Animal Emotions

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An Interview with Jane Goodall on Plants and Chimpanzees

Read Dr. Goodall's thoughts on the wisdom and wonder of plants and other matters

Dr. Jane Goodall, Dame of the British Empire and United Nations Messenger of Peace, always has words of wisdom about almost everything. Dale Peterson's book called Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man is a must read for those who want to know more about this most remarkable woman (see also the website for The Jane Goodall Institute and Jane Goodall's page on Amazon). I've had the pleasure of working on a number of projects with Dr. Goodall as co-founders of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and co-author of The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for The Animals We Love

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Jane Goodall on the Future of Plants and Chimps

We all know Jane Goodall's wonderful and long-term contributions to the study of chimpanzees and other animals, but few know that she has now ventured into the awe-inspiring wolrd of plants. I want to share this short and wonderful interview with Dr. Goodall called "Jane Goodall on the Future of Plants and Chimps" about her forthcoming book titled Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants. In this interview she reflects on a wide range of topics, both personal and scientific. I also had the pleasure of helping do a bit of research on this new book during a few days at the Nebraska cabin of Images of Nature photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen, and learned about topics about which I rarely thought. 

Here are some teaser quotations from this recent interview. 

As one of the world’s most renowned animal researchers, what made you decide to write a book about plants?

For my last book about saving endangered animals from extinction, I wrote a long section about plants, but my publisher said the book was way too long, so apart from one or two examples, the plants got left out. I was particularly upset because the botanists and horticulturalists had been so cooperative and excited that their stuff was going to get into my book, and I thought it’d be really mean to leave it out. So my first idea was just to add a bit to that section and put it out as a slim volume. But the plants seemed to think otherwise. It was almost as though they put their roots into my brain saying, “Look, Jane, you’ve spent all your life talking about animals, and now it’s our turn.”

Ecologically, when people think about endangered species, they mostly consider animals. Why should we be concerned about plants?

For one thing, without plants, we wouldn’t exist—everything eats plants, or it eats animals that live on plants. So for the entire ecosystem, plants are the underpinning. If you start to restore an area, you start with the plants, and then the insects appear, and then the birds follow, and mammals come along. Also, plants are fantastic at removing impurities from the soil. And the forests play this incredibly important role in sequestering carbon dioxide.

Do you miss being out in the field with them?

I do. A lot of it is just being out in the forest. But Gombe is very different for me, now. There are more tourists, wider trails, so it’s hard to be with chimps on your own. We don’t manage the tourism, so although there are rules about how many tourists can be with the chimps, the rules get interpreted in such a way that you can have three groups of six tourists all clustered around one chimp and her offspring. It’s very disturbing to me. But the chimps don’t seem to care that much.

How does chimp behavior help us better understand human behavior?

Well, the part that always shocked me was the inter-community violence among the chimps: the patrols and the vicious attacks on strangers that lead to death. It’s an unfortunate parallel to human behavior—they have a dark side just as we do. We have less excuse, because we can deliberate, so I believe only we are capable of true calculated evil.

Dr. Goodall is among the most influential scientists of all times and I am so glad she has now ventured into the amazing world of plants. And, we should all be very thankful for the wide-ranging and significant work she has done and continues to do to make the world a safer and more peaceful and compassionate place for all beings, nonhumans, humans, and plants alike. Thank you Dr. Jane.

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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