World-renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to the protection of wild chimpanzees and their African habitats, which are dwindling due to man-made threats. Right now she’s getting some welcome publicity and financial help in her efforts from Disneynature, which through April 26 is donating 20 cents from each ticket sale for the new documentary “Chimpanzee” to the Jane Goodall Institute, headquartered in Gombe National Park in Tanzania.
We spoke to her about the promotional partnership and what she’s doing to foster chimpanzee conservation.
MNN: How did you become involved with “Chimpanzee?”
Jane Goodall: It started in Paris, where the Jane Goodall Institute has a branch and Disneynature has its headquarters. We’ve had a long relationship with Disney, with the animal kingdom. They used our videographer. But I had nothing to do with the production. I’ve never been to Ivory Coast. Hopefully, it will raise awareness about chimps, which down the line will lead to increased membership for us and some of this can be put into the movie DVD — we’re working on that right now. It’s a win-win-win situation because with my articles, books, and television I’ve certainly created a lot of awareness about chimps, and that will encourage people to go to see the film, which will benefit us and chimps will benefit too.
The story follows an orphaned chimp that’s adopted by an adult male. Is this common?
No. They were filming the baby in the wild with the mum, That was the idea. That was going to be the whole film, making people engaged with little Oscar. Then his mother dies and he has no older brother or sister who would have adopted him. Then, in front of their eyes, the alpha male adopted him. Is that normal? No, it certainly isn’t. We’ve never had anything like that at Gombe.
What are the biggest threats to chimpanzees today and what are you doing to help?
The biggest threats vary. In central Africa, it’s the bush meat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals for food, made possible by the roads built by logging companies. It’s very unsustainable. Chimps are part of this bush meat trade, There is some shooting of mothers to take babies to sell them for entertainment or tourists who feel sorry for them or send them off to places that want them for circuses and things. That is a threat, not nearly as big as bush meat, though. Then there is simple habitat destruction. The human population is growing. What we’re doing in the bush meat trade countries is education, developing our youth program, Roots & Shoots, trying to help people understand things that they never had exposure to before. It’s now in 130 countries and very strong, of course, where we work in Africa but also across the U.S. and in China, North America, Asia and Europe.
Around Gombe the threat is definitely habitat destruction. We’re working with the villagers living around reserved areas or the wild forest, helping them to improve their lives because there are more people than the land can support, and they were struggling to survive. When you’re struggling to survive and the land has lost its fertility from over-farming, what do you do? You cut down more trees. So we work to help them find environmentally sustainable projects. We offer women micro-credit opportunities — they can take out tiny loans for environmentally sustainable projects. We provide as many scholarships as we can afford for girls to keep them in school, because all around the world, as women’s education increases family size drops. We provide family planning information, and now the villagers are so happy that we’re helping them to help themselves. That may have turned around and may put land aside around tiny Gombe National Park with reforestation. Trees are already 30 feet high. There is a leafy corridor stretching south toward other remnant chimp groups so our chimps will no longer be trapped as they are at present. It’s good for everybody — for chimps, for the environment, for people.
How many chimps are in Gombe now?
154, of which half are fully adult now. They’re still coming in, so the re-education program is really important and the support from the Disney film goes to that whole operation. We’re trying to get the chimps into a much bigger space on an island where it’s safer for them and the human staff. We want to put them on these islands in the river and we’re working now on the infrastructure, which is very expensive.
What can people do to help?
We would love them to become members of the institute, take out a guardianship, which helps us with our sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees in Congo, which is expensive. You know, the government will confiscate the babies but then they have to be looked after, and it’s expensive.
How will you celebrate Earth Day this year?
I’m not sure where I’ll be. I spend 300 days on the road. I try to make every day an Earth Day. Earth Day says something, it’s important, but we really need to realize that we shouldn’t just do these things on Earth Day, we shouldn’t think about the planet on only Earth Day. We should take it with us.
See a clip of Goodall's recent appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" below.
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