Stumping for Chimps

Jane Goodall’s Crusade Takes Her From The Jungle, Where She’d Prefer to Be

Perhaps the patience comes from the years she spent sitting in the jungle, waiting and watching. To be sure, she is tolerant. After the plane delay and the rerouting, after the bumpy ride to the zoo, she’s being swarmed by people clip­ping radio mikes to her collar and stuffing battery packs into her pockets, ceaselessly snapping pictures and just wanting to chat. The scene is the same nearly ev­er­y day of the year, from Chicago to Beijing, from meetings with world leaders to sing-alongs with school children.

In all of this, a bit of Jane Good­all has been lost, or is at least well hidden. She has traded in her private life and become a public im­age. Years ago she was just Jane Goodall, doing ground-break­­ing research. Now it’s Jane and the Chimps, the two forever fused. “I’ve given up trying to have my own life,” she says. “Completely.”

Had she stayed in the jungle, she’d still be well known. Her study of chimpanzees in Tanzan­ia’s Gombe National Park in Afri­ca redefined the way scientists view primates and—more importantly—suggested to the human race that it has more in common with the animal kingdom than it likes to suppose.

But Goodall, 66, left the jungle to stump for the chimps, and after years of criss-crossing the globe she has become an icon for animal lovers. The fame she could do without. Sometimes she’d rather just be back at Gom­be, watching her friends run ac­ross the forest floor and race up trees. The jungle and the chimps—no airports, no schedules, no crowds.

“I think that the days I spent in the forest were the best days of my whole life,” she tells a group of school children gathered at the Phnom Tamao zoo. “It wasn’t near­ly as frightening as being in the big city.”

Goodall was in Cambodia this week, at the end of an Asian tour that took her through China, Tai­wan and Japan checking up on en­vir­onmental education projects run by the Jane Goodall Institute and meeting with government leaders about conservation ef­forts. Her few days here were packed with lectures, interviews and appearances. She had hour-long meetings with King Noro­dom Sihanouk and Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh, and was briefed by conservation groups on environmental issues facing Cam­bodia. From just after dawn until late into the evening, this is the daily routine.

The fatigue is the worst after she’s been home in England, where she grew up. “Occasionally I get two weeks, but it’s rare,” she says later. “Then the thought of pack­ing up and going again is so awful. It’s the suitcases, living out of the suitcases.”

But there are many moments of rejuvenation. Like watching the kids from Krousar Thmei, a children’s NGO, performing a play for her at the zoo. They come out dressed as tigers, birds and frogs, stalking, flapping and hopping, and talk about the need to protect the environment.

Goodall laughs and applauds, then does her part for the day’s en­tertainment, giving the children her trademark chimpanzee imitation. Hoo HOO HOO HA HA HA HA!

Some of the children stare, others giggle. They respond with their own imitations.

They are the reason Goodall doesn’t stop.

“Their eyes shining with pride at what they’ve done,” she says. “And thinking that if we’re not care­­ful, their kids will be born into such a different world. If your children have no hope, there is no hope. That’s really why I keep traveling.”

All of this started in the late 1950s as a simple fascination with an­imals. Goodall traveled to Af­rica, wanting to study wildlife, and in 1960 she was assigned by the re­nowned paleontologist Dr Lou­is Leakey to study chimpan­zees, with the hope of gaining in­sights into humans’ evolutionary past.

In her years at Gombe, Goodall saw chimps using twigs as tools to fish food out of an ant hill, rival clans engaging in warfare and orphaned chimps adopted by other chimps. She saw chimps eat­ing plants as medicine and chimps forming coalitions for political power.

“The chimpanzees provide evidence for the hard scientists” that there is a powerful link between humans and animals, she says. “That was something that, had I studied hyenas or something, we would never have been able to do. Their minds are so like ours that nobody can deny it.”

Goodall says the chimps also taught her how humans “got to be how we are, and that these nasty, aggressive tendencies are very, very deeply-rooted. And so are love and compassion.

“The one big, huge difference is that we have this amazing ability to communicate in spoken and written language. No other animal has that. So it helps you also to see how we are unique. It’s enabled us to dominate the world.”

The chimp research program is still going today, making it the world’s longest running wildlife study. Goodall also runs four sanctuaries in Africa for young chimps made orphans by poaching and campaigns for better conditions for chimps used in laboratory research. Her largest program, Roots & Shoots, educates school children about the environment and encourages them to start small projects in their communities. It began with 16 children in Tanzania and now reaches tens of thousands of kids in 50 countries.

But day to day, her life is marked by the end­less crowds, interviews and appearances. “It’s exhausting,” says Mary Lewis, a long-time friend who travels with Goodall and arranges her schedule. “But the opportunities are so incredible.

“It’s weird that one person could have an effect on so many people in so many ways,” she says. There are older people who say they’ve waited years to meet Goodall, mothers who profess to have raised their children based on Goodall’s writings and always the people who say Goodall’s work led them to their profession.

Goodall is never too harried to hear these stories. “She’s always got time for everyone,” Lewis says. “She has a tremendous sort of inner peace.”

Goodall’s trip through Cambodia was part of her 15-month Reason for Hope world tour, celebrating 40 years of research at Gombe. These are her reasons for hope: The human brain, capable of so much, can surely devise a way for people to act with, rather than against, nature. The resilience of nature—“Give her a chance and she comes back.” The indomitable human spirit. And, lastly, the huge enthusiasm of young people. “If we can channel that and get the adult population to support them as they move out into the adult world, then that’s the hope.”

But experience tests Goodall’s assertion that there is “reason for hope.” The problems facing Cambodia are the same in South America, the same in Africa—deforestation, silting of the rivers, flooding, endangered animals being killed for meat. “These problems have a horrible similarity,” she says. “The places where I go are either developed countries, desperately trying to save the little bit of nature they have left, or they are developing countries where there is fortunately a growing sector that says, ‘Don’t do what these other countries have done.’ “

If there is something that raises Goodall’s ire, besides chimps being mistreated, it is corporations acting without a sense of responsibility for these communities, and the welfare of people in general. “When you get these wealthy companies, just messing about with the future of our planet, how can you criticize poor people living here, who don’t understand the big picture?” she says. “That’s the really depressing thing.”

For Goodall, the microcosm of these global problems has been Gombe National Park. When she arrived in 1960, the park was surrounded by lush forests. Now it is ringed by treeless slopes. “The human population has grown, as it has everywhere, and the land can’t support it. Refugees have come in, and they’re beginning to suffer,” Goodall says. “And so quite clearly, in that situation, without guards with guns you couldn’t hope to keep those people out of the park.”

The government handles the enforcement. Goodall’s group has taken a different approach. They have launched programs in the surrounding villages to improve the people’s lives in an environmentally sustainable way. There are tree nurseries for reforestation, scholarship programs for young girls to continue their schooling and basic medical care, as well as conservation initiatives.

Goodall says the program has worked so well, with so little money, that Unicef and the UNDP are now putting their money through Goodall’s group rather than the government.

“That’s a drop in the bucket. That’s one teeny little place,” she says. “However [the project] works and it can be replicated.

“And if some of these huge aid and donor organizations would just tackle these problems bit by bit by bit with reasonable budgets and good people instead of sending out teams of expats to feather their nests,” she says with characteristic reserve. “It makes me so upset.”

Grassroots projects, helping communities to improve one small area, is “the only solution,” Goodall says. And she remains convinced that her work is having at least some small effect that moves the world forward. “If you think of the whole world, it’s utterly ridiculous, totally ridiculous. What do I think I’m doing?” she says. “I have to take little pieces, little pieces.”

 

 

 

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