What most separates humankind from the animal kingdom is an arrogance destroying our planet, famed British primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall told attendees at a special convocation ceremony Wednesday. At the event, Goodall received an honorary degree from the university.
As research continues to bridge the gap between humans and the animal kingdom, with evidence that chimpanzees are intelligent, capable of malice, compassion and altruism, humans are discovering more about themselves, too, Goodall noted.
“We know now that we are truly part of the animal kingdom. We are learning more and more, all the time, about how arrogant we’ve been, and we’re learning new respect for these other creatures. How tragic that we are so fast destroying this planet,” she said.
“What’s the main difference between us and animals? It’s the explosive development of intellect. We’ve designed a robot that crawled onto Mars and took pictures. Mars is inhabitable, and we’ve got one Planet Earth. How is it that the most intelligent being that has walked this planet is destroying it?”
In this development of intellect, there has been a “kind of divide between this clever brain and the human heart,” she explained. Humankind is making decisions with no consideration of future generations. The only hope we have is if each and every one of us commits to doing something. Do not sink into apathy, Goodall warned.
“The head and heart need to work in harmony to attain our full potential. It’s important to remember each and every one of us makes some kind of difference each day. There are consequences of small choices. What do we eat? What do we buy? Where does it come from? Did it come from animal cruelty? If we make ethical choices, we indeed shall move towards a better world.”
To do this, we need to involve younger generations and help them be better stewards of the planet than we have been, she added. While governments and corporations can sign bills and take big steps toward change, we are all responsible for doing our part.
At the ceremony, Western also announced the creation of the Jane Goodall Research Award.
The $5,000 award will provides financial support to Western graduate students investigating great ape populations in Africa or Asia. The award targets early career female researchers from Canada, Africa, or Asia, who are investigating how community conservation efforts undertaken by the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada are impacting great ape populations.
Inspired by Goodall’s 2014 lecture on campus, the university saw the honorary degree and award as a perfect way of nodding to both the past and future of her work, explained Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-president (Academic)).
“In Dr. Goodall, we are celebrating one of the giants and recognizing a body of work nearly six decades in the making from one of history’s most important minds. But we are also celebrating where that work goes next,” Deakin said.
“Through this award, Western hopes to extend Dr. Goodall’s scientific legacy. By focusing on female researchers, for whom Dr. Goodall paved the way so boldly, we are creating a new wave of researchers – the ‘Next Generation of Janes,’ if you will – who will continue her work into the future.”
By funding these researchers and projects through this award, Deakin explained, Western hopes to better determine great ape conservation priorities, support the professional development of primatologists, and quantify the effect of work done by the Goodall Institute on the health and wellbeing of sympatric communities of great apes and humans.
Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, first set foot in the forests of Tanzania in 1960, armed with little more than a notepad, a pair of binoculars and a dream of living in Africa and observing wildlife. From the moment she witnessed a chimpanzee make a tool to the moment she decided to leave the park in order to save the chimpanzees she cared for, Goodall has made countless extraordinary scientific breakthroughs in animal behaviour while becoming one of the world’s most prominent and active conservationists.
Goodall attended Cambridge University, where she received a PhD in ethology in 1965, becoming only the eighth person in the university’s long history who was allowed to pursue a PhD without first earning a baccalaureate degree. Her doctoral thesis, Behavior of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee, detailed her first five years of study at the Gombe Reserve.
Her efforts to educate people about the ethical treatment of animals extends to young children as well. Her 1989 book, The Chimpanzee Family Book, was written specifically for children, to convey a new, more humane view of wildlife. The book received the 1989 Unicef/Unesco Children’s Book-of-the-Year Award, and Goodall used the prize money to have the text translated.