Dr. Jane Goodall, who has devoted her life to the conservation of chimpanzees, was asked to recount moments that stood out the most. In a life filled with extraordinary experiences, challenges and opportunities, she chose to tell the story of a chimpanzee named Wounda, whose name is translated as “close to death.” Wounda was found bruised, battered and malnourished. She could not walk or feed herself and arrived at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center clinging to life. There, she received treatment, affection and support from caregivers and was nursed back to health.
Some time later, Wounda was able to be moved to the Tchimpounga sanctuary island of Tchindzoulou. The island provides a second chance for rescued and rehabilitated chimpanzees to live in social groups with others.
On the day she was ready to be released, Dr. Goodall and Wounda’s caretakers arrived on the island and carefully opened the wooden box Wounda was transported in. Wounda cautiously took her first step out into the jungle. She climbed atop the crate and spun slowly around.
It’s a moment often seen in nature. An animal brought into a novel environment looks around, cautiously at first, then typically races off to explore its new surroundings. It seemed Wounda was ready do the same and leap off of the crate to explore her new home.
But instead, Wounda pauses. She looks toward Dr. Goodall and outstretches her arms. Wounda embraces Dr. Goodall tightly. Dr. Goodall clasps her arms around Wounda, returning the hug. For several moments they remain in a quiet embrace.
Few things are more heartwarming than watching the expression of thanks for the impact one life has on another. It’s a universal behavioral exchange that goes beyond language, culture and species. It’s the stuff of graduations and weddings, as someone on the precipice of change pauses to look back and say thank you. There are people in each of our lives who have guided us along our path – those whose help and kindness stay with us. Their influence shapes our lives in profound ways. For these big and small things, we turn around, like Wounda, and express our heartfelt gratitude.