Although I’ve already wrote about this subject before, I think it deserves a little more attention. It’s also a little belated, but yesterday marked the 50th year of Jane Goodall’s study at the Gombe site. I believe I would be extremely hard-pressed to find any primatologist that hasn’t been touched in some way by Goodall and her studies, and even non-primatologists have heard of and know of Goodall’s research. As someone who wants to go into primatology, I can’t not think about it without Goodall’s contributions.
Goodall recreated what it meant to be human when she discovered that chimpanzees use tools for nut-cracking or for termite “fishing.” She found that war may not necessarily be a human-only event in the 1970’s when war broke out between Kasakela males and other males of splinter groups. She also discovered hunting and meat-eating in these primates when after following a chimpanzee named “David Greybeard” was eating part of a baby bushpig. Moreover, she also debunked a solid then-fact as to what it meant to be human: bipedal, as the chimpanzees were often bipedal. Without this information, anthropology and many other fields could not have advanced to where it is today as to define what a “human” really is–a giant, upright ape among many other things.
Over the past 50 years, Goodall has also contributed to the world of wildlife conservation as well by empowering local individuals and bringing the chimpanzee’s stories to light. Additionally, through her Jane Goodall Institute and programs such as Roots and Shoots, she is able to tour schools and give talks to children to inspire them to become environmentalists and give and work for conservation efforts.
But I think the most important thing Goodall has taught people, be it in research or in conservation and everything else in life–is not to give up in the face of adversity. To me, Jane Goodall is a symbol for what I should aspire to attain–not because of her fame, but what I can contribute myself to the world.
As such, I’ve recently begun thinking about what I want to do for at least some of my life–I love studying and working with primates more than anything I’ve considered before. However, I’m not entirely sure research is for me: I recently quit my job in a lab at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and I realize that I don’t really miss it at all. I’m not talented at math in the least either, and honestly, captive studies in research centers bore me (although, admitedly–I have not attempted captive free-range research as the WNPRC does not allow for this being in cold Wisconsin and all.) I liked being out in Costa Rica and watching the primates interact with their wild settings, but I’m still not sure research is my niche.
Instead, I want to work more with conservation. More specifically than this, conservation laws. I want to be able to help curb bushmeat trade in Europe and other places, I want to make reasonable laws that prevent overhunting of primates everywhere, and I want to be able to prevent overlogging areas in which primates thrive. I want to make sure that when primate research is done in the U.S. and elsewhere that it’s performed as ethically and humanely as possible and that it also contributes to the primate’s well-being as well. Here, I guess I am proposing a new field of primatology–legal primatology. If there’s medical primatology and ethnoprimatology, why can’t there be legal primatology?
I hope to make this a reality; I’ll be applying to law schools instead this coming year and I could not have even considered this potential line of work without Jane Goodall–and numerous other primatologists’ thankless work as well. I’m grateful for everything Jane has done, will do, and those who choose to follow in her and many others’ paths as well. To that, I say thank you and here’s to hopefully another 50 years and more at Gombe.