Jane Goodall's granddaughter lends her hands to Sonoma County's wildlife

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Angel van Lawick, a visitor from Tanzania, last week gingerly placing orphaned barn owlets into Sebastopol-area vineyard boxes inhabitated by adult owls that she and her local hosts hope will adopt the hungry fuzzballs.

Later on, the 19-year-old van Lawick used a needle tube to feed formula to days-old baby skunks whose mother was accidentally killed on a nearby ranch.

These are fairly extraordinary activities for someone on her first-ever trip to America. Van Lawick came to volunteer for Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue largely, she said, because "my grandma thought it would be good for me."

That grandmother, Jane Goodall, the globally renowned chimpanzee authority and conservationist, does seem to possess a pretty good sense of the mutual good that can come from people engaging constructively with animals.

Granddaughter van Lawick, who lives in Dar es Salaam and is traveling the world between high school and college, was feeling grateful late last week that Goodall had hooked her up with Sonoma County.

"I've had a lot of fun. I've never done anything like this before," she said while feeding one of the baby skunks at Wildlife Rescue's hilltop care center on Meacham Road, between Cotati and Petaluma.

Her link to Sonoma was Tom Furrer, the retired Casa Grande High School teacher who founded the Petaluma school's acclaimed fish hatchery and creek restoration project. Furrer and van Lawick's grandmother became friends when Goodall came to Petaluma in 1998 to visit him and the students involved in Casa Grande United Anglers.

The two of them spoke last summer, and Goodall mentioned that prior to entering college her granddaughter would travel and do good works thanks to Roots and Shoots, the international effort by Goodall to involve young people in environmental, animal-welfare and humanitarian pursuits.

Retired teacher Furrer is a friend and advocate of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. He told Goodall the group surely would relish a chance to meet her granddaughter and introduce her to its mission.

Van Lawick spent all of last week at Wildlife Rescue, an especially busy place at this time of year because of the arrival of many young, orphaned or ailing raccoons, skunks, squirrels and other mammals.

"She really does have her grandmother's blood," said Doris Duncan, the group's director. "She genuinely cares about animals."

A highlight of the visitor's week was helping to take three orphaned, nearly starving baby barn owls to a Lynmar Estate vineyard. As part of their environmental stewardship, owners of the winery installed owl boxes on their ranches.

Van Lawick helped to transport the owlets and place them in the owl boxes. Duncan and her staff and volunteers believe mature owls make good adoptive parents.

Placing the young owls in the boxes was a rare and exciting experience for Jane Goodall's granddaughter.

"I was scared," she admitted. "But at the end, it felt good."

Van Lawick is one of three children of Maria and Hugo "Grub" van Lawick Jr. of Tanzania. Grub van Lawick is the only child of Goodall and her late, first husband, Hugo van Lawick, a Dutch wildlife photographer.

Angel van Lawick said she and her globetrotting grandmother, a native and resident of Great Britain, correspond regularly by e-mail and get together twice a year. They celebrated Goodall's 80th birthday last month in Pennsylvania.

Prior to flying to the U.S., van Lawick traveled through much of Europe. The graduate of St. Constantine's International School in the Tanzanian city of Arusha said she hopes to attend college in the United States or Europe.

At 19, she's not at all certain what she will do with her life.

"I hope to be helping animals in one way or another," she said. "But just now, I really don't know how."

Though her grandmother, a United Nations-declared "Messenger of Peace," encouraged her to come to Sonoma County and learn about rescuing wildlife, she has not tried to direct van Lawick or her two brothers to follow in her footsteps.

"My grandmother never really pushes us to do anything," van Lawick said. "She just tells us, 'Never lose hope. If you really want to do something, go ahead and do it.'"

Wildlife Rescue's Duncan was sorry to see the young Tanzanian leave on Friday. Now she waits to hear what the granddaughter of Jane Goodall will do as her life's work, and when she will wing her way back to Sonoma County.

"We're going to miss our Angel," she said.

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)

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