by Sherry Marr
It will not surprise you to know Jane Goodall has long been one of my heroes. I have watched the documentary “Jane” more than once, with its stunning footage of her early years with the chimps in Gombe – footage that was thought to be lost, discovered just a few years ago. More recently, I watched “Jane Goodall: The Hope”, which follows Jane around the world. In normal times, she travels 300 days a year, encouraging young people to join Roots and Shoots, her program, now 30 years old, that inspires young people to plant trees and care for the areas in which they live. There are now 700,000 active members of this worldwide movement in 50 countries.
Roots and Shoots asks us to look around us, see what projects we can begin in our own areas to make the world a better place, and to work in harmony with the natural world. Here on Vancouver Island, we have two areas of extreme concern: the relentless clearcutting of the very last of the old growth forest, and fish farms, which are hastening the disappearance of the Pacific wild salmon. Secondary impacts are loss of habitat and the displacement and starvation of wild creatures.
During covid, Jane has continued her work digitally. She feels the press of time. When people suggest she slow down, she replies that she feels the need to speed up, given the accelerating climate crisis, and the short window of time we have to turn things around. But she says she is inspired by the young, who will keep doing this work when she is gone.
A section of the documentary “On Hope” that moved me to tears was the chimps held in cages in medical labs, for experimental purposes. The look in their eyes, after spending year after year in small metal cages, looking out through the bars, unstimulated, uncomforted, never feeling grass or trees or sun, was so dismal. They held their hands out to Jane as she came through the labs, visiting each cage. Standing in front of one chimp who had lived like this for 15 years, thinking of the chimps of Gombe, on the soft grass with their families, tears started rolling down Jane’s cheeks (and mine). The chimp, compassionate even after 15 years of uncompassionate incarceration, reached through the bars and softly brushed her tears away.
This broke my heart. The greatest sorrow of my life is the suffering of the animal world at human hands. Who are the beasts? Who are the fiercest predators?
In this photo, a chimpanzee released from her cage embraces Jane, thanking her for her freedom. Jane calls this one of the most incredible moments of her life. A link to the video of this moving release is here.
A breakthrough in Jane’s study of the chimps of Gombe in the early years was electrifying. Before then, it was assumed that man was the only creature who could think and reason. Then Jane observed a chimp tool-making. He used a long grass stem to poke into places where there were insects. Drawing the stem out covered with insects, he then ate them. This changed everything, and solidified funding for Jane’s research for years to come.
“The way the chimps think and the way they feel is so similar to the way we think and feel,” Jane told a gathering of scientists in the film. “They share 99% of our DNA. They love and care for their young as we do.”
Instead of accusing the scientists, Jane showed them films of the chimps of Gombe. Some of the scientists were crying. One said, “She raised the consciousness of our consciences. We had to think about how ethical this was.” It was the start of change.
Because of Jane’s work, extensive testing of chimps was halted in that facility, and the lab chimps were retired to a sanctuary. The footage of them experiencing grass and freedom of movement for the first time is very moving.
“You have to reach peoples’ hearts to change their minds,” says Jane. “When our minds and hearts are connected, we live in harmony.”
It is because she saw what was happening to wild creatures on the planet because of mankind’s encroachment and their diminishing habitat, that Jane had to leave her beloved Gombe, traveling the world to inspire the young to save the earth.
This film revived my hope. Activism – especially when done with respect and dialogue – works. It is good to feel that, as individuals, the choices we make, how we live, our priorities – even the poems we write about the natural world – all put something good into the world. Everything helps. We do what we can, where we are. Some of us are driven to do more.
For your challenge: let’s contemplate the world around us, in our various places on the planet. Is there an area at risk or already damaged near you that you are especially concerned about? Tell us about it. Alternatively, are there people taking action to restore places of environmental degradation, or to protect areas at risk? We love those stories! Hope and action together effect change. What I love most about Jane is that she is indefatigable in her belief that change is possible. I need that on days when I get discouraged.
You might want to write about Jane, or the chimpanzees. That is fine, too. Let’s turn our pens loose, in whatever way this challenge speaks to you.