Jane Goodall: A Kinship with Chimps. (Conversations)

Article excerpt

Primatologist Jane Goodall, Ph.D., CBE and UN Messenger of Peace, needs little introduction, because her work with chimps in Tanzania is known throughout the world. Fifty years of intimate contact with these close human relatives gives her authority to speak on everything from their value systems to their ability to make music. Goodall's most recent book, written with Marc Bekoff, is The Ten Trusts (Harper San Francisco).

E: How do chimps communicate? And do they have a value system that could be defined as morality or spirituality?

Jane Goodall: Chimps have a repertoire of at least 30 sounds that mean different things and show emotions. It's not like human language, but these calls help the chimps understand what's going on. Chimps can display fear or pleasure, but they can't show complex language about things that aren't present--as in expressing the idea that there's a poacher two miles away. Chimps are capable of American sign language and use it in the right context. They can learn a few hundred signs. They have gestures and postures, which are non-verbal communication. You can watch chimps interacting and be pretty sure about what they're thinking. When they kiss, hold hands or pat each other on the back it means more or less the same thing as when humans do it.

I've seen much evidence of their morality. To give one example: a male might break up a fight. Some of them watch sunsets--that's a spiritual mind at work. They can also show altruism.

Do chimps make music?

Out in nature, they drum on tree trunks. They also exhibit a dance-like swaying from foot to foot. It's just lovely to see. Captive chimps love to paint. Their paintings clearly mean something to them. …