Meeting With Jane

I remember it was about 7 years ago that I was really starting to gain an interest in science and academics.  I began to read voraciously; everything from philosophy to physics.  However, one book in particular captured both my heart and my mind: Through a Window.  Ever since then, Jane Goodall has been a tremendous influence to me.

In “Through a Window” I was transported into the world of another species on our planet that behaves in very similar ways to our own.  She structured the narrative in such a way that if I hadn’t known I was reading about another species, I would have thought she was observing groups of humans.  When she observed these animals, she saw individuals with personalities.  They had feelings and emotions.  They felt pain, joy, love, fear, happiness.  They made jokes, had enemies and best friends, they had lovers, they cared deeply for their children.  They developed strong social bonds with each other and structured themselves in groups that were not too dissimilar from human groups.  They also made tools to hunt and to forage.  And they waged war.  At the time of her writing these were groundbreaking discoveries.

For me the stories she told from her field research left me completely astonished.  Like many of the scientists who she encountered after returning from her first field season, I found it hard to believe that another species could think and act like us.  In that book she made me think differently about our species and the relationship we have to the rest of life on our planet.  I became intensely interested in what our connection was with chimpanzees.  I was interested in our history with them, what their intellectual capacities were, how many individuals were remaining and where, and I was interested in what their behaviour could tell us about our own evolutionary past.  But perhaps more than anything, her book inspired within me a passion and inspired me to dream.

I wanted to know what was happening in the field of primatology today.  What progress had researchers made to understand their behaviour?  Their evolutionary history?  Their biology and ecology?  What were we doing as a species to ensure that we peacefully coexist with our closest relatives?  What did it take to get involved and follow in the footsteps of Dr. Jane?

Since reading her work 7 years ago, I have fully immersed myself in academia, with a specific focus on chimpanzee behaviour, ecology and human evolution.  In the early stages of my career, I have dedicated my time to helping piece together our origin story and better understand our closest relatives.  I hope that I am only at the beginning of that journey, but I have already had the opportunity to travel to Africa (twice) to conduct my own independent research on chimpanzees.

For me, having the opportunity to do that was literally a dream come true.  And today I got the chance to meet the person who has had such a profound impact on me both emotionally and intellectually:

We spoke for 5 minutes but it felt like 5 seconds.  I couldn’t have been more overwhelmed.  She asked me about my research and what I was hoping to do in the future.  She even gave me advice and suggestions for my research proposal and gave me a few contacts that will help me build a better research project in the future.  I was just impressed that I managed to speak coherently.  When I put the encounter into context, it is certainly one of the most important of my life.  I feel more motivated to continue in the field and the encounter was a vivid reminder as to why I got involved in chimpanzee research in the first place.

Jane Goodall spent her life reaching out to our family.  Through her efforts humans now understand our place in nature and our relationship to the rest of life.  She has inspired a countless number of contemporary researchers that are completing ground breaking research throughout Africa.  And she has built a global institution dedicated to inspiring the next generation to protect and cherish our planet.

 

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About Cadell Last
I am a science educator, freelance science writer, and founder of The Advanced Apes based in Toronto, Ontario. In the past my academic research focused on the evolution, ecology, and behaviour of non-human primates (i.e., chimpanzees, gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs). Currently, my official blog, The Ratchet, can be found via The Advanced Apes and Svbtle. I enjoy exploring recent research in human evolutionary sciences, as well as biology, ecology, astronomy, physics, and computer science. My work has been featured in Scientific American, American Humanist, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. I am also exploring science popularization in new mediums in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios with an animated YouTube channel. You can contact me on Twitter (@cadelllast) or via email: cadell.last@gmail.com

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