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December 1996
Not Waving but Drowning

A True Story by Jane Goodall



Jane Goodall, the world-famous primatologist who conducted the longest field study of animals when she studied the chimpanzees of Gombe, Tanzania, told this story at the World Conference for Animals in Washington this past June.

This is a true story. It happened about six or seven years ago, in North America. It's about a chimpanzee called Joe-Joe who was born in Africa and came over as a two-year-old with a female, Suzy. They lived for a while in a cold square cage in a zoo. Joe-Joe lived for eight or nine years alone in this bleak little prison. Then the zoo raised enough money to build a huge enclosure and they bought 19 other chimpanzees from different parts. The zoo wanted the biggest and best enclosure in North America. They introduced the chimps to each other and they surrounded the enclosure with a moat filled with water because chimps don't swim.

One day they let them out. After a while a fight broke out, and Joe-Joe, the oldest male, was challenged by one of the new young males. Of course, Joe-Joe lost the fight. What did he know about fighting? He had lived all those years alone. In his fear, Joe-Joe ran into the water. What did he know about water? It was something that he drank from a cup. He was so frightened, he scrambled over the safety barrier and disappeared into the deep water beyond. He came up three times, flustering for air; and then he was gone. On the other side of the moat was a small group of people. It was rainy and cold, and there was a keeper there.

Luckily for Joe-Joe, however, there was a visitor watching: Rick Swope. Rick jumped in, despite the keeper actually physically grabbing onto him and telling him that it was dangerous and he'd probably get killed. Poor guy, he had to swim under the water - it was murky from the rain and he couldn't see - until he felt Joe-Joe's inert body (which weighed 130 pounds). He didn't know if he was alive but he put the body over his shoulder. He scrambled over that safety barrier and he pushed Joe-Joe up onto the bank.

There was a woman there with a video camera and she went on filming even though she didn't know she was doing it. So you actually hear and see what happened and as Rick turned to go back to his slightly hysterical family, you hear them calling at him. You hear his wife and the kids calling "Daddy" and "Rick!" And the keeper is yelling, "Run! Run! Come back quickly!" For charging down towards Rick, down the steep bank, are three fully adult males with hair bristling and teeth showing - probably coming to rescue Joe-Joe from Rick. At the same time, Joe-Joe is sliding back down the bank which has been built too steep.

The camera stays - amazingly - on Rick. He stands and looks towards his family; he looks up at the chimps looking enormous above him; and he looks down at where Joe-Joe is disappearing under the water. And Rick goes back into the water and he holds Joe-Joe up and the chimpanzees, four adult males, stop to watch. After a while, Joe-Joe raises his head and the water comes from his mouth and then he takes a few tottery steps around where the ground is level. There is no question that Rick saved Joe-Joe's life.

That evening that little piece of video was flashed across North America and the director of my institute called Rick up and said, "Mr. Swope, that was a tremendously brave thing you did. I really want to congratulate you. But, why did you do it?" And Rick said, "Well, I just happened to look into his eyes and it was like looking into the eyes of a man and the message was: 'Won't anybody help me?' "

If we look around, we see that look in the eyes of so many suffering animals, and people too - suffering in the eyes of those less fortunate than ourselves. Albert Schweitzer summed up exactly what it is all about: for all animals who are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated; for all the beautiful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars; for any that are hunted, lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all who must be put to death and for those who deal with them; for all these we offer help, compassion, a gentle hand and kindly words.

For more information on the work of Jane Goodall and the various organizations she has established on behalf of chimpanzees, contact: The Jane Goodall Institute, P.O. Box 599, Ridgefield, CT 06877. Fax: 203-431-4387; Tel.: 203-431-2099 or 800-592-JANE. E-mail: or check out her website at:

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