Sarah Niekamp / Lantern photographer
British primatologist Jane Goodall greeted audience members with a reenactment of a “chimpanzee hello,” kicking off a presentation on her life as a renowned scientist and animal activist.
“If I look back now over all the 50 years during which we’ve been learning about these chimpanzee relatives of ours, the thing that strikes us most is how like us they are,” Goodall said.
The event, “Sowing the Seeds of Hope: An Evening with Dr. Jane Goodall,” was brought to Ohio State Monday through the Ohio Union Activities Board. The lecture drew roughly 1,400 people to the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom and reached around 500 additional people through a live streaming video of the event, according to OUAB lectures chair MacGregor Obergfell.
Goodall spoke on her lifelong career as a primatologist, first studying the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania and currently traveling the world to fight for their conservation. Especially in the beginning, she said, her mother was instrumental to her success.
“She understood my passion for animals,” Goodall said. “She helped me find books about animals because she thought, ‘Jane will read quicker if she reads about something she loves.'”
Goodall joked about one such book, “Tarzan of the Apes,” which she said inspired her to pursue a life of studying animals.
“I fell passionately in love with Tarzan – this glorious creature living out in the jungle doing all the things I wanted to do, and what did he do? He married the wrong Jane,” Goodall said.
Goodall said the opportunity to study chimpanzees came when British archaeologist Louis Leakey offered her a chance to travel to Africa. Goodall’s mother accompanied her for the first six months, but Goodall said she saw little from the chimpanzees until she made the groundbreaking discovery of their tool use just after her mother’s departure.
“It was sad that she left just before the breakthrough observation, just before that never-to-be-forgotten day,” Goodall said. “When I sent a telegram to Louis Leakey, he made his now-famous response … ‘Now we must redefine man, redefine tool or accept chimpanzees as humans.'”
Samantha Jones, a fourth-year in psychology, said she plans to go into primatology and enjoyed hearing how Goodall navigated her way through the field.
“I liked hearing her life story and how she got to be where she is today,” Jones said. “What inspired her is kind of what inspired me, so it’s good to hear a story like that.”
Goodall also talked about Roots & Shoots, a youth program formed through the Jane Goodall Institute in 1991 to combat environmental and humanitarian issues through community service projects and campaigns. Goodall said there was once an active Roots & Shoots group at OSU and hopes students will initiate a new group after hearing the lecture.
“It’s amazing what young people are doing – it’s incredible, it’s my greatest reason for hope,” Goodall said. “Roots & Shoots is hope.”
In a talk with central Ohio media prior to the lecture, Goodall also spoke about her opinion of zoos and their role in animal conservation.
“A really good zoo where animals have the best conditions can actually make a very strong impact on people,” Goodall said in the media talk. “Today many zoos are taking part in captive breeding. Some people don’t like it but I think it could save a species.”
Of the four species of great apes – chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan – the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has all but chimpanzees. Audra Meinelt, one of the zoo’s primatologists, said the zoo chose to house bonobos rather than chimpanzees because it wanted to support the less well-known species, though she said the zoo has been involved with conservation projects for all great ape species.
“There’s actually only seven zoos in the country that have bonobos and they are considered to be the rarest of the great apes,” Meinelt said. “(We) really work on the conservation and the education of the public of this species that’s maybe a little bit more overlooked than others.”
Obergfell, a fourth-year in molecular genetics and psychology, said the event title represented what he hoped students would learn from the lecture.
“It really sums up everything that we wanted students to get from (the event),” Obergfell said. “Coming out to learn about the primates, how we interact with animals, how we interact with our planet and simple things we can do to improve our world, I think that’s what students will take away from the event.”
Following the formal presentation, Goodall opened the floor for questions, then signed books and took photographs with those in attendance.
Before the Q-and-A session, Goodall announced that the release her upcoming book, “Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants,” has been postponed until June due to “problems,” referring to the plagiarized passages discovered by The Washington Post March 19.
Before ending her formal lecture, Goodall said she’s seen evidence that suggests her conservation efforts are working, but called on everyone in attendance to take part in continuing to make the world a better place.
“Every one of you makes a difference every day, don’t forget it,” Goodall said. “Every one of you matters, every one of you has a place in the great scheme of things … we need help from all of you, and when I say ‘we,’ I’m talking about the planet.”
A representative from OUAB declined to comment on the cost of bringing Goodall to OSU.