Lane Batot with Jane Goodall
A. Lane Batot
Regarding His Association
By Mary "Amar" Fabian
A Burroughs Bulletin Reprint
Amar: What does the A in ĎA. Lane Batotí stand for?
A. Lane Batot: I am Alan Lane Batot -- I go by "Lane" -- ask my parents WHY they decided to use my MIDDLE name as the call name -- I sure don't get it. I also go by "Witko"- - my nickname from college days -- it is Lakota for "crazy"; if you knew of any of my wild college exploits, you'd understand! Most everyone who met me back then still calls me Witko, including Jane Goodall! Anyway, if it is about sled dogs, the environment, or critters of any kind, it is almost certainly about me! My googling of favorite characters (Robin Hood, Zorro, Mowgli, and -- Tarzan!) is how I found Sky's fun fun website and got invited to join the "movie hopes" discussion! And yes, the "Christy" references are about me, too! Small little world, ain't it? WHAT a WONDERFUL experience working on that T.V. series was! I had worked in a few movies filmed locally as an extra or a stunt-double ("Last Of The Mohicans", "Ritchie Rich", and "Heavyweights" -- all filmed partly around Asheville, N.C. -- not to be Confused with ASHEBORO, N.C., which is mid-state, where I am located now) and some wonderful casting ladies I got to know INSISTED I get a job on the Christy series -- the book was one of my grandmother's AND mother's FAVORITES!
I managed to get on the construction crew, but also got to do some of the animal work (some of my hounds were used a couple of times), some greenswork (horticulture backgrounds and such), AND, I was an extra twice -- a dirty deer hunter in one episode, and the Scottish ghost of Bonnie Prince Charlie in another! Never got any actual dialogue, though -- but it was loads of fun, and paid a heckuva lot more than I was accustomed to! A lot of the "rustic" props you see on that series I made! The production people were amazed at us local hillbillies -- they'd give us a chainsaw, explain what they wanted, and we'd just go up in the woods and MAKE it! They said we saved them kuhzillions of dollars being able to do that! Before the series was cancelled (alas), I was promoted from "laborer" to "Property Craftsman!" That is one of the jobs where I had the nickname "Tarzan", it seems to happen to me a lot, unprompted (that is my nickname at the Zoo, now too), as I never actually tell people that was ever a nickname. But I do relate to the character enormously, and I have long hair and run around in the woods and do good animal imitations, so I guess it is to be expected.
Did you see the Bonobo special on PBS a while back? (an episode of the series Nova) a super show, titled "The Last Great Ape"--available for $19.99 on tape! I hope the Del Toro (signed to direct the new Warner Brothers Tarzan film) writers saw that show -- I'll mention it on the discussion. They compared chimpanzee with bonobo behaviour throughout the program -- these apes look a LOT alike (they are closely related), but boy, how DIFFRENT in behaviour! ERB's Mangani are really amazingly like "regular" chimps -- moreso than any of the other "known" apes.
Amar: When did you first start reading ERB books, and how old were you?"
A. Lane Batot: My first ERB book was a tattered copy of The Beasts Of Tarzan that I got at a secondhand bookstore -- I believe I was 10 or 11 years old. I was hooked INSTANTLY, and if you knew how I grew up, you'd understand why; I was a purty feral kid! To this day, that still remains my favorite book in the series, though I've read (and reread) all of them repeatedly. I have read a few other books outside the Tarzan series, but I was never as interested in them -- my interests are VERY narrow; critters, indigenous peoples, and wild places -- that's it for me. Everything else just bores me....
Amar: How has your interest in ERB influenced your life?
A. Lane Batot: Wow, probably a lot! Like I said, I did not read a lot of his other stuff, so the influence would be from his "Tarzan" character. By the time I read it, I was already a wild kid, roaming the woods and constantly interacting and learning everything I could about animals. To the extent that my human social skills (or LACK of) took a backseat and never fully developed! I had read Kipling's Jungle Book VERY early, six or seven years old probably, and it was a major influence, so Tarzan was just a lot more of the same. Tarzan definitely expanded and only intensified such interests! This includes the movies as well as the books. Even as a little kid, I was never happy with the portrayal of Tarzan on film, but there were few movies that involved animals and the jungle in those days, no VCRs, no DVDs, very little on TV (only three channels back then!), so, bad as they were, a Tarzan movie was still a big occasion! And when you are a kid, you BECOME whatever your favorite characters are.
It would have been strange if I had NOT been interested in the Tarzan character, having been exposed to him. I was already running around in the woods with a bunch of animals most of the time (and loving it!), and was ridiculed quite a lot by my peers at school for my animal-like behavior, so to have a hero-character to relate to helped a lot to just ignore what would have otherwise been very insulting and hurtful comments to the average kid. Being resistant to such peer pressure undoubtedly was an enormous influence, for better or worse! I never felt inferior to other kids despite their comments, never wanted to change my interests or ways. This made for a VERY HAPPY, magical childhood. And to this day, I am ribbed about my lack of technological ability, and my animal bluntness, but I have no desire to conform at all. I think Tarzan is at least partly responsible for that.
