Animal Writes
From 24 July 2005 Issue

We Are Animals Too 

World famous scientist and animal rights activist Jane Goodall
talks to Jain Spirit.

Jain: Jainism is a religion that believes in the sacredness of all life, and for thousands of years has emphasized that all life should be respected. Could you say something about the intelligence of animals and in particular humans because we believe that although animals are intelligent, humans are on top of the intelligence ladder?

Jane: We put ourselves there and of course we are animals too. I mean we have the same biology and internal systems. Looking back at the time when I began studying chimpanzees in 1960, there was this tremendous scientific reductionism in explaining animal behaviour. You could get the lowest possible explanation for some kind of obviously intelligent behaviour. When I started studying the chimps I had no degree and I discovered to my amazement that I shouldn't have given the chimps names. I should have given them numbers, because it was more scientific. I shouldn't have described their personalities - that was something only humans had. To talk about their minds, that they were capable of rational thought was seen as something terrible, because only humans could reason. Finally, the fact that I talked about them having emotions, like happiness and sadness and despair, was the worst sin of all. Fortunately I hadn't been to university before I started befriending animals and nobody had taught me that. Also, I was twenty-six by that time, and I had had the most wonderful teacher through my whole childhood: my dog Rusty.

The information that came from the Gombe studies - the fact that chimps are so like us, coupled with the new information about how biologically they are similar to us, that they differ genetically only by just over one per cent, - hasn't done much to change the ordinary person's perception about them. They think that we always did know that chimps had personalities, minds and emotions; but thankfully now scientific attitude is also changing. Science is now deliberately studying personalities, minds and emotions in animals. We are, after all, not the only beings on the planet with personality, minds and emotions. It gives you new respect. It breaks down the line we used to see as very sharply dividing humans and the rest of the animal kingdom in two separate groups.

I do think that humans are superior in one very important respect - their ability to communicate sophisticated ideas through language. This is what chimpanzees and other animals I have studied cannot do. This is also why I believe that it is possible that spiritually, we are the most evolved species on the ladder. In this respect we are probably closest to God and higher consciousness.

Jain: You said that your dog was one of your greatest teachers. The Jains have for generations believed in reverence for all life. However, they generally do not keep animals as pets. They've kept animals when they were farmers, whom they treated with tremendous respect and love, as a part of their family. However, the tradition is not very strong and the reason is that we believe that there is a tremendous responsibility attached to having an animal as a pet. As a result, we have felt that rather than having them as pets, they are better off in the wild. We often feed birds in our neighbourhoods, for example.

Jane: So if you've got a cow, you're treating it kindly and nicely and respecting it and milking it - although it's not particularly normal for the cow to go on producing milk. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. But is it really logical to say that it is not kind to an animal to have it to share your house with and feed it? I think that the dog tradition grew up because dogs were helping farmers to look after their herds and being useful in that way. It is the same sort of way as the cows are used for milk and butter. The dog was used for protection.

I would say the key thing is how you treat the animal and how you think about them. How respectful you are. For me, life without a dog would actually be horrible. They're such wonderful companions and such wonderful friends. There is so much evidence now to show how the simple presence of a dog or a cat can help sick people get well. They can help people with depression and delinquent children to come back to a more normal life. The strong bond between dogs and humans goes back for hundreds of years. However, if you bring up a child with a dog in a situation that the dog is basically a prisoner and a slave then that is going to be worse than not having a dog. There are so many ethical dilemmas here. For instance, your child can have a rabbit and they actually house-train themselves like cats. So a rabbit can live in the house like a cat. You can have a cat more easily than a dog. You won't get quite the same bond, though. I've never had quite the same bond with a cat as with a dog.

Jain: Jains have said for thousands of years that there is life in the air, life in the water, that all living things have a zest for life, and we must respect this in all our actions. We have been vegetarians for thousands of years.

Jane: That's my own philosophy. Absolute respect for all living things. That's one of the central parts of the programme we have for young people. It is respect for animals, respect for nature and the natural world, and respect for the human community. It is using the chimpanzee to teach the child about the natural world. We can talk about animals and people without realizing we are animals, human animals. We're all the beings that we must respect. Yes, the philosophy is mine too.

We live in a time of enormous cruelty to animals, especially by the modern meat industry whose sole aim is profit and exploitation. However, I do not think that we are cruel just to animals. We are cruel to people too! We exploit them, we use them to do our dirty work, and we encourage companies who treat humans as machines, as if they had no soul or emotions. I think there is a real need for compassion in this world, and it should start from our own hearts and actions.

Jain: Can you tell us more about the global 'Roots and Shoots' children's programme that you have initiated?

Jane: Well, it began in Tanzania. It began in response to the fact that the children there do not have any environmental education in their schools. They have no opportunity in the cities to learn about animals. It is a mainly Moslem society and if they have a dog it will be kept in a small box and used as a watchdog. There is not a tradition of kindness to dogs. The kids weren't learning what I felt was terribly important in this life: respect. We have a symbolic saying that roots make firm foundations and shoots, though they seem very tiny, reach the sun. But first, those shoots need to break open brick walls. Everything we've done to the planet, for example cutting down the forests, the famines, the soil erosion, over-population, the pollution, the hole in the ozone layer - that's the brick wall. It can seem pretty hopeless, especially if you're a child growing up in Tanzania or China. The message is that there are hundreds and thousands of people like you all around the world. Together we can break through.

We talk to people in kindergartens, universities and everybody in between. What they do, depends on how old they are, whether they live in the city or a rural area, if it is America or Tanzania etc. We have project leaders and they choose three projects that are hands-on activities from their own neighbourhoods to make it better for animals, for people and for the environment. Children are so imaginative. With the Internet many of the schools are in connection with each other. We have a special partnership programme. For example, if we have a school somewhere in India and another somewhere in New York with Jains in both of them, they can communicate on a special level sharing problems and solutions, happiness and sadness. We have also taken the programme into other areas, for instance into old people's homes. Recently we explained it to a general in the US Marines and he was so excited about this. So it has really taken off. It has its tenth birthday next February. It is very exciting and this is what is taking most of my energy now.

The chimp is the bridge now. It's the animal that makes people believe that we're not as different from other animals as we used to think. They can communicate in sign language - they can use three hundred signs and can communicate, not only with their trainer but with each other as well. There's a chimp in Japan who adores working on computer problems. She has enormous concentration - she can beat some Japanese high school students yet she lives with a group of other chimps. Chimps' minds are so much like ours because their brains are so similar to ours. What is so shocking is that science is prepared to use chimps for research into disease cures because their bodies are like ours, yet the similarities in mind and emotion were absolutely denied. Why? Because it's much harder to use something if you think they're like us. Being like a human is no protection for a chimp because being like a human is no protection from other humans. It is time we saw animals as our relatives and friends.

To read more about the Roots & Shoots Program:

Go on to The Power of One Conference - Update
Return to 24 July 2005 Issue
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