Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Chimpanzees, Jane Goodall and me

27 July 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Primates Campaign News

Born Free's Associate Director Conservation Africa, Liz Greengrass, reflects on her time working with Jane Goodall and chimpanzees.

"Twenty-one years ago, in a basement flat in Bristol, Jane Goodall telephoned me and offered me a job at Gombe National Park. It was a phone call that changed the course of my life. That phone call led me to spend seven remarkable years immersed in the world of Gombe’s famous chimpanzees.

Freud was forever playing tricks on me; once he used me in a display against his brother Frodo; he picked me up off the ground in a bear hug (he was, I recall very soft) laid me gently upon the ground (like a true gentleman) and then jumped over me and charged at Frodo. Frodo was a despot; he terrorized both chimpanzees and humans alike. His reign was a dictatorship, a tyranny and we were all intimidated.

Gombe National Park lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. The forest climbs eastwards to the grasslands and miombo woodland of the Rift Escarpment. You can gaze across the turquoise mass of water and the bobbing fishing boats, to Congo in the west and Burundi in the north. Behind, people communicate across the undulating hills in ethereal whistles. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Gombe taught me many things about chimpanzee behaviour and ecology but it also taught me that inside the natural world there are many other worlds of which humans share only the tiniest part. These other worlds are rich in history, in character and story.

When Jane Goodall first started her study in 1960, she was criticised for giving her subjects names; she was accused of anthropomorphism, of instilling human-like character on the chimpanzees she observed that didn’t really exist. Yet, spend any time at all with chimpanzees and you’ll quickly realize that it is their individuality and their idiosyncrasies that demand an identity. Chimpanzees may be like humans - just without our moral conscience - but each comes from a defined family line that stretches along a distinct ancestral tree back in time. Each is a protagonist in a rich drama with a complex plotline, dominated by war and peace, enmity and intrigue and also love. At Born Free, we believe that the individual counts and chimpanzees are true ambassadors of that.

It has taken 14 years for me to find a reason to return to Tanzania. By coincidence, I was lucky enough to visit when Jane was in town. We met at her house on the beach. So much has changed in 14 years and Dar es Salaam is unrecognisable, but Jane’s house, reassuringly has not. And neither has Jane. One of the most committed people I know, she is still traveling the world on an impossible schedule and even when she stops to rest, her mind is still very much, on the go.

Liz Greengrass"

Watch a series of video diaries from Liz while she was in Cameroon this year 


Born Free Foundation
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, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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