Amar: Tell me about your research and travels
A. Lane Batot: I suppose you want that in 777 billion words or less! I will assume you mainly want to know how I ended up "working" with Jane Goodall. Basically I was an animal nut from birth -- literally! I refused to play with anything but animals(real or toys) as a little kid, and all I wanted to do as an older kid (still in that phase) is run around in the woods with animals. Little wonder that Tarzan, Mowgli, Robin Hood, etc. were my heroes growing up. I had REAL heroes,too -- animal as well as human. Some of the human ones included actual historical Native Americans, and JANE GOODALL, who started her pioneering animal behaviour studies with the chimpanzees the year I was born (1960). So I grew up reading her articles in National Geographic, watching the rare and splendid specials on TV.
When I was in college, a lot of my classmates wrote off to various Hollywood and music idols, and got "autographed" photos and fan letters and such back. Well, Jane Goodall was MY idol, so I figured to write HER a fan letter! Just kind of a lark for fun; I never expected to get a REPLY! I got her address from the National Geographic Society--in those days she was still mostly at the Gombe Stream Reserve with the chimpanzees. I got ridiculed A LOT for writing "that monkey-lady" by my classmates! I wrote her quite a few letters, mostly about experiences I had had with animals of various kinds, and to my eternal AMAZEMENT, she wrote back! We corresponded for a number of years like this, and became quite good friends through the letters. I finally actually got to meet her when she came on tour in the U.S. at a location not too far from my college.
So, I was finally planning to get to meet Jane Goodall face-to-face. One problem intervened -- it was my Final Exam week at college the same week she was to lecture nearby (it was at Sweet Briar college in Virginia. I BEGGED all my professors to let me take my exams one week late -- only ONE anthropology professor would agree -- the rest said "no way". I can be a stubborn cuss though, and MY priorities have never been exactly mainstream, so after at least TRYING to do it properly, I just said, "what-the-hell!", and WENT ANYWAY! Flunked almost every class I took that semester! My parents were furious! But in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I ever made!
I can write a small book on just that adventure alone -- it was quite the experience! It was a huge National Geographic seminar, with not only Jane Goodall, but the head of National Geographic, Dian Fossey (gorilla lady), Birute Galdikas(orangutan lady), and Francine Patterson (who taught Koko the gorilla sign language) -- I got to meet and chat with them ALL! FANTASTIC experience; and I don't even remember what classes I flunked or the professors teaching them anymore! But I'll never forget THAT experience! Jane Goodall and I hit it off really good -- she would lecture at that college every year then (the NICEST PEOPLE imaginable at that school, too!), and I would come visit, bring my dog, pitch a tipi, and stay awhile! We had a lot of great conversations in my tipi, with her and other people at the college.
My LAST year at my college (Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, N.C.) when I went to visit, Jane asked if I wanted to come to "work" with her for the summer -- she ALREADY KNEW I was saving up to visit Africa! So OF COURSE I JUMPED on it! She offered me the deal like it was a "job" -- but I got no pay (big deal!) -- my EXPENSES were my pay (plane tickets, food, etc.) -- and she said it like that was some kind of sacrifice or something! Not for ME, of course! I DID sorta "work" -- camp duties cleaning dishes (Jane was usually the cook), getting firewood, helping to fetch supplies in the closest human settlement (four miles away) Mwamgongo, and OF COURSE following chimps and baboons daily, taking notes and compiling them each evening (by candle or campfire light).
Because my visit was quite "unofficial" in that I was not a student, not writing a Ph.D., not a fellow scientist, not working on a behaviour project of my own, not publishing anything, a lot of people have been quite DISDAINFUL of my experiences there, since I'm not an "official" anything! And I do not pretend to be! But it does not make the experience any less wonderful for me! Many days I "took the day off", and just roamed for miles in the beautiful African forest alone -- scaling mountains, climbing trees, swimming in Lake Tanganyika; I got to "play Tarzan" like few people EVER get to do! I was usually BARELY dressed in a very ragged pair of shorts with a sheath knife -- but I DID have tennis shoes on! It was an incredible, wild, amazing experience that I lived to the HILT! I am GLAD I didn't have to worry about
publishing a paper, or doing strict scientific research! I only later learned from a former colleague of Jane's that she NEVER allowed people free-run of Gombe; but she did me -- I guess she trusted my "wood's sense" and judgment and common sense around wild animals to allow me to do that -- but it was quite the honor!
At the time it was just me, her and her then 17-year-old son "Grub" -- some Tanzanian workers lived in a nearby village (wonderful people!) -- we had mainly rice to eat, and fish IF we caught any! No electricity, no plumbing, no roads -- you could only travel by boat on the lake, or you walked. I get a kick out of watching the contestants on the T.V. show "Survivor" whining about the conditions for a WHOLE MONTH! I did that for fun for two months, and LOVED IT! Jane goodall did it for thirty years!
