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Thinking of Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall is a renowned primatologist. I just call her Jane because that's what she is called by those who are close to her. And it occurs to me that I have known her for a long time.

I first heard of her when I was doing research at a children's hospital in London in 1962. I was leafing through National Geographic at a bookstore next to a verdant park when I stopped at an article with color photographs of a beautiful young woman who appeared to be in her twenties. She had succeeded in befriending chimpanzees in the wild in Africa. I bought the book right away and remember that I read it with great interest in how chimpanzees raised their young, not just because I was a pediatrician but also because I had a newborn son. This was nearly twenty years before Dr. Tetsuro Matsuzawa had begun his research on chimpanzee intelligence by studying a female chimpanzee, Ai, at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University.

One day in 1979, International Year of the Child, I received a phone call from Dr. Takashi Mukaibo, President of Tokyo University. He told me that, in commemoration of the International Year of the Child, I was being given a two-year grant for child research from the Nippon Life Insurance Foundation, which had just been established by Nippon Life Insurance Company. I was truly astonished because the amount was much more than my grant from either the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and while I had managed to continue the research somewhat precariously, I could now do it on a large scale.

As the end of my research term drew near, I also received funds to hold an international symposium. Above all, I wanted to invite Jane to participate, but had no way of contacting her. It was then that Professor Junichiro Itani, a primatologist at Kyoto University kindly communicated with her on my behalf and Jane was able to make her first trip to Japan. We held two successful symposia, in Tokyo and Osaka, and as I mentioned in my message of June 2007, the papers were compiled and published under the title "The Parent-Child Bond" by Sogensha. Since that first trip in June 1981, Jane has been visiting Japan nearly once a year. I think the only year that she didn't come was when her mother passed away.

After graduating from high school, Jane received a vocational education at a secretarial school in London, but out of a strong desire to see wild animals in Africa, she became secretary to the notable paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and accompanied him on his excavations. This was the start of Jane's research in primatology. Bones of prehistoric human had been primarily discovered on lake shores, and Leakey felt that studying anthropoids could contribute to the research. Knowing of Jane's long love of animals, he suggested that she try to befriend the chimpanzees on shores of Lake Tanganyika. She was denied a visa because it was thought to be too dangerous for a young woman to venture into the jungle alone, so her mother joined her. Jane went into the hills with binoculars to observe the chimpanzees while her mother, who was her greatest supporter, worked as a nurse and midwife in the village, and perhaps the fact that Jane's father had been a doctor helped her in this.

After several years, Jane succeeded in making the chimpanzees feel comfortable in her presence. Jane told me about the time she offered a chimpanzee some fruit, but he knocked it out of her hand and held her hand instead. The chimpanzees began to show interest in this human who had been approaching them. They repeatedly moved closer and then farther apart until one of them finally took her hand. Chimpanzee society is fundamentally dominated by males, who will also engage in the violence. Nevertheless, this particular chimpanzee was able to sense Jane's kindness and that is why he probably held her hand. And I was told that she did have a wound on one of her fingers.

Jane treated the chimpanzees as if they were people. She counted them individually as if they were human, named them, and created genealogies. The committee of professors who reviewed her dissertation at Cambridge were said to have been astonished and deeply moved by it. Later researchers have found that humans and chimpanzees are 98 to 99 percent alike in genetic makeup and moreover shared the same ancestor until five to seven million years ago.

The chimpanzee research is now being carried on by young scientists while Jane devotes herself to nature conservation and teaching children about environment. The forest site of the chimpanzee encounters is now barren, much like the rest of nature in Africa and other parts of the world. Witnessing this must have been what motivated her.

On Saturday, November 29 at Hitotsubashi Memorial Hall, Tokyo, Jane gave a public lecture hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute Japan that was then followed by a panel discussion. We met for the first time in two years. Jane continues to be a tireless spokesperson for chimpanzees and other animals facing extinction and works ceaselessly on environmental problems in order to ensure a better future for ourselves and for our children.

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