When you think of chimpanzees, it’s nearly impossible to not think of Jane Goodall.
The famed primate researcher—whose social contributions often draw peace-bearing comparisons to names like Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela—is the embodiment of inner and outer beauty. Goodall was 29, when, in 1960, she began living alone in the jungle with chimps. With no formal scientific education, she made discoveries that forever changed the relationship between humans and animals.
Now 77 years of age and maintaining a strenuous schedule that includes 300 days of travel a year, Goodall still delights at the opportunity to share expertise on her life’s passion—chimps. We asked the British native—who is busy preparing for Jane Goodall Live, a one-night-only event in movie theaters nationwide on September 27th (more on that at end of the article)—what, we as humans, can learn from our ape "cousins."
Goodall says it is the emotional and relationship connections between chimps that we stand to learn the most from, and that the science community’s evolving mindset on that dynamic has come nearly full circle during her decades of study.
“When I first started studying chimpanzees in 1960, it wasn’t appropriate to talk about chimps having personalities. I was told I shouldn’t give them names, I should give them numbers,” remembers Goodall, of the customary labeling practice of the time. “That has softened considerably. There has been a change in our understanding of chimps.”
Goodall cites the childhood experience of growing up with a family pet named Rusty as the reason she persisted in observing relationships and personalities in chimps, in spite of academia’s consensus at the time that no such thing existed. “Well, I thought, ‘Of course animals have feelings,’” reflects Goodall. “Anyone with a family dog knows that.”
One important lesson to be learned from chimps: Don't go to bed angry at your partner.
“With chimpanzees, it’s very important to them that tensions are resolved,” explains Goodall. “The chimp who has been the victim of an aggressive incident is likely to approach the aggressor, crouching, frightened, and nervous, and sometimes even with his back facing forward, ready to run at any moment. But he will nevertheless extend his shaking hand,” continues Goodall. “The dominant will reach out to it, and sometimes even embrace the chimp. And you can immediately see the tension relax and harmony is restored to the group.”
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