada will decrease the worldwide market which fuels the senseless slaughter of endangered species. I commend Senator Sinclair for tabling this bill and I am honoured that it bears my name.”
When you get a bill of law named after you, you’ve had an impact. It is testament to Goodall’s almost mystical influence on all of us in making us think of the animal world. She was successful in this by her endearing and natural way of communications.
Albert Einstein knew, well, pretty much everything, but he was challenged in explaining it to the masses, because his subject matter was so dense that the rest of us mere mortals often wondered what the heck this guy was talking about. No so with Goodall.
Her real words, understandable explanations and authentic empathy for the animals she was studying broke through. Whether she was that “crazy lady who rolled around with gorillas in the jungles of Africa” or that lady who bantered late at night with Johnny Carson, she brought the reality and plight of the animal kingdom into our living rooms and onto our bookshelves, having authored more than two dozen books.
She understood optics and the power of visual mass communications and television in the 1960s, and through National Geographic TV specials or feature articles, she made sure we got it. She recognized the power of the camera and would have no problem snuggling up in the arms of her adopted gorilla deep in the rainforest if she thought it could communicate her message that we had to pay attention to these vital members of our natural ecosystem. That these were natural feeling species — just like us. Goodall brought the raw reality of the jungle and humankind’s threats to the animal kingdom to our safe, neat and tidy suburban doorstep.
Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall was born in 1934 in Hampstead, London. As a child, as an alternative to a teddy bear, Goodall’s father gave her a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee, and she carried it with her everywhere. Goodall has said her fondness for this figure started her early love of animals. “My mother’s friends were horrified by this toy, thinking it would frighten me and give me nightmares,” she recalls. Today, Jubilee still sits on Goodall’s dresser in London.
Her love of animals led her to a friend’s farm in the Kenya highlands in 1957, where she obtained work as a secretary. There, she had the audacity to telephone noted Kenyan archeologist Louis Leakey, with no other thought than to have a discussion about animals. Unknown to her, Leakey was looking for a chimpanzee researcher and proposed Goodall work for him as a secretary, where he grew increasingly impressed by Goodall’s work and natural curiosity.
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