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close this bookThe Courier N 156 - March - April 1996 - Dossier: Trade in Services - Country Report : Madagascar (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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View the documentDr Jane Goodall: Champion of our 'cousins', the chimpanzees

Dr Jane Goodall: Champion of our 'cousins', the chimpanzees

When Jane Goodall was first given the opportunity to observe the chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park in 1960, she could hardly have predicted where it would all lead. At the age of 26, she still retained her childhood dream of 'studying animals in Africa and writing about them, but she had no academic training beyond secondary school. Thirty-six years later, she has become world-famous as the authority on chimpanzee bebaviour - and as their greatest champion.

After her initial research studies at Gombe, Jane Goodall went to Cambridge University in the UK, where she gained a doctorate in ethnology (the study of bebaviaur). This was something of an achievement in itself: she was only the eighth person to be admitted for doctoral studies at this famous seat of learning without an undergraduate qualification. Since then, she has divided her time between research in the field (mainly at Gombe) and teaching. There is a strong campaigning element in her work which involves more than simply learning about how chimpanzees live. Through the various 'Jane Goodall Institutes' (JGIs) that have been set up in Africa, the USA and the UK, she also works tirelessly for conservation measures to protect this increasingly threatened species. Above all Jane Goodall places her faith in education. Nowadays she travels widely in Africa, Europe and North America, speaking to groups of young people about the chimpanzees, and explaining why action is needed to protect them.

The Courier was fortunate to have the opportunity of interviewing Dr Goodall when she visited Brussels recently. And it did not take us long to discover that her passion for her work remains undimmed. We began by asking her about the challenges facing the chimpanzee in the modern word.

- In Africa, which is the only place where they live, it is pretty grim They are endangered in almost all the countries where they still survive They are actually in 21 countries, but the total number is thought to be less than 250 000. That is a rough estimate based on the extent of the forests, and the figure could be less. The reason for their decline is partly the habitat destruction, which is horrendous in some countries of course. It is also increasingly because of the bushmeat trade, and this is a nightmare. Whereas in the old days, hunters just shot meat for themselves and their families, now they are doing it commercially. This is made easier by the fact that the logging company roads now go deep into the forests. Hunters themselves actually say that they sometimes they have to go for two or three days before they find an animal. There aren't very many left.

· So people actually shoot chimpanzees for food?

- Yes, they shoot everything. What they do is to cut up the animals that they shoot, dry the meat and truck it into the towns. They're not just shooting for local consumption. There is a cultural preference for bush meat right across Central Africa and in parts of West Africa. So hunting and habitat destruction are the greatest threats to the remaining wildlife.

On top of that, for some animals such as chimps, there is the live animal trade, with the hunters being paid by dealers. They shoot the mothers in order to capture and sell the babies We estimate that about ten chimps die for every one that reaches its final destination alive and well. This is because mothers creep away and die in the forest, or because infants are killed or badly wounded when the mother is shot. They also die of trauma and more commonly, of malnutrition and dehydration on the journey.

Can you tell us about the set-up of the Jane Goodall lnstitute, and what you are seeking to achieve?

- The Institute originated in the United States in 1976 and an office was opened in the UK in 1989. We also have NGOs in four African countries - JGI Tanzania, JGI Congo, JGI Uganda and JGI Burundi. I am afraid the Burundi one barely exists now because we have more or less had to pull out from there.

The mission of the Institute is wildlife research, conservation and education. The main research takes place in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where I began in 1960. It is a very tiny park - just 30 square miles. It has three separate communities of chimps each of a bout 50 individuals - making a total of about 150. They are now totally surrounded by cultivation. In other words, they are cut off from any tiny remnant populations found outside the park - and these are very few now. These animals are genetically isolated and their long-term future is extremely bleak because of inbreeding. You only need a couple of epidemics to sweep through and the population will crash. And it is worth pointing out that they are susceptible to all our human diseases. But the good thing is that, within the park, there is no poaching and no habitat destruction. Part of the reason for this is that we employ Tanzanians from the surrounding villages to help with the research. They make detailed reports on the chimps from dawn till dusk using 8mm video cameras. They talk about their work to family and friends. I think the most important thing is that they care about the chimps as individuals. So there is no danger of poaching. And of course, we are helping to boost the local economy just by being there. We have a research team and a few European and American students - though never more than five at a time - and we employ 26 Tanzanians. And Tanzania is proud that we are there.

I would add that that the isolated situation of these 150 chimps, is something that we see repeated right across Africa. Only in Gabon, Cameroun, Congo and Zaire do you get really significant populations of more than 5000. Just about everywhere else there are just these sad little remaining fragments.

· Isn't there a danger that, even in the four countries with reasonable chimpanzee populations, the pressure on their forests will grow for economic reasons?

- It is happening all the time. The forests are being chipped away as we speak. So it becomes very important to try and create some areas, in addition to those that already exist, where the chimps can be protected. But it is not an easy task.

· What is your response to local people who say 'why shouldn't we go and cut down our forest'?

- Conservation can never work unless you involve the local people. If tourism can be established, then that is fine, because then local people can benefit by acting as guides, building guest houses, looking after tourists and selling things. In areas where you are unlikely to attract tourists it is more difficult. K people are told they can't go and cut down firewood or hunt, then what are they to do? Part of the answer lies in agroforestry programmes like the one we have with the the EC. It involves planting fruit trees so that the local people can sell the crops. If you can't attract tourist dollars, then you must be able to offer something concrete instead, in return for leaving the forests alone. It is very tough but you must try. In the meantime, the people have to live.

