On the 5th June, I attended the Green Generation Concert where they had Dr. Jane Goodall as the keynote speaker. Dr Jane Goodall is a renowned primatologist who spent 45 years studying chimpanzees and founded Jane Goodall Institute which focuses on making positive change for communities, animals and the environment. In her speech, she shared with us on a touching story regarding a chimpanzee named 'Old Man'.
Old Man was not really old; he just looked old. The cause may be due to his earlier life. When he was two years old, his mother was killed and he was captured by poachers. He was then shipped to North America where he spent the next 10 years of his life in a biomedical research lab as a test subject. When he was 12 years old, he was retired to a zoo which is on a man-made island in Florida. He was placed there with another 3 females who had also been abused by humans.
A young man named Marc Cusano was employed by the zoo. One of his jobs was to look after these chimps, and he was told, "Don't go near them. They hate people. They'll kill you." For a while, Marc would throw the food up onto the banks from the shores.
But as he watched them, he became more and more fascinated. He saw how the group would hug and kiss each other. He saw how gentle and loving Old Man was with his little infant. Marc thought, "How can I look after these wonderful animals if I don't have some kind of good relationship with them? " So he began going closer and closer. Finally one day, Old Man took some food from Marc's hand.
As time went by, Marc gained confidence and stepped onto the shore of the island. One day he actually groomed Old Man and eventually was able to play with him. The females were more standoffish, but they made no fuss when Marc walked onto the island.
Things went well for about a year after his first contact with Old Man. However, one day, Marc slipped, fell on his face, and startled the infant. The infant screamed, and the infant's mother raced to defend her child. She leapt onto Marc and bit deeply into his neck. The other two females also jumped on him, in support of their friend. One bit his wrist, one bit his leg. Then Marc saw Old Man thundering towards him with great ferocity. Marc thought that he was going to die this time. Old Man must have misunderstood that he wanted to hurt his child too.
Instead, Old Man physically pulled each of those females off Marc. While Marc painfully dragged himself to the boat for safety, Old Man kept the screaming, keeping the highly aroused females at bay. After he came out of the hospital, he told me that: "You know, Jane, there's absolutely no question that Old Man saved my life."
This story makes me teared and wondered... If a chimpanzee which has been abused by us for 10 years can reach out across the species barrier to help a human friend in time of need, then surely we humans with our deeper capacity for understanding and compassion can do better. Surely, we can reach out to help chimpanzees and other creatures with whom we share the planet in their desperate time of need. Surely, we can forgive and help our fellow humans when they are in trouble. Surely, we can make this world a better place.