Local boy poses a question to Dr. Jane Goodall

By Chris Wadsworth

Here’s a story about good things coming to those who wait. 

In fall 2021, Willowsford resident Rupali Lach heard from a relative that CNN was soliciting questions from children that would be answered by experts. It was apparently part of a “feel good” project by the network’s online team to provide positive news during the pandemic.

The relative thought Lach’s son, Ronan, might like to submit a question. So Lach and her husband, Andrew, whipped out a phone and recorded Ronan – then a fifth-grader at Madison Trust Elementary  – asking the following: 

“I wonder – are animals smarter than humans? For example, bees can count and do math. However, it took humans thousands of years to learn math. Could it be that only their bodies – not their minds – are limited?” 

Ronan Lach, in his video question on CNN.com.

The video was sent to CNN.com and then… crickets. Not the literal crickets of the animal world, but rather the type of crickets that signify that Ronan and the Lach family heard absolutely nothing. 

“He asked about it a few times and we thought it was a good life lesson. Sometimes you do things, and nothing comes of it,” Rupali Lach said. 

Fast forward to this April, and the Laches woke to an email from a CNN.com producer saying that Ronan’s question was going to appear on the cable channel’s website – with a response from none other than the iconic Dr. Jane Goodall. 

Ronan’s reaction to learning Dr. Goodall had responded.

“Hello, Ronan – that’s a fascinating question,” Goodall began in the video. 

For anyone just waking up from a 60-year coma, Goodall is a world-famous English primatologist and anthropologist and a leading expert on chimpanzees. 

When his parents told him the news, they say Ronan’s jaw fell open and his eyes got as wide as they’ve ever seen them. 

“Honestly, I was just so excited that it was someone like Jane Goodall,” said Ronan, now 11 and a rising seventh-grader at Brambleton Middle School. “I’ve always been fascinated by her work, so I was shocked that this was happening.” 

In the video, with the headline “10-year-old asks Jane Goodall a real thinker,” the eminent scientist takes more than two minutes to answer Ronan’s question. 

“One of the attributes of intelligence is the ability to think and solve problems,” she begins. “In the early 1960s, I was told that this was unique to humans and that only we could use and make tools, that only we had language and culture. But more and more research has proved that many animals are excellent at solving problems, many use tools and many show cultural differences.” 

Dr. Jane Goodall answering Ronans question on CNN.com.

Goodall discusses the language of whales and the long memories displayed by her beloved chimpanzees, but she goes on to make it clear that – as much as we may love animals – human intelligence is at a different level. 

“Although the difference between humans and other animals is simply one of degree, our intellect really is amazing,” Goodall said. “As you say, bees can count and do math, and that just shows how much we still have to learn about animal intelligence. But humans can calculate the distance to the stars.” 

Ronan was especially pleased when Goodall went on to address the need to use our intelligence to combat climate change and care for the planet.

“It was nice that she added that at the end,” he said. 

Ronan wrote Goodall a follow-up letter, thanking her for her response and for including information on how people are impacting the planet and also inspiring people to work toward protecting the environment.

He’s also been learning about the Roots & Shoots organization. Founded by Goodall  in 1991, the nonprofit aims to bring together young people from preschool to college-aged to focus on environmental and conservation issues.

“It would be an exciting launching point for him – where he could work toward a cause that he cares about,” said Ronan’s mom.

To watch the video of Ronan Lach asking his question on CNN.com and Dr. Jane Goodall’s response, visit: tinyurl.com/ronandrgoodall.