As part of Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Lectureship Series, Dr. Jane Goodall understands there are a multitude of ways previous presenters have greeted audiences in the past. She begins her introduction in English (“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!”) and then Italian (“Bon jour no!”), but then pauses.
After assessing the crowd, she understands there is only one way to begin her speech in a manner which no other presenter who has graced the stage of Jones Auditorium has ever done before. After performing a combined series of “Ooh’s” and “Ah’s” one could only decipher as Chimpanzeese, the crowd responds with thunderous applause as Goodall’s presentation titled “Gombe & Beyond” begins.
The presentation, which was held on Tuesday evening, serves as a love letter to many different topics, all of which the infamous researcher and philanthropist holds dearly to her heart.
Discussing her humble beginnings on a London farm surrounded by open fields, cows and various types of wildlife, Goodall says the environment served as the perfect location for, as her mother put it, “the making of a little scientist.”
Known for her seemingly intuitive connection she has with animals, Goodall attributes much of her talent to the kindness and patience that her mother possessed. As she recollects her earliest excursion, one in which she sought to discover exactly how and where a hen lays an egg, Goodall admits that much like any young child, her perception of time was not yet quite developed. Having been gone for several hours, Goodall’s mother was left in worry and was forced to call upon local authorities to search for her lost child. Running toward her late in the evening, Goodall says, “Instead of getting mad at me, she saw my shining eyes and sat down to hear the wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg.”
While her earliest years served as the perfect precursor in which to make a connection with animals, it was later in life while obtaining her doctorate degree in etiology from Cambridge University that Goodall was discouraged by her peers, insisting upon her that there was little connection between human beings and animals.
It was a notion the young scientist was forced to decline, since she had already seen from her primitive years in Gombe and Tanzania that there were in fact many traits that we as a species collectively shared with chimpanzees.
“They have personalities…they have intelligence…they can solve problems, and above all, they have feelings of happiness, sadness, fear, and despair,” said Goodall. “It was seriously thought that there was a sharp line dividing us and the animals, and that the difference was in kind. In fact, the difference is one of degree.”
While many similarities are shared between humans and chimpanzees, there are of course gleaming differences between the two species as well. Goodall admits that while it is unfair to compare the brain of a chimp, one that is scientifically proven capable of learning over 700 words of American Sign Language, against that of a human, there is some how been a disconnect from the human brain to the human heart.
“Isn’t it peculiar that the creature with the most developed intellect that’s ever walked the Earth is destroying it’s only home?” Goodall asked the packed house. With thousands of acres of the Earth’s rainforests going down in a fiery blaze as well as the over consumption of meat leading to excess of carbon emissions omitted from cattle farms, Goodall uses a quote from Mahatma Gandhi to reinforce the message of her entire presentation: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
It is the goal of Goodall’s organization Roots n’ Shoots, which she established in 1991 and is active in more than 140 countries an has more than 100,000 members, to raise awareness about the conservation of our planet as well as insisting people stop testing the resilience of Mother Earth. While most people insist we are simply inhabitants currently borrowing time on this planet, Goodall corrects that sentiment by saying “We haven’t borrowed this planet. What we have done is stolen our children’s future.”
With many stops left on her current tour, Goodall spends nearly 300 days of the year on the road advocating the preservation of the world many species call home. When asked what keeps her motivated after all of these years, Goodall said “I was given these two gifts: one is a good constitution. I don’t get sick very often. And two is the gift of communication, so I have to use it as best as I can.”
Tuesday evening, at Jones Auditorium, she did.
Follow Raul Altamirano on Twitter: @raulsotx