“Ask the birds, ask the beasts, and they will teach you.”
I suspected Jane Goodall was dead, only to discover she is very much alive and, on April 3, celebrated her 81st birthday. My interest in Jane spawned in a used bookstore where, for one dollar, I purchased her book “Reason for Hope.”
At 23 years old, Jane left her home in Bournemouth, England, for a life in Africa where she met Dr. Louis Leakey, the famous paleontologist/anthropologist. That meeting would lead to her job of 55 years living with, observing and documenting the lives of chimpanzees.
Jane describes her first night at camp in the remote area of Gombe, Tanzania: “By the time I lay down to sleep on my camp bed under the twinkling stars, with the wind rustling softly through the fronds of the oil nut palm above, I already felt that I belonged to this new forest world, that this was where I was meant to be.”
If you’ve ever slept in a tent under the moon and stars in a darkened sky, if you’ve ever been wakened by birds chirping at daybreak, if you’ve ever smelled the dampness of the earth beneath you, you relate to Jane’s first night with longing.
“I truly believed that the animals would sense that I intended no harm and, in turn, would leave me alone,” she wrote, and, ” … those were hazards no more dangerous — and probably even less dangerous — than those that could beset one in any city, and I was not concerned.”
When Jane was documenting the activities of chimpanzees, the scientific world believed human characteristics personified in animals were nonexistent. Only a person who has had zero engagement with animals could possibly believe animals have no personalities or emotions.
Rex, our brown rabbit, enjoys digging but detests dirty paws. He nibbles clover, grass or weeds. He runs and jumps and spins, alternated with sidling up to me for petting.
Romeo, the black rabbit, is the former breeder rabbit. Romeo is less secure than Rex, and though he runs and hops, he never eats in his exercise pen nor wanders far from my side. Sometimes he shivers until I stroke him. “You have nothing to fear,” I say.
Hatcher is honey brown and carefree and could care less if I’m around except for combing. Only curiosity or a sliver of apple will entice him back to his hutch.
The rabbits differ in food preferences, sleeping accommodations, energy levels, cleanliness and comfort zones. Surely they possess characteristics we attribute to ourselves.
Deep in the forest, after birthing her child, Jane learned about motherhood from chimpanzees. “We cannot assume that factors influencing the development of a chimpanzee infant will be significant also for a human child,” she wrote. “But common sense and intuition told me that it was most likely the case.”
And, “For those who have experienced the joy of being alone with nature there is really little need for me to say much more; for those who have not, no words of mine can ever describe the powerful, almost mystical knowledge of beauty and eternity that come, suddenly, and all unexpected.”