Trinity University Press

Jane Goodall-Barbara J. King

Animals’ Profound Grief and Profound Love

Barbara J. King

    The way I think about and act for animals was forever changed in 1990 when I read Jane’s Through a Window. Of course, I had read and taught Jane’s research papers and books for years before that. For a budding biological anthropologist in the 1970s and 1980s, chimpanzee family dynamics and tool-using and tool-making behaviors were topics of great significance.

    But sometimes even the most trenchant wisdom settles into a learner’s brain only when the time is right. When Through a Window came out, I was somehow finally primed--by my time observing baboons in Amboseli National Park, by my keener attention to other animal behaviorists willing to break out of a conventional scientific mold--to absorb how profoundly chimpanzees feel as well as think, how much they vary in personality one from the other. Jane’s vivid comparisons of Flo’s versus Passion’s mothering behaviors acutely brought home to me these points.

    And Jane’s case study of Flint’s grief when his mother Flo died finally sunk in at a deep level. Most everyone knows the story: Even as an adolescent, Flint was incredibly dependent on his Mom, and simply could not recover when she died, dying himself of grief shortly after. Jane’s invoking that word, “grief,” was, I believe, a watershed moment in the modern understanding of animal emotions. I know that it is part of the reason I’ve come to write so much about the expression of grief—and love--in animals ranging from apes to elephants, house cats to dairy cows.

    Unlike many others represented here, I cannot count Jane as a close friend. Whenever we have met, though, for me the occasion was memorable: Our bonding during her visit to Santa Fe in 1987 over how wonderful it is to watch wild pigs during primate field work, and, especially, my experiencing her generous nature in action during her visit to The College of William and Mary in 1993. Excited anticipation filled the College on the day of her arrival. My Anthropology and Primate Behavior students and invited guests gathered in a large lecture hall . . . and waited. . . . But when finally Jane arrived at her Williamsburg hotel, it was clear that somehow communications had failed, and she had no idea she was scheduled to be speaking at that very moment. Jane honestly didn’t bat an eye. She asked me to be taken to the classroom, where she gave a full, and very moving, presentation. I’ve never forgotten that grace of hers.

    If there is one thing I hope to have imparted to my own hundreds of students over the last twenty-five years of college teaching, it’s that to make life better for even one animal matters. It matters to that animal and to the world, and that meaning is multiplied with every animal—ape or turtle, cat or butterfly—whom we help. That beautiful message is, to me, Jane’s greatest legacy.

    And whimsical though it may be, I imagine many thousands of rescued animals joining with all of us today to wish Jane a very happy 80th birthday.