An interesting bit of "Tarzan trivia" -- they were filming "Greystoke" that year(1983), and the movie people had approached Jane to be a technical advisor on the film -- but alas, she was too busy with other stuff. She recommended someone which they did use -- so let it be known, the apes portrayed in that film WERE supposed to be chimpanzees! I think they did a good job with it, portraying the apes, at least. Since they were trying to be ultra realistic in that film, they didn't want to go with gorillas, or heaven forbid, imaginary Mangani! So we sat around the campfire at night discussing various things, and we often discussed how we would like to see Tarzan portrayed, and had hopes they would do him justice at last! Pretty much like everyone else -- first half of the movie -- GREAT! Second half, when they went off on their own tangent -- sucked! And they had the WIMPIEST Tarzan in the history of the movies!
My time there was very poignant, too, as it was to be some of Jane's last free time at Gombe -- she was anguishing over having to leave -- begged to do so by various people knowing the impact she could have on public awareness for environmental issues. Soon after that she began the almost CONTINUOUS lecture tours (which ARE quite inspiring) that she is STILL doing to this day, in her SEVENTIES! She still visits Gombe briefly (oh, so briefly) each year, but it is just not the same as LIVING THERE, of course.
I will mention a few other things briefly to finish this As to the question about how Jane Goodall feels about ERB and Tarzan -- you need to read some of her books too! (I recommend Reason For Hope as a good all-arounder about her life written by herself). I am not sure if she read any other ERB, but she has always been a huge Tarzan fan. She still has the original books she read as a little girl in her famliy home in England. Tarzan is one of the characters that influenced her and made her want to go to Africa when she grew up. We actually sat around the campfire in Gombe when I was there and discussed different Tarzan aspects -- including the then upcoming "Greystoke" movie, which she had been asked to be a consultant on, but had to reluctantly turn down, because (as usual) she had too many other commitments to attend to (a bit of Tarzan trivia most people are probably unaware of). We both had high hopes for the movie -- I'm pretty sure, like most of us die-hard fans, she liked the first half, but was disappointed in the second half. As a little girl, she was jealous of the "Jane" character in the book, and thought she was a real wimp! She felt SHE would make a much better mate for Tarzan! Amazing (some might say prophetic) that she ended up living so many years in Africa with apes! No-telling where those childhood dreams will lead if we can just hang on to them long enough.
Amar: I see you work at the North Carolina Zoo. What do you do there?
Yes, I work at the N.C. Zoo -- I am an animal keeper (of course!) in the Cypress Swamp exhibit, as well as the former Australia exhibit, which recently got eliminated, much to my chagrin. We still have a few Australia animals around that have not gone to new homes that have to be cared for, so for us keepers, it isn't quite over yet. In the Cypress Swamp area, I get to take care of cougars, alligators, various waterfowl, turtles, and snakes. Plus, as a volunteered aside, I also help with monitoring wildlife on the expansive 1,000 acre property, especially beavers and Canada geese. And I assist with stray animals (mostly dogs and cats, but we had a renegade goat get in the zoo once!)
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my job! Most of my working "career" has been extremely menial, miserable jobs -- low pay (well below poverty level), foul conditions, wretched people -- certainly no "benefits" like paid vacations or insurance or anything like that! This job (a State job) has ALL those benefits and more, plus I LOVE my work and the crew I work with is super. You might wonder how I ended up
in "The Swamp", especially since there are chimps, baboons, gorillas and other more "prestigious" animals at this zoo -- one word -- "politics". There were people in those sections who were so jealous of others, hateful and insecure, that I had ZERO chance of getting on. Sad, but true. Major Zoos can be incredibly treacherous quagmires of politics! In this zoo, some sections are MISERABLE to work in (because of the people), and others are WONDERFUL -- the Swamp is WONDERFUL, and I am supremely thankful to be there!
Being a keeper (basic animal care) is only one of MANY jobs at a major zoo like this. There are all manner of administrative jobs, including an entire computer department! There is a custodial staff, retail staff (gift shops), entertainment and Public Relations staff, maintenance crews, warehouse and shipping crews, commissary staff (they make up and deliver ALL the animal diets), automotive crew, an entire veterinary staff, design crew, horticulture and landscaping staff, educational department staff, special events committee, and an entirely separate Zoo Society in charge of fund raising -- I'm sure I've probably forgotten a few! All this adds up to quite the complicated and convoluted social hierarchy, so I am most happy to JUST deal simply with a few critters and stay OUT of all that! It really IS a nice zoo (lotsa room for improvement for the animals' sakes', but nice), and is one of North Carolina's best kept secrets. I hear visitors say all the time, the only zoo they think is better, is the San Diego Wild Animal Park! That's saying something! We COULD be so much better, though. You oughta check out the N.C. Zoo's website!
On the set of "Last of the Mohicans"
Batot is the Frontiersman on the far left
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