A Tribute from a Dear Friend
Jane Goodall's Tribute to Carole Noon, Tireless Chimpanzee Friend and Advocate
Dr. Goodall wrote the following tribute to honor Dr. Carole Noon, founder of Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, which houses 282 chimpanzees released from research laboratories, the entertainment industry, or life with humans as "pets." Dr. Noon died in May after a battle with pancreatic cancer. A memorial for her will be held July 18 in Fort Pierce.
"It is hard to believe that Carole Noon is no longer with us. She had such a strong personality, such determination and, above all, such a love for chimpanzees. I well remember first meeting Carole, years and years ago, when I gave a lecture in Florida. She was impatient with academia and wanted to give up her Ph.D. studies so she could do hands-on work to help chimpanzees. But once she realized that a degree would help, nothing would stop her getting it in the shortest possible time. A few years later I wanted to find just the right person to go to Zambia for a few months to spend time with Milla, the adult female chimpanzee I helped to send from private ownership in Tanzania to the Chimfunshi wildlife refuge. What better person than Carole – she did a fabulous job!
Once Carole decided that she was going to rescue the chimpanzees from the Coulston laboratory in New Mexico, nothing could stop her and she was tireless in her efforts. The obstacles were formidable, especially the need for funding, but she never gave up, until, against all odds, she succeeded. And I remember, so well, her absolute joy when, finally, she could start to improve things for those chimpanzee prisoners, enlarging the cages, letting in the sunlight, introducing individuals who had been in solitary confinement for years. Carole understood chimpanzees through and through and those temporary improvements in New Mexico were brilliant.
It was the same with the construction of their permanent home on the islands in Florida, and the complex arrangements for transporting so many chimpanzees across the continent. I had the privilege to be there soon after the first of the Coulston chimpanzees arrived. Carole and her staff were on "Cloud Nine" – and so, too, were the chimpanzees. For they had, thanks to Carole, moved from hell to heaven. And I shall always be touched and grateful for the fact that Carole named one of the buildings in commemoration of my mother, Vanne. They had known and loved each other.
Carole’s passing is a sad loss for chimpanzees everywhere, but what she did for them lives on – in the structures in Florida and the dedication of the staff she assembled.
I like to imagine Carole in some eternal forest, surrounded by groups of chimpanzees honouring her as their savior. At peace."
No one I met during my long career as a primatologist and conservationist was remotely like Carole Noon. It is no easy task to memorialize her with my words despite having known her since she appeared on my doorstep in Washington, DC, back in 1986, seeking help with getting to Africa. I put her in touch with David and Sheila Siddle, who had set up a large sanctuary for young chimps on their cattle ranch in northern Zambia, mainly infants confiscated from wildlife trappers and dealers. So it was that the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage near the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika became Carole’s introduction to the world of chimpanzees. The experience of taking care of Tobar, Liza, Charley and others at Chimfunshi altered her views of the world in 1987 as much as being with Mike, Flo, Leakey, Worzle and others altered mine back in 1968 at Jane Goodall’s field station in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Chimps, you see, were the ones who brought us together onto parallel career paths where we both embraced various chimpanzee survival causes. I take much pleasure from having helped set her on such a course. A great many chimps benefitted over the years from Carole’s presence.
When Carole breathed her last on May 2nd, 2009, 282 apes she rescued from neglect and misery lost a fine friend and true companion. Indeed, they lost their most fervent protector and outspoken advocate. Carole’s Save the Chimps foundation and sanctuary stand as magnificent monuments to her tireless, selfless efforts to save as many chimps as she could from the uses and abuses perpetrated by humans.
To me, Carole was a strong friend through many an ordeal. She was an unwavering advocate for chimpanzee welfare and a staunch ally in our struggle to secure safe havens for these apes on a battered planet overrun by humans. A fellow skeptic about the motives and morals of humanity, Carole scoffed at posturing and empty promises. She was, in short, a straight-shooter who played no games of deception. And she was consistently loyal to anyone who did not shy away from helping chimps when opponents became nasty, even dangerous.
To chimps, Carole was an even more essential form of support … a triple source of salvation and sanity in one energetic package. Her titles: Companion, Caregiver, Champion. She fought hard for freedom from unjust incarceration, and stood firm as a savior from suffering and death. She always spoke up in their defense no matter the risks to herself. The challenges she shouldered were not seen by her as burdens. Yet it was evident to me that her backing of chimp causes cost her heavily, both emotionally and financially, on more than one occasion.
