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Chimps in Uganda: A Visit with Jane Goodall

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Dr. Jane Goodall addresses guests during her visit to Uganda. Photo: Maureen McCarthy.

Dr. Jane Goodall addresses guests during her visit to Uganda. Photo: Maureen McCarthy.

Dr. Jane Goodall recently paid a brief visit to Uganda. As a primatologist and advocate for animals and the environment, Dr. Goodall travels the world about 300 days a year to educate and inspire people of all ages. Her visit here was one of numerous stops in a tour to various African countries. Jack and I were fortunate to be invited to a small event at the Jane Goodall Institute office here in Uganda.

Jane gave a short talk before mingling and chatting with guests. In it, she discussed the many changes in science and society that have altered the course of chimpanzee research and life here in Africa. Technology, she explained, has both simplified field research and opened new possibilities to answer a myriad of novel questions. In addition, as deforestation accelerates, new issues arise regarding how to protect chimpanzees and so many other species that depend on forests for their survival. As always, Jane advocated an optimistic attitude toward the future, citing the reasons she remains hopeful in the face of environmental destruction that sometimes seems overwhelmingly bleak.

For us, this message of hope was a welcome reminder. It is one that I carry with me as we trip over felled tree branches and listen to the buzz of chainsaws on an almost daily basis. I also remind myself of the example she sets that good science and conservation need not be mutually exclusive endeavors. I admire and respect my colleagues who share this attitude and work toward conservation while still conducting groundbreaking work.

Jane and Maureen. Photo: Jack Lester.

Jane and Maureen. Photo: Jack Lester.

After our chat with her, Jack and I were brimming with the kind of enthusiasm that few people but Jane can inspire. We only regretted that my field assistant Nick was unable to attend. Jane even discussed the plight of people just like him: youth who understandably feel cynical about the world around them, largely because of the environmental damage caused by previous generations. Jack and I have tried to encourage him that he can achieve positive change despite how dismal things may seem. As part of this effort, we introduced him to Jane’s scientific work and advocacy.

Months ago, I found a copy of one of her books in a Kampala bookstore and gave it to him as a birthday gift to help satisfy his growing curiosity about our study animals which, he observed, seem remarkably like him. (Watching simple acts like the similar strategy chimpanzees and humans use to eat a stalk of sugar cane have provided some of his biggest “ah ha” moments!)

Nick. Photo: Jack Lester.

Nick. Photo: Jack Lester.

I borrowed Nick’s book copy and brought it along with us to the meeting. I told Jane about Nick’s brightness and enthusiasm as well as his occasional sense of deep pessimism. She responded by writing him a personal message in the book, a reminder that he should never give up and that he can indeed make a difference. Jane has written this message for thousands of people in thousands of books around the world, but these particular words were meant just for Nick.

When he read the message, he smiled a knowing smile that she wrote these words just for him, that she was aware of his struggles to stay positive. I hope he keeps it and uses it as a reminder of the impact he can make. He’ll need a good reminder now and then as he moves forward in a career of science and conservation. Indeed, it is a reminder we can all use.

Thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Panta Kasoma, and the staff of the Jane Goodall Institute for a memorable and inspiring day.

Previously in this series:

Chimps in Uganda: Two weeks and counting….
Chimps in Uganda: “These are a few of my favorite things”
Chimps in Uganda: Home Sweet Home
Chimps in Uganda: Bustling Kampala and Unwanted Houseguests
Chimps in Uganda: Reading the Clues
Chimps in Uganda: Lessons from Washoe
Chimps in Uganda: Travels In and Out of the Forest
Chimps in Uganda: Surprise Encounter
Chimps in Uganda: Rising Conflict
Chimps in Uganda: Conservation Conversation
Chimps in Uganda: Meet the Gents
Chimps in Uganda: Uganda’s Other Great Apes
Chimps in Uganda: Resilience
Chimps in Uganda: Hunting for Answers
Earthquake on Chimp Mountain

Maureen McCarthy About the Author: Maureen McCarthy is a PhD Candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California. She received her Master’s Degree in Experimental Psychology from Central Washington University, where she studied the gestural communication of chimpanzees who have acquired American Sign Language. She has more than a decade of experience studying captive and free-ranging primates. Maureen is currently in Uganda for a year to study the behavioral ecology and genetics of chimpanzees in fragmented forest habitats. Dr. Craig Stanford advises her research. This is Maureen’s fourth trip to Uganda—she’s been there several times before to volunteer as a research assistant and to collect pilot data for her dissertation. When she’s not busy collecting chimpanzee poop or getting malaria, Maureen enjoys birding, hiking, and photography. This research would not be possible without the generous support of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, the USC Jane Goodall Center, Primate Conservation, Inc., and the American Society of Primatologists. Follow on Twitter @mccarthymaureen.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Sinibaldi 8:49 am 07/30/2013

    Comme une émotion.

    Quand le son
    de la neige
    revient dans
    le ciel je
    sens l’harmonie
    qui passe en
    silence….

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    Link to this

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