Few things capture the attention of children like a woman who speaks chimp.
Dr. Jane Goodall, known worldwide for her work studying and communing with the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania made a special visit to the Langley School on Friday, telling the students about her travels, the education she received from the chimpanzees and why the things they do to help the environment today provide her with hope for the future.
Dr. Goodall, her gray hair in a pony tail and carrying a stuffed chimp, began her presentation by greeting the children in English, French and German, before making a series of hooting and grunting noises which she said were the chimpanzee equivalent of hello.
“For 45 years I’ve been studying chimpanzees, and the most important thing we’ve learned from them is how much like us they are,” she told the students, some who were visiting the Langley School from as far away as Hershey, Pa. for her presentation as part of the Roots and Shoots Program (see sidebar).
Chimpanzees can live more than 60 years, develop relationships with other chimps, can make tools and use their logical thinking abilities to solve problems, she said. “Chimps have a complex social structure. They feel emotions like we do,” she said.
Throughout her presentation, she told the students stories of different chimps she has studied, identifying each one with a name and telling about their personality traits like they were people instead of animals.
“Chimps can show love and compassion just like we can,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is a dark side to their nature, just like we have. It’s very sad to find that the chimps that have taught us so much about our relation to them and to each other are becoming extinct.”
IT USED TO BE thought that there was a very sharp, exact line between where chimps and humans were different creatures, she said, but while studying the chimps she has discovered that line to be much more subtle and blurred than originally thought.
“People used to think chimps couldn’t feel anything, but luckily we now know they have minds and feelings and sensitivities like people do,” she said.
In a typical year, Goodall spends 300 days traveling, visiting schools and large groups, telling of her work, she said.
“I’ve met some young people who have said to me that there isn’t anything left to find out about the chimps,” she said. “The truth is, there is so much left to find out, and the more you read books and watch programs on chimps or any other kind of animal, the more exciting the animal kingdom becomes.”
She told the story of a chimp whose mother had been killed so the baby could be taken and sold to a zoo and who was eventually introduced into an exhibit at a zoo with other chimps. A younger but stronger chimp tried to prove his superiority at the zoo and challenged this chimp, named JoJo, who did not learn from his mother how to be dominant and strong and was beaten by the other chimp and pushed into water, where he began to drown.
A man who was visiting the zoo with his family that day jumped over the fence, despite their pleas and the attempts of a guard to keep him safe, trying to rescue JoJo. When asked why he took such drastic and potentially dangerous measures to save this animal, the man said he saw a look in the chimp’s eyes, pleading for help.
“I’ve seen this look in the eyes of chimps on sale in the marketplace, in circuses and zoos. I’ve seen this look in the eyes of elephants, dogs, cows and other animals,” Goodall said. “I’ve seen this look in the eyes of children whose parents have been killed in war or gang violence: 'Why won’t anyone help me?'”
GOODALL HOPES TO cultivate the fascination children have in animals through the Roots and Shoots program, designed to instill for life that love for the environment and the animal kingdom through conservation projects.
The name is symbolic of a plant, she said. “The roots make for a good, solid foundation and the shoots grow and spread. Together, they can break through brick walls, but it takes time and patience,” she said.
Despite all the damage people have done to the environment, there are four major things that caused her to have faith in the future.
“Our amazing brains are finally admitting that we’ve done terrible things to the environment, and we’re trying to put things right,” she said. The resilience of nature to regenerate and reclaim areas once covered in concrete and human developments and return to a green environment if given the chance inspires her, she said.
“The indomitable spirit of people who overcome tremendous difficulties, like a man named Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 17 years because of his beliefs,” she said. “When he was freed, he had the amazing ability to forgive, which helped him to lead South Africa out of apartheid without a bloodbath.”
But it is the “energy and excitement and dedication of young people who know what the problems are and are committed to do something to make the world a better place” that encourage her more than anything, Goodall said.
“There are many schools that participate in Roots and Shoots that don’t have electricity at all, but all the students are linked together through this program,” she said.
“Roots and Shoots is all about hope. There’s a growing awareness of a need for action,” she said. “I think we’re starting to learn we can’t leave everything up to the government. We have to take action on our own to make the world a better place.”
THERE IS NO structured Roots and Shoot program at the Langley school, said science teacher Ryan McKinney, who teaches second, third and sixth grade. “The great thing about Langley is that we already have community service and environmental projects integrated throughout the school year.”
The school is considering starting an official Roots and Shoots after-school program, he said, “but our kids are so busy with their normal work” that he’s not sure how many would join the club.
His students were “very excited” about Goodall’s visit. “I think they’re more inspired by her life and her mission than anything. Her inspiration makes them work harder on their project because they know someone is out there living these thoughts every day,” he said.
McKinney’s third-grade students, for example, are currently growing sunflowers, morning glories, pansies and other flowers from seeds into small plants which will later be sold to benefit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which will be the next unit he teaches.
Adam Heins and Anna Laws, two of McKinney’s third-graders, said they were learning a lot about plants through their project, but it wasn’t the first time they’d done something to benefit an outside organization.
“We made bracelets for tsunami relief and sold them," they said. "We raised about $3,000,” said Heins.
“We thought because they were made by us and they were to help other kids, people would want to buy them,” Laws said.
When the plants are mature enough to be sold, the students will hold a plant sale, McKinney said.
“We get to take a plant home to give to our mothers because it will be close to Mother’s Day,” Laws said.