She learned of life from close relativesViewed from the other side of the room, Jane Goodall appears slight and frail. But in her immediate presence the vulnerability conveyed by her thin frame and neatly tied gray hair vanishes. “There is a peaceful look about her,” says a man who approached the famed primatologist for an autograph of her autobiography during her visit earlier this week to Korea.
“There’s a sense of timelessness and peace of the forest that I try to carry in me,” she says when asked about the source of her apparent serenity.
Wrapped in an eye-catching shawl spangled with red and green splotches, and carrying a stuffed chimpanzee doll (later revealed as Mr. H, her traveling companion), Ms. Goodall shakes hands with 50 or so opinion leaders and social activists. The woman whom Tanzanians refer to as the “Mother Chimpanzee” is in high gear for a morning lecture that might even charm the stoical Mr. H. Her knowledge of chimpanzees, acquired over more than 40 years is unmatched, and this crowd of environmental activists is star-struck.
As she begins her address, Ms. Goodall summarizes her most significant findings about chimpanzees. “The behavioral similarities between humans and chimps are striking, especially the nonverbal way of communicating by posture, gesture and touch,” she says. She then demonstrates a chimp greeting with Choe Jae-chun, professor of life sciences at Seoul National University and head of the school’s Institute of Primate Research and Development. They embrace and mock kiss as would primates, and the audience laughs. “Although they, too, show extreme brutality and engage in primitive warfare, chimps also show love, compassion and altruism. They tell us that we, humans, are capable of creating societies without aggression.”
Growing up in England during the Battle of Britain of World War II, Ms. Goodall says violence is the common thread in her concern for the environment and world peace.
“When I look at all the devastation and hazards around me, I feel deep shame,” she says. “We let our intellect race ahead; we have forgotten to consult our hearts.”
After the lecture, in which she introduced her Roots & Shoots movement, a global environmental and humanitarian education program for youth, a mother nudges her small child toward the scientist as if trying to steer her in a positive direction. Ms. Goodall says, “The most frequent question I get is, ‘Jane, do you honestly have hope for the future.’ My four reasons for hope are these: The human brain, the resilience of nature, the energy and determination of young people and the human spirit. Of course there is hope for the future, but the future lies in our hands. Every one of us counts.” The room is silent, and than the audience erupts in applause. Admirers gather around her, seeking guidance on what they can do to help the cause, to shake her hand and ask for an autograph.
Ms. Goodall has revolutionized how we view human development. Her personal journey started in 1957, when she met the legendary paleontologist, Louis Leakey, in Kenya. She worked as his assistant for three years before, at age 26, going to Gombe, Tanzania, the site of many of her epiphanies, at his encouragement.
Among her most significant findings are the facts that chimps use tools and are also meat eaters. Her theories on the intelligence of chimps have been cited by the National Geographic Society. Her experiments with chimpanzees have confirmed the cooperative nature of humans, an observation she says offers the best hope for our survival
Despite her age and a formidable schedule during her four-day stay in Korea, and despite traveling 300 days a year, Ms. Goodall shrugs off any suggestion that she should slow her pace. “I’ll be alright,” she says. “I think someone looks after me.”
This is more than speculation; she has made it through trying times. In 1975, four of her student researchers in Tanzania were abducted by Congolese rebels, who demanded a ransom for their release. The students were freed unharmed after payments were made, but Tanzania forced all foreigners to leave Gombe. “It was one of the most nightmarish times of my life,” she says.
But the most devastating event for her and the one that tested her religious faith was the agonizing death of her second husband, Derek Bryceson, who succumbed to cancer in 1978. Ms. Goodall writes in her autobiography: For a while, I rejected God and the world seemed a bleak place.” Today she sees those times in her life as dark periods -- dark as in ignorance. “Much of the damage we cause is from not knowing,” she says.
Later in the day, during a journey to Everland zoo near Seoul, Ms. Goodall lets her feelings be known. “I hate zoos, no matter how good they are. Animals do not deserve to be caged, especially elephants, dolphins, wolves, they deserve to roam around freely.”
The 45-minute ride gives her a chance to talk freely about her beliefs as revealed in her autobiography, “Reason for Hope.” She says, “For me there is no problem reconciling evolutionary science and the Christian faith.” The Bible, she says, is filled with parables, metaphors. “If you hold a fossil in your hand, you know there is no way this happened in seven days. If you ask me what was before the big bang, I would have to answer that there was God.”
Sohn Hak-kyu, the governor of Gyeonggi province, greets Ms. Goodall as she arrives at the zoo. Despite the rain, the group decides to go ahead with the tour. On entering the primate quarters and seeing the animals held in the windowed cages, Ms. Goodall becomes quiet. She suggests ways to make life easier for the mandrill, chimps and orangutans in captivity. Mr. Sohn asks questions about the animals’ mating habits, and Ms. Goodall answers in detail. When a female chimp bangs on the glass window, she says, “She’s trying to show off.” Ms. Goodall asks for their names, ages and origins. She kneels, looking carefully at the chimps, placing her hand on the window. “Can they hear me?” she asks. She chants in Pant-hoot, her name for chimpanzee language, “U-hoohoohoo hu,” but they do not respond. Shaking her head, she says, “Must be a different dialect.” Of the orangutans, she says, “They are masters of escape.” Observing the orangutans using sticks to eat honey from artificial logs, she suggests creating a termite mound for chimps in the zoo so they can use tools of the wild.
Ms. Goodall has fame, but she is a reluctant celebrity. “I did not plan these things,” she says. “I only find a champion.”
She seems on a treadmill, talking to a student accompanying her to the zoo about what she can do to save the magpies in her neighborhood and later at another lecture at Seoul National University promoting Roots & Shoots. “In one word, she is a hero,” says Mr. Choe. “I don’t know where her energy comes from but she is indefatigable when it comes to delivering her message of love of life and protection of nature.”
The message is rich in variety. She talks about ethnic conflict, environmental hazards, such as the chemical DDT, global warming, the many ways to protect the environment, including ecotourism, how society has become wasteful compared with the 1960s, the epidemic of rudeness among youth (whom she describes as “self- centered and selfish”) and the ubiquity of Starbucks, a phenomenon she says she hates. Ms. Goodall is sweeping in her condemnations, but she does believe there is hope. She is optimistic.
At Seoul National University’s Munhwagwan Assembly Hall, the seats are packed with college students, adults and children who have come to hear Ms. Goodall’s lecture, “Chimpanzees and My Life.” When she climbs to the podium, the crowd claps with enthusiasm. She greets them with “U-hoohoohoo hu.” She talks about her childhood love of animals, her life-changing visits to Africa and her monumental work in Gombe. Mr. Choe translates and shows the slides that document her life’s work.
“These are thinking, feeling beings,” she says of the chimpanzees. As the subject shifts from her work to the loss of wildlife and rapid industrialization, she talks about the changes that each individual can make to the environment, “starting with one’s own community.” “Each and every one of you counts. You can’t let a day go by without making an impact,” she says.
After a long Q&A session, she sits at a table outside the lecture hall, autographing copies of her books proffered by admires in a seemingly endless queue. The faces show esteem and gratitude.
Ms. Goodall holds many titles: doctor of Ethology from Cambridge University, Commander of the British Empire and Dame, conferred by Queen Elizabeth. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan named her UN “Ambassador of Peace.” But what she wants to be known as is “Ambassador of the Natural World.”
“It’s more dignified” she says.
by Choi Jie-ho