Jane Goodall Lecture

Thursday June 23 2011

Sponsored by the University of Otago’s Department of Zoology


My tale about the Jane Goodall lecture actually begins a few weeks prior to the event when the ticket reservation system opened. Tickets to this event were a hot item. The zoology department advertised that they were going on sale June 1 at 8:30 AM. By the time I arrived around 8:00, there was already a small line of maybe 12 people. However, it turns out that there were only 7 tickets available for the live lecture. That’s right 7! Since I wasn’t at the very front of the line, I was unable to secure a ticket to the theater where she would actually be speaking. I was able to secure a ticket to one of the satellite locations that was going to stream the lecture. But the ticket finding story doesn’t end there. Apparently, zoology had set aside 50 live tickets for science alumni from the University of Otago. So if you were a graduate from one of the science departments, you could request a ticket. Luckily, one the PhD students in my lab recently completed her undergraduate degree in chemistry and had no interest in attending. Therefore, I managed to get one of the coveted live tickets. I found out later that the event was streamed to 2000 people spread over 9 lecture theaters, making it the largest public lectures that the University has done.


The lecture began with a traditional Maori greeting, similar to the one that preceded the Zumba master class with Beto back in April. Dr. Goodall spoke for a good 45 minutes about how she got started in Gombe National Park in the 1960s. Currently, her work is focused on conservation efforts, and she spends up to 300 days a year traveling promoting sustainable practices and awareness.


She gave an inspiring talk about how a girl with no money and no degree set out to accomplish her dreams of working with animals in Africa. At this time, Africa was considered a closed continent and women were not scientists. She started as a secretary and later met anthroplogist Dr. Louis Leakey who selected her to study social behavior of chimpanzees in the Gombe reserve in Tanzania in 1960. It took one year of observing the chimps for one of them to approach her and two years for her to be considered part of the community. Talk about your field work dedication. I complain every time my computer crashes. Eventually, Leakey instructed her she would need to get a degree, but there was no time to get a BA, she would have to go straight to a PhD, which she earned from Cambridge in 1965. She credits her mother for giving her support during her adventures, even going along with her during one of her early trips to work with the chimpanzees. She stated that her mother was the real hero because while Goodall was out in the field observing chimp behavior, her mother remained behind in the camp, where she became a sort of field nurse, treating wounds and illnesses of the locals. Her mother became known as the white witch doctor.

She concluded her talk with a message of hope. She stated that she encounters many young scientists and students who are frustrated, pessimistic, or apathetic about the future. She maintains that as long as people have ideas and the willingness to go after them, then anything is possible. She spent some time talking about her Roots and Shoots movement, which helps people set themselves up to be part of the solution for a sustainable world. This program is mainly at aimed at children, but there are adult chapters too. In conclusion, this was one of the best lectures I have attended and I am very thankful I had the opportunity to do so.


A final note. To top it all off, I may have walked right by Lucy Lawless (AKA Xena Warrior Princess) on my way into the lecture theater. She has blogged about the event and she was in the same theater I was.


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