One might wonder what drove Carole to undertake so much on behalf of another species? The associations Carole forged with each and every chimp taken under her wings were anchored in mutual trust and respect. Both parties drew equal value and satisfaction from the relationship. At the simplest level, all the faces – hers and theirs -- flashed with evident joy and excitement at each meeting. And her daily rounds of socializing as she greeted the chimps each morning, baseball cap on, typically evoked affection and pleasure from nearly everyone. No resident of the sanctuary, no matter how rowdy or mean, mentally damaged or emotionally bruised, was given less than equal attention and kindness. We humans seldom achieve such limitless concern for one another, yet Carole extended her embrace to other species. In her heart and mind, the distinctions others saw between chimp and human had become so blurred over the years that at some level she became one of them. And in return, they responded by accepting and appreciating her on unusually egalitarian terms … as someone more than just a human. That acceptance in turn became the fire in Carole’s gut, feeding her extraordinary perseverance and unbreakable conviction. She was, in short, fighting for the survival and welfare of friends.
Describing the connection Carole felt with chimpanzees to persons unfamiliar with apes as individualists is enormously difficult. The relationships – both good and bad -- we developed over time with certain chimps remain puzzling to anyone who has never felt such cross-species reciprocal ties. How does one describe color to one who has no color vision? This is nothing like owning a dog, for example, as chimps are far more human and thus communication is far more easy and complex. Those of us who worked long and hard to help chimps did so because we had lived with some of them for long periods and in the process we learned to know and like and respect them as individuals with complex personalities, preferences, attitudes, intelligences, etc. Chimps had became more than abstractions, more than “animal” caricatures. In other words, they became persons. What we did not say or think about friends and relatives we also did not say or think about chimps we knew well. Carole used chimp names so interchangeably with human names that novice listeners were unable to tell whether she was speaking about apes or people. The affectionate, respectful, familiar way Carole wrote about chimps in various STC publications offers a glimpse into what I am trying to express.
I am reminded at this point about a milestone event in my own life that shows how our minds can be turned upside down by living (peacefully) in close proximity with chimpanzees. In March of 1968 I arrived at Gombe to begin two years of field work. Gombe is, by East African standards, a small national park on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, our planet’s second deepest freshwater body. The lake forms part of the Great Rift Valley system, an immensely long and jagged rip in the continent along which a major piece of Africa is slowly tearing away and creeping toward India. The park thus straddles an earthquake zone where tremors are common and sometimes strong. Ruth Davis, a close friend whom Jane hired two months later, wrote home once as follows: “We had very strong earth tremors and it was quite spooky – not at all what I would have expected (i.e. a sharp jolt), but exactly as if the earth was made of Jell-O and it wiggled.”
One day late in the dry season of 1968 Ruth and I walk out of the field station with a group of male chimps: Hugo, Goliath, Hugh, Charlie, and others. We amble upstream along the floor of Kakombe Valley, then cut northward to climb a steep ridge toward The Peak, from which Jane first observed chimps in 1960. The group crosses the spine of Peak Ridge to a point where the next big valley, Lindi, drops sharply toward the lakeshore. The chimps stop just below the ridge crest in open woodland littered with large and small boulders. Visibility across the velvet green carpet of canopy forest lining the valley is superb. Beyond, the lake waters shimmer as far as the distant horizon, where the hills of the Congo shoreline divide dark blue water from pale blue sky.
The chimps pause on the steep hillside to stare into the valley below for several minutes, listening attentively. They all call out loudly and then watch again in silence, heads canted as they again listen for replies. Their brief bout of hoots and screams simply echoes back from the opposite ridge, without calls from strangers. They hoot again. Silence again. Several chimps climb trees, some of which lean downslope. They gradually relax: some doze or groom while others pick and chew leaves. Hugo sits alone on a rock outcrop, chin on a wrist propped on a knee, gazing into the valley. Ruth and I sit on two large rocks at a slightly lower elevation. Hugo ignores us completely. Thirsty from the long climb from camp, we share a tin of pineapple slices in syrup which she brought in her should bag. Then we wait quietly for the chimps to resume travel. Were it not for our pale skins, long hair and khaki clothes, we could easily picture ourselves as pre-humans living in this primeval paradise.
