Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Lifetime in a Day

July 14, 1960 – Jane Goodall arrives in Gombe Forest at the request of Kenyan archeologist Louis Leakey to begin research on chimpanzees. It will prove to be the longest unbroken field study of any group of animals anywhere.

Jane once said, “we are indeed unique, but we are not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to think. Chimpanzees are so like us.”

It was 50 years to the day that Jane Goodall began working with chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania. The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) here in Kigoma hosted a global celebration honoring Dr. Goodall’s pioneering research and untiring contribution to conservation and humanity. Our team was invited to attend “Gombe 50” to hear Jane speak and watch her new film Jane’s Journey. We were invited to stay into the evening to meet and dine with Jane outside on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Words cannot express how Jane touched each of us in a different way. She is careful when she speaks, yet she un-solicitously commands the eyes and ears of everyone. We had multiple opportunities to speak with her; some of the most intimate discussions came while sipping scotch under a bright moon as the evening hours rolled on. This is one of those memories that will never go away.

Jane Goodall and Ryan Satchell, Wright State University biology major (photo by E Gaines)

A few days later we found ourselves in a boat heading north on Lake Tanganyika toward Gombe National Forest to follow in Jane’s footsteps in pursuit of wild chimpanzees. Two days of hiking were richly rewarded with numerous chimp encounters both near and far. We sat just feet away from multiple chimpanzee families on the forest floor resting and grooming. Other times we watched as chimps climbed towering trees to forage for berries or combat the more gastronomical-satisfying Red Colobus monkeys.

Chimp family at Gombe Park (photo by E Gaines)

 We hiked to Jane’s peak 1200m above the lake, and doused our heads in the “erosion” waterfall’s cascading water that had such force that it created winds at the base that whipped at our pant legs and temperatures that made us shiver. In the evening we lay on the white sands of the beach (after waiting for the baboons to leave it) and looked at the southern hemisphere’s star-soaked sky of constellations we did not know. Some of us were fortunate to sleep in Jane’s cottage – a step back through time indeed. Gombe was magical and we take from it not only its dust on our clothes and its history in our minds, but perhaps something less tangible but more troublesome – the understanding that we must make an effort not to neglect the humanity of all beasts.

Our team at Jane's Peak overlooking Gombe Park

The break from our research was nice and we are back in Kigoma with a renewed incentive to pursue our work on the aquatic mechanisms that are so much a part of the terrestrial communities surrounding this very special lake.

Len Kenyon


  1. Awesome post! What a tremendous experience this must have been!!
    Can't wait to hear the stories when you get back!!!!!

  2. Well put LK... That rules... I was in the library today and saw a book on Goodall... I would have not picked it up before... As always keep the post coming, as I looking forward to more of your adventures...