Jane, the woman who lived with chimpanzees
Are chimpanzees people? A new documentary about Jane Goodall’s life shows the intimate relationships she built with chimps as a young scientist. Today, she still says they are just like us.
In 1960, Jane Goodall was an untrained scientist sent to observe the lives of chimpanzees in Africa. While there, she made one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century: that animals other than humans could use tools. Now, a new documentary called Jane looks back on her life.
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After a few months watching the chimpanzees, Jane was worried that her funding would be cut if she did not notice something interesting.
One day, she was watching a chimp called David Greybeard forage for food. He took a twig, stripped its leaves, and bent it in half. He then used this to spoon termites into his mouth.
Jane was astonished. Until that moment, humans were known as “man the toolmaker”. This was the main thing which separated them from other animals. Her discovery suggested chimps could make tools too. She told her boss, and his response went down in history. “Now we must redefine man, redefine tools, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”
Now, 57 years later, the debate is still not settled. Can we think of chimpanzees as people?
The line between humans and other animals is “wuzzy” says Jane, and it is getting “wuzzier” all of the time. It is not just about using tools. Chimpanzees also show emotions, pass down knowledge to their children, even use computers. The only thing that we can do that they cannot, is talk. In that case, we should stop thinking of them as different.
“But they are different!” say others. If we start thinking of chimpanzees or any other non-human animals as “people”, it gets complicated. They would need to have rights and responsibilities in society. These might include rights to things like freedom and equality, but it could also mean they have to obey the law. This argument is ridiculous.
- Can an animal also be a person?
- Jane Goodall was just 26 years old when she first went to study chimpanzees in the wild. She had no training, and was joined by her mother.
- Imagine that you are in her position, and write a short diary about how the trip makes you feel, and what you do once you arrive.
Some People Say...
“What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions.”Jane Goodall
What do you think?
- Primates which are believed to be the closest living relatives to humans. They share around 98% of human DNA.
- Specifically the Gombe National Park in Tanzania.
- Devices which are used for specific tasks.
- To search widely for food.
- A species of small insects.
- Most of this debate comes down to how you define “people”. Does it mean “humans”, or “individuals”?
- Use computers
- In Japan, a chimpanzee called Ai has mastered something similar to a child’s video game.