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Renowned British primatologist Jane Goodall spent almost half a century studying wild chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Her ground-breaking discoveries in that tiny preserve of African forest have contributed much of what we know today about the social behavior of chimpanzees, mankind's closest animal relatives.
Today, the 75-year old scientist leaves the field work to others. She now devotes her time to the foundation she established to promote wildlife conservation and public education. That's also the focus of her new book, Hope for Animals and Their World, which highlights the stories of extraordinary people who have managed to bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction.
Jane Goodall: The early years
Watch segments of VOA's interview with Jane Goodall:
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Jane Goodall has been fascinated by animals as far back as she can remember. Even before she could talk, she says she was "observing earthworms, reading Dr. Doolittle books and wanting to learn the language of animals."
In 1960, at the age of 26, she traveled to Africa where she began her ground-breaking study of chimpanzees under the guidance of the renowned anthropologist and paleontologist, the late Dr. Louis Leakey.
It was in the forests of the Gombe National Park in Tanzania where Goodall spent the next several decades, studying the chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Her research provided a unique and intimate portrait of these complex animals and shed new light on the intelligence of both apes and humans.
"An animal more like us than any other animal" (JG)
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One of the most significant discoveries that emerged from Goodall's findings was that chimpanzees use – and make – tools.
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"It was thought that only humans did this and that this set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom," she says.
Over time she, and her team of researchers, revealed that chimps share other behavioral traits with humans as well, "like the long-term supportive, affection bond between family members." Goodall says chimpanzees can live to be more than 50 years old and these bonds "can last throughout life."
A global organization takes root
Goodall's affection for these creatures, and her desire to protect them from human encroachments, inspired her in 1977 to found the Jane Goodall Institute. With offices in 22 countries, its global mission is to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.
But Goodall notes that despite all the research and ambitious conservation efforts, the number of wild chimpanzees in Africa has continued to decline. "When I began there were somewhere between one and two million. And now, 300,000 maximum," she says.
Habitat loss just one factor in declining numbers of chimps
Goodall says the primary reason for the shrinking chimp population, like most endangered species, is the destruction of their habitat. And one way to stop that destruction she says, is by addressing the needs of the people living near those precious habitats. "How could you try to save the chimpanzees in their little oasis of fertile forest, when outside [it] you have more people living than the land can support, population growth from normal means and also refugees?" she says.
One of the other problems facing the chimp population is the growing demand for their meat says Goodall. In the old days no hunter would shoot a female with a baby because they simply wouldn't, she says, but now, "hunters will shoot anything; they will shoot elephants, gorillas, antelopes, pigs, birds even, and bats; anything that can be cut up and smoked," she says.
Conservation programs for communities and children
In 1994 Goodall started the TACARE (Take Care) program. The development effort partners with local villagers in 24 communities to create sustainable income-generating opportunities while promoting conservation goals. "Because the villagers understand that we care about them as well as the chimpanzees, it's beginning to come around," she says.
Goodall believes that if long-term conservation is to work, it has to involve young people. So in 1990, the Goodall Institute created Roots & Shoots. The program helps young people from pre-school through university identify problems in their communities and take action to solve them.
"Every group chooses three kinds of projects to make the world a better place," she says, "one to help people, one to help animals including dogs and cats and pigs, and one to help the environment that we all share," she says.
Hope for animals on the brink of extinction
Dr. Goodall writes about TACARE (Take Care) and her other conservation efforts in her new book, Hope for Animals and Their World. But the book focuses on the inspiring stories of dozens of field biologists who have managed to rescue endangered species from the brink of extinction, despite tremendous obstacles.
"One of the reasons I wanted to do this book was that there is so much doom and gloom - and quite rightly," Goodall says. "We have made a horrible mess of the planet, no question, but at the same time, there are all these extraordinary success stories." She says she wanted to write about the "amazing people doing amazing work" that led to those successes.
Saving the golden lion tamarin
One of those people is Dr. Leonardo Coimbra-Filho of the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center who is often called the father of primatology in Brazil. Together with other conservationists, he created a captive breeding program that has saved the golden lion tamarin, the most endangered of all New World primates.
Goodall says she is thrilled about the success of the program because so many of the monkeys have been re-introduced back into the wild. "Many of them are now living completely free of any scientific observation. They've made it!"
Indeed, having been successfully released into the forests of Brazil, the golden lion tamarins are the only primate species to have been downlisted from critically endangered to endangered on the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] Red List of Threatened Species.
Making a Difference
Nearly 50 years after she began her work, Jane Goodall remains an energetic champion for the welfare of the world's wild animals. Appointed in 2002 by the United Nations as one of its messengers of peace, she travels the globe nearly 300 days a year, spreading her message of hope and positive change.
"Every single day we impact the world around us," she says. "If we would just think about the consequences of the little choices we make; what we eat, wear, buy, how we interact with people, animals, the environment, then we start making small changes and that can lead to the huge change that we must have."
Positive change, says Goodall, has to start within ourselves, so we can better understand – and appreciate – the deep connection between us and the natural world.