Suddenly the ground beneath our feet trembles. Pebbles become jumping beans. There is more sensation than sound, although a feeling of deep base rumbles climb up into our legs from the depth of the planet. Unaccountably, I think of a giant’s stomach rumbles. We freeze with surprise chased by anxiety. Some of the smaller saplings around us whip back and forth, alerting the chimps, all of whom glance hastily about. Loose rocks roll down the hillside. The tips of knee-high grass stems vibrate. Wisps of dust rise from patches of shaking ground. Our world is no longer stable, no longer safe! We jump up, grab our tape recorders and cameras and Ruth’s shoulder bag, and are ready to run if need be. We stand a few yards apart, legs splayed for balance, each with an arm braced on a boulder to keep from sliding downhill amidst cascades of loose dirt. Suddenly chimps rain down from the trees around us, no one emitting the slightest sound. My gut tightens with anticipation, as the quake is fiercer than any I have seen so far.
Moments later Hugo turns slightly, facing uphill, and stares steadily at Ruth. I am on her other side, farther from Hugo by several yards. I watch Hugo carefully over her shoulder, as his intent gaze and stiff posture worry me. Keenly aware that he dislikes humans, Hugo has been known to chimphandle them. I call out a warning to Ruth. Hugo’s hair is now slightly bristled, but I’m unsure whether he feels anger or fear. Ruth turns toward Hugo when I shout again. But no tree trunk is available to hide behind, and she decides to stand her ground by the boulder, trying to stare Hugo down. The earth shakes again. Hugo suddenly runs forward; my adrenaline surges in response. Ruth lets go of her rock, straightens up while still facing Hugo, and slowly backs away toward me. Hugo then surges forward to grasp both of Ruth’s legs behind her knees as if he intends to pitch her over backward. She staggers and nearly falls, arms flailing. Both her recorder and shoulder bag go flying. I shout Hugo’s name again and wave my arms about in a vain attempt to distract him.
Hugo has a purpose, however, and ignores my threat. He leans his stocky torso forward until both shoulders press Ruth’s knees, and, fingers curled behind her calves so she cannot pull free, Hugo pushes and walks her gently backward along the slope right past me. I am stunned. Before I can move in to help he releases Ruth, then steps away to calmly stand a few feet from us. Another ground sharp tremor comes, and a moment later a large tree just upslope from the spot Ruth stood slowly leans downhill, then slowly topples, emitting a series of groans and pops and cracks as the root network rips loose from the rocky soil. Chimps screech and scatter in all directions with lots of wary glancing about. Dirt balls and loose stones cascade down into the valley. The trunk of the tree slams the ground just where Ruth had been standing while clutching her boulder for support. Moments later Hugo pivots and calmly walks away without a glance backward. Hugo stares balefully at me with a reproachful look, and I intuitively feel ashamed that I yelled at him. The other chimps soon follow in his wake, their backs parting the knee-high dry grass …until they all disappear silently into a ravine below us.
We stay behind, speechless, staring at one another, my hand touching her arm. I continue to shiver inside for a time even after the landscape stills. Is it the aftereffect of the quakes, or the realization that Hugo saved Ruth? How did he overcome his aversion to contact with humans? Why did he act so selflessly on behalf of a species he clearly dislikes? To me, being a member in a society which ranks humans as superior beings spawned by gods, this event gives a brain jolt. Every detail of this afternoon is etched into my mind for a lifetime. I am no longer just human.
Ruth, with whom I was planning a life after Gombe, died on July 12th, 1969. She fell over the edge of a high waterfall while accompanying Hugh and Charlie and other big males on an 8-miles-in-3-hours hike across the park. Hugo and the chimps we once knew so well are gone as well. The park embraced everyone returning to the landscape. And then, on May 2nd, 2009, Carole Noon died in her home at the sanctuary she founded in 1994. I shared much with every one of them over a span of 50 years … and I owe them all more than I can say.
Why have I reached so far into my past to retrieve this story when I was asked to write a commemorative note on Carole for the STC newsletter? My answer is that the account may help explain what Carole and I shared. We are all, humans and apes, connected by bonds that go very far back in time. My Gombe anecdote is a window onto similarly stunning events Carole enjoyed in places such as Zambia and Florida.
My memories of Carole are crystalline. She always acted forthrightly, guilelessly; she was not given to subterfuge; self-aggrandizement was absent from her repertoire of behavior; she could be brittle at times but not without cause; her judgments were sometimes harsh, but mostly fair; she marched about with hair erect (albeit under a baseball cap) when upset, yet not with serious threat ; she hooted others into submission on occasion; most importantly, she was gentle and kind and polite to underdogs … to all hurting individuals of every kind. And I am absolutely certain she would have scoffed at so many complimentary words, dismissing me with the wave of a hand. The type of wrist-shake chimps use when fed up with someone bothersome.
By Geza Teleki, Ph.D.
1Most amazingly, that number is greater than populations surviving today in several countries of tropical Africa where chimps thrived before the 1940s.