· You mentioned Tanzania being very supportive. How sympathetic are other governments to the idea of protecting the forests and wildlife?

- I think they are supportive only if they see some benefit coming back for themselves. And other than the possibility of some kind of tourism, to bring in foreign exchange, it is difficult to pinpoint any other direct economic benefits. Of course, chimpanzees are very popular in the western world, and it might be possible to attract some support from outside to help the governments concerned and the local people, but it is still very difficult. What we are doing is working very hard on conservation education, aimed at making people proud of what they have.

· Are governments more willing nowadays to enact legislation to protect the forests?

- Passing legislation doesn't necessarily help very much. I have been to so many places where there is legislation - there is a national park boundary set up - but nobody pays the slightest attention. That is what is happening in Ghana. There is park in the south-west which is gradually being nibbled away by people cutting down the trees for toothbrushes. They are not actually killing the chimps but the forests are disappearing, so it comes down to the same thing.

· You mentioned earlier the activities of logging companies. Is realistic to suggest that you can control what they are doing?

- I think there are some environmentally-conscious companies that will listen. I have recently heard about a company in Gabon that has agreed to do sustainable cutting. All logging is pretty bad but at least it is better than clear-cutting.

· This involves only felling mature trees?

- Yes, but it is harder to do. Again it will be demand from the outside world that eventually determines how many companies will do sustainable logging.

· Overall, what you are saying sounds rather pessimistic Do you believe chimpanzees have a future?

- I am actually an optimistic person. There are always signs of hope. As I said, there are logging companies prepared to work in a sustainable way. As for the live animal trade, we can work on that from outside. We need to persuade third countries not to buy live chimpanzees. If there is no market, as has been shown with ivory, then the trade will come to an end.

The meat trade is a bit more problematic. All one can say here is that you have to work on conservation education and try to change cultural preferences. We have a programme for children called 'Roots and Shoots' which operates in about 30 countries around the world. In fact I am devoting most of my energy nowadays to this. It began in Tanzania and we are trying to develop it in other African countries. The programme involves 'hands-on' projects which are concerned with making the world around us a better place - whether we are talking about the environment for animals or for people. And it has really taken off in Tanzania - without any money! The children are fascinated by the subject.

· Talking of money, what is the source of the Institute's funding, and how many people do you employ?

- Money from my lecture tours and from books all goes to the Institute, and of course we get donations. We also have the EC-funded project that I mentioned in Tanzania. That involves reforestation and conservation along the lake shore around the Gombe National Park. As for employment, in Africa as a whole, we have about 80 local staff and seven expatriate workers.

· Turning now to the central aspect of your research, namely chimpanzee behaviour, could you tell us a little more about this?

- The research began in 1960. At the time, nothing was known about the behaviour of wild chimps. In fact, they are our closest living relatives, with a lifespan of between 50 and 60 years. They differ from us genetically - that is, in the structure of their DNA - by only just over 1%.

Much more fascinating is the research we have undertaken for 35 years observing one community of about 50 individuals and learning their relationships with each other, their communication patterns and their way of life. What we have found is that they have many behaviour patterns which are uncannily like ours. For example: there are long-term supportive bonds between mothers and their offspring. The child is also dependent on the mother for a long time - five or six years. We think that is important because they have a lot to learn. This is easier when you are young and your mind is flexible - and when there aren't any pressures because your mother is still essentially looking after you. There are also identifiable bonds between siblings although not between non-related males and females. The father doesn't play a role as such in the family - I am not sure he does in some human families either! The males basically act in a paternal way to all infants in their own group and they patrol the boundaries.

· Are there strong rivalries between groups

- Yes. They are very aggressively territorial and will kill. We have even observed something a bit like warfare where the males of one community systematically annihilated a smaller community over four years. It was a group that split away in fact, so it was more like a civil war.

The anatomy of the chimp brain is more like ours than that of any other living creature. In the wild you can see that they make and use tools. This used to be considered as the thing which differentiated us from all the rest of the animal kingdom. They also have very sophisticated social intelligence - they manipulate each other and form alliances. Some of the males are quite political. There is tremendous competition among them to get to the top ranking position. Each of the seven incumbents that we have observed over the past 35 years has got there in a different way. Of those only one succeeded through brute strength and size. Two others did it by being aggressive but there were two who made it to the top by using their intelligence. In a way, it was a kind of bluff involving the formation of alliances and skilful manoeuvring.

Chimps in captivity can learn the same sign language that deaf people use. They can learn as many as 300 signs and can use them in new situations. They clearly know what they mean.

· You have being doing this work for a very long time. Do you anticipate ever retiring?

- How can 1, especially now the 'Roots and Shoots' programme is growing. There are so many schools that want me to go and give talks. That is what I came here to Brussels for. I have just spoken to more than a thousand children at the International School and the European School.

· I suppose you could say that you are out to capture the hearts and minds of children. What techniques do you use?

- The chimpanzees can take me to any classroom in the world. You can capture the attention of rural Tanzania and inner-city Los Angeles with them. We have a great many programmes but I will just mention two examples. We are working with local people in the primary and secondary schools all around the Gombe National Park. And at the other end of the scale, as it were, we have pilot programmes with the Los Angeles Police Department. Wherever we go, the chimps are our ambassadors. Interview by Simon Horner