Nature And Nurture

In a new book, chimp expert Jane Goodall reflects on the human condition. She professes a faith that through education, we can undo the selfishness that threatens our planet

September 21, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

So who was the genius who picked the National Aquarium's Marine Mammal Pavilion for a lecture Sunday morning by Jane Goodall?

The celebrated environmental campaigner and chronicler of the lives of wild chimpanzees hates the idea of captive performing dolphins.

She has dedicated her life to confronting the economic forces and the ignorance that denude the forests surrounding her beloved Gombe Wildlife Preserve in Tanzania and that encourage pet traders, zoos and medical labs to mistreat wild and captive animals.

Goodall may comment on the dolphins cruising the tank behind her when she speaks at 10 a.m. Sunday. But don't expect her to shout or condemn. That's not her way.

Goodall will more likely skewer the aquarium with gentleness, and facts, and moral force -- the same way she confronts man's indifference to his fellow beings in her new book, "Reason for Hope" (Warner Books, 282 pages. $26.95).

"If only we can overcome cruelty, to human and animal, with love and compassion," she writes, "we shall stand at the threshhold of a new era in human moral and spiritual evolution -- and realize, at last, our most unique quality: humanity."

Her visit to Baltimore this weekend -- she will also appear at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Baltimore Book Festival's Literary Salon on Mount Vernon Place -- is part book tour and part lecture tour for the Jane Goodall Institute.

The Institute -- its U.S. branch is based in Silver Spring -- is the environmental education and conservation organization she founded in 1977 after she recognized the rising human threat to the chimps she had studied, and to the web of life that supports us all.

In two weeks, the tour has already taken her from England to the West Coast and back to New York City schools to speak to students participating in her institute's "Roots and Shoots" conservation curriculum. There have been endless media interviews and book signings, one of which drew 800 people who stayed until 11 p.m. And there are still six weeks to go.

"It's a nightmare," says Goodall, 65. Secretly, "selfishly," she says, she longs to be back at Gombe, in the forest that gives her so much peace. But she cannot stop to study chimps now.

"I have other people doing that. I'm not needed there anymore," she said. The chimps are vanishing all across Africa and suffering in zoos and lab. African children are living in hopelessness, apathy and despair.

And in cities, even in the United States, she says, "there are children who live in fear. And so many thinking adolescents who subscribe to the view that it's too late to change the downward spiral of planet Earth."

It's her responsibility -- her Institute's mission -- to educate, to inspire, to help put things right. So she does the books, the lectures and school visits, and a PBS TV special airing on Oct. 27.

"I feel I've been given a gift, an ability to communicate with talking, with writing," she says. She feels she must use it.

She's not sure what wellsprings supply her energy. "I've inherited very good stamina. And, I feel this great spiritual power around us. I get some [energy] from that. And, it's very much the people and the look in their eyes and the feeling I get from the audience. I can't speak if I have bright lights in my eyes, and I can't see the audience."

But Goodall has been delighted with the book reviews, with the turnout at the lectures and book signings, and the book's sales.

She was not always certain this "spiritual biography" was such a good idea. "It wasn't my idea to write the book like this," she says. "It was originally meant to be a series of interviews, a theologian asking questions of an anthropologist. That was the idea."

Instead, Philip Berman, the Harvard theologian who proposed the book and who is listed as co-author, interviewed Goodall and devised the book's outline. But that was it. "I wrote the book, every word of it," she says.

Reluctantly. "I didn't have time for it," she says. But the matter was settled. "Short of deciding not to do the book at all, I had to then make the time and do the soul-searching, and it had to be written by me."

It was an ordeal. "I was very sick this time last year because of this book. I was totally exhausted when I started this tour. I was collapsing."

"I can't slow down yet," she says. "I'm fine now, filled with energy again, and health. I live on chocolate, coffee and scotch."

A treacherous world

The book is the story of her life, from a youth in England that seems quaint by today's lights. Her family of modest means was loving and supportive despite the divorce of her parents. She was immersed in books, enthralled by her pastor's sermons and captivated by the outdoors and the animals around her.

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