Although not a superstar among the likes of Angelina Jolie or Meryl Streep in the public eye; Jane Goodall is the larger “equivalent” in the world of primatology. Goodall’s work on chimpanzees is famous for very good reason: her studies on chimpanzee family and social structure is incomparable and gives some of the greatest insight into human social behavior. Famous for her strong advocacy for conservation and work in improving wildlife everywhere, Goodall is also the woman we can thank for the discovery of tool use among chimpanzees (Goodall 1962; 1963; 1964) and observed warfare in chimpanzees as well within the Kasakela chimpanzee community (Goodall 1986) where chimpanzee brothers “Figan” and “Faben” (who was suffering from polio and often walked bowlegged and bipedally as a threat sometimes) invoked warfare on a neighboring community of chimpanzees from 1974-1977; stalking their prey and waiting for the lone male, eventually systematically eliminating every lone male in that community.
In just those observations alone, we have a critical insight to the human behavior–we can examine our tool using abilities not as a uniquely “human” trait, but as a distinction of physical ability and higher intelligence in order to wield them correctly and efficiently. Moreover, with Faben’s often use of bipedality, we can further rule out bipedality as a trait which discriminates chimpanzees from humans.
In 2010, Goodall is celebrating the 50th year of her study on the Gombe National Park chimpanzees. This is a significant mark for any study into wildlife, particularly so for creatures with long life histories such as primates: although we can give a general range for life span in the wild, it does not necessarily mean it’s factually true. After all, how many studies are there that verify these facts, considering that a given amount of field studies are so short in length? Not to mention, a finding for general life history parameters might be true for a given subspecies, but another may have completely different parameters given that the environments and ecosystems are different, assuming for different food availability, environmental impact, disease ecology, predator ecology, etc.
I sometimes question how I feel about Goodall: I’m at odds with her beliefs that it is unethical to use chimpanzees as biomedical subjects (Goodall 1995), if only because I know when we find significant improvements for diseases like HIV/AIDS–we are also contributing to animal welfare by creating new veterinary treatments as well.
However, despite my objection to her on that front, I admire her because she’s a woman that, even at age 76, still continues to kick ass and take names to say the very least. She creates ways that even impoverished communities can attempt to contribute to environmental purposes and help create sustainability in those areas, and it makes people like me–privileged and able, want to contribute to the world as long as I’m around to help it.
Congratulations, Jane Goodall. You’re honestly one of the better primates I know and you’re an inspiration to primatologists, conservationists, and people everywhere. Your work is one of the finest examples of altruism I can think of with your consideration to all kinds of animals. In your honor, I’ll do my best to not give up and get as involved as possible.
Goodall, J. (1962). Nest building in the free ranging chimpanzee. Annals, New York Academy of Science, 102, 455-467.
—. (1963). Feeding behaviour of wild chimpanzees. Symposium, Zoological Society of London, 10, 39-48.
—. (1964). Tool-using and aimed throwing in a community of free-living chimpanzees. Nature, 201, 1264-1266.
—. (1986). The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 64-65.
—. (1995). Why is it unethical to use chimpanzees in the laboratory. ALTA-Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 23(5), 615-620.