With all three of these remarkable women an early fascination
with animals was a first step in the path leading them to their
careers. But they did more than merely study their subjects,
they bonded with them. While investing decades studying our
closest living relatives who share 98- 99% of our human genetic
material, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdilas,
came to know them as thinking, feeling beings with distinct
personalities. The trio share a burning commitment to saving the
apes from extinction.
Mass rain forest destruction is the main threat. Poachers
continue to kill mother orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees to
sell their young as pets or to foreign zoos. This isn't a battle
that can be won from a secure seat at a university it must be
won on the front lines of the rain forest where the crimes are
Jane, Dian and Biruté are phenomenal women. Their courage,
pioneering spirit, dedication and long-term commitment are
qualities that shine through with a brilliance that can inspire
any young girl to follow her wildest dream. Enjoy their
If you were to visit several
countries picked at random and ask people to name a well- known
scientist, the answer you would most often hear is, "Dr. Jane
Goodall." National Geographic articles and documentaries touting
Jane's startling discoveries with the chimpanzees of Tanzania catapulted
her into living rooms everywhere.
But Jane isn't the only widely
recognized female primatolgist. The movie "Gorillas in the
Mist" heralded the late Dr. Dian Fossey's research among the
mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Another primatologist, Dr. Biruté Galdikas,
is the world's authority on the orangutans of Borneo. When National
Geographic and Hallmark Hall of Fame complete a TV movie based on her
life, she will become as well-known as her predecessors.
With 73 years of field research
years accumulated among them, part of the credit must go to Louis S.B.
he was a mentor to all three. Leakey, a paleoanthropologist, had spent
decades digging up thousands of fossils in East Africa, yet not one bone
gave a clue as to how our human behavior had evolved. He thought if we
studied our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, gorillas and
orangutans in their natural habitats, we would gain insights as to why
we act the way we do. Leakey also believed women made good scientists.
They are keen observers, patient and pay attention to detail. He
perceived male apes would be less intimidated by women thus more readily
accepting of their presence. And certainly Jane, Dian and Biruté had
their close encounters of the third kind.
What drew these women to study the
apes? Why did their field research turn into a lifetime commitment where
the majority of scientists spend one or two years in the field then seek
tenure at a prestigious university? With our nation's science scores
pitifully low and a science-is- for-men social attitude, how can young
girls benefit by learning about these three dedicated
a child one of Jane Goodall's first memories was of hiding in a
chicken coop for hours waiting to discover how eggs were made.
She had a chimpanzee stuffed animal she adored. Her dream, to go
to Africa, was realized when she earned a position Leakey's
assistant secretary. When he mentioned he was looking for
someone to conduct research on the chimpanzees, and was she
interested, she leaped at the opportunity. Leakey thought Jane's
lack of scientific background would
be an asset. She would approach the research with an unbiased,
open mind. Jane would later go on to earn a Ph.D. in ethnology
set foot at Gombe Stream in 1960. In the beginning the chimps
hid whenever she approached but they soon discovered she was
harmless enough and began to ignore her presence to go about
their routine affairs. Jane was the first scientist to observe
chimpanzees fishing for ants by stripping twigs and poking them
through holes in the mounds. She was the first to observe
chimpanzees eating meat. They hunted cooperatively, sharing the
booty. But in Jane's opinion her most profound discovery came
about though decades of mother/infant observations. What she
discovered was good mothers raise daughters who in turn become
good mothers. Bad mothers raise daughters who become bad
up without a mother and role model, I confess I wasn't a very
good one to my daughter in the early years. In the wild I
observed female apes doting on their babies, playing with them
and behaving as if they were the center of the mother's
is now into her 38th year of research. She doesn't spend
as much time at Gombe Stream as before. The Tanzanians
have taken over much of her field research. Instead,
Jane now devotes much of her time to improving
conditions for chimpanzees in zoos and in laboratories.
There are only 200,000 chimpanzees remaining and they
are on the critically endangered list.
Until then I
thought being a good mother meant not giving your child away.
When my daughter would come home from school, I'd only pay
cursory attention to her while going about my business. But
after watching the apes through the microcosm of my camera lens
I began playing with my daughter after school and giving her
100% of my attention. I held her close and touched her whenever
she walked by. I told her I loved her everyday.
I once asked
Jane, "If chimpanzees had a motto, what would it be?"
"We're much too human" was her reply. In fact, the
very criteria textbooks say separate animals from humans has
been challenged by Jane Goodall's discoveries. Tool use,
tool-making and language were the delineators. Chimpanzees not
only make "fishing poles" to catch ants, they break
rocks and use them as nut crackers. But Jane also discovered,
like humankind, chimpanzees have a dark side. She observed one
group systematically annihilate a neighboring group by ambushing
and killing them in a territorial war.
child has heard of Koko the signing gorilla. Dr. Francine
Patterson has helped Koko master 1000 signs in American Sign
Language. When Koko breaks something, she often names a specific
human as the culprit. Imagine, at least one gorilla tells lies.
We're either going to have to change the textbooks or redefine
what it is to be human. cont.