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
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
To read more about the Roots & Shoots Program:
Go on to The Power of
One Conference - Update
Return to 24 July 2005 Issue
Return to Newsletters
** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this
not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the
copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright
Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright