Jane Goodall: Animal Rights Champion

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe

by Jane Goodall

Guernsey Press Limited (2000)

Book Review

In this book, primate ethologist Jane Goodall sums up her remarkable career studying the wild chimpanzees at the mountainous Gombe Reserve in modern day Tanzania. She was drafted for the project by renowned British anthropologist Dr Louis Leakey. Also she completed a PhD in ethology in 1965, at the time she had no education beyond high school. As she recounts in the book, this placed her advantage because she was not bound by prevailing biases about higher mammal (eg the absence of a “mind” in non-human animals that made them incapable of experiencing complex emotions).

In the course of her research, Goodall offered the first evidence that chimpanzees both make and use tools (it was long believed only humans could do so), that they engaged in war (during periods of food scarcity) on other chimpanzie groups, that there are capable of generalization and abstract thinking and that, like humans, they experience enduring family bonds, cooperate in hunting, care for the sick, grieve for the dead, share food, and experience depression and fear.

The book is primarily a collection of anecdotes about the chimp families she and her staff observed over her 30 year involvement with the Gombe Reserve. Chapters are organized by topic, such as sexual behavior, infant rearing, war, male dominance behavior, foster parenting and maternal death and depression in adolescent and adult chimps.

In the last chapter, she rails against the persistence of poachers (in the late eighties) who kill mother chimps to steal their infants for research labs and as pets. She goes on to describe her visits to the National Institutes of Health and other research labs and her horror at the inhumane conditions they are kept in.

In Appendix 1, she makes a passionate argument against the use of higher mammals in scientific research. In addition to demolishing the common argument that torturing research animals is essential to prevent human suffering, she points to numerous modern alternatives (eg tissue culture, in vitro studies and computer simulation).

Sea otters also use tools: Sea Otters’ Stone Tools Provide New Clues for Anthropologists

2 thoughts on “Jane Goodall: Animal Rights Champion

  1. Animals and birds can use
    “tools” to help them with their food supply but I think these articles are going beyond the observation to making false projections. Crows and jays drop nuts unto sidewalks and paved streets to crack them, or drop them in gutters to soak and soften their shells. Shrikes impale their catch upon thorns and barb wire fences. Sure but these aren’t the same as what I’d call using tools. The otter doesn’t got down to the ‘Stone Shop” to purchase a custom made cracking stone, nor does it fashion the stone. Unlike man, they are not tool makers and to say they are too users is, in my opinion, reaching for unwarranted conclusions.


  2. I’m still not sure where I come down on this, Sha’Tara. In general, I think the pressure of civilization for human beings to see themselves as “separate” from the animal kingdom has gone way too far. I think scientists are continually discovering ways in which we are more emotionally and behaviorally similar to lower animal species than we think. I also agree with Wilhelm Reich’s premise that the strong social pressure for human beings to deny their biological nature is extremely unhealthy – and plays a major role in popular acceptance of male authoritarianism and fascism.


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