Legendary chimp expert Jane Goodall brings ‘hope’ to children

OTTAWA – When Jane Goodall was an eight-year-old girl in England, she had a dream that she would one day go to Africa, live with the animals and then write books about them.

The world-renowned primatologist and pioneering chimpanzee researcher fulfilled that dream long ago. Yesterday, at the Museum of Nature, she encouraged children roughly that age to follow in her footsteps and reach for dreams of their own.

“Everyone can make a difference,” said Ms. Goodall, 70, her long grey hair tucked neatly into her trademark pony tail. “We old people want to help you guys save what is left.”

Ms. Goodall kicked off her two-day Ottawa visit yesterday morning by speaking to 600 area schoolchildren about the perils facing animals in the wild. Ms. Goodall is in town to announce a new educational partnership with IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and to accept the IFAW 2004 Lifetime Achievement Action Award, delivered last night on Parliament Hill.

Ms. Goodall highlighted an evening in which several awards were presented, including one to Citizen senior writer Gary Dimmock and another to freelance photographer Andrew Wilson, for their roles in the rescue and return to the wild of Buddy Bear, an abducted cub in the Gatineau Hills.

Ms. Goodall began her landmark study of chimpanzees in Tanzania in 1960. Her work at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve literally redefined the relationship between humans and animals. Among other discoveries, she observed chimps making and using tools. She also defied scientific convention at the time by giving the animals names instead of numbers.

“When I first started studying chimps,” she said in an interview with the Citizen, “scientists would not admit that animals had either personalities, or minds or feelings. It was taboo.”

Ms. Goodall changed all that. She calls the chimps her “friends,” and mentioned that, for example, she has known Fifi since 1961. She was a pioneer in treating animals as individuals as opposed to merely members of a species. She said that deserting a little chimp is “the same as turning your back on a human baby.”

In 1977, she established the Jane Goodall Institute, which supports the Gombe work and other education, conservation and development programs. While she still calls Tanzania home, she now travels more than 300 days a year, dedicated to the cause to which she has devoted her life.

Her primary focus the past few years has been her Institute’s Roots & Shoots program, which supports students from preschool through university in projects that benefit people, animals and the environment. The program hosts about 6,000 groups in more than 87 countries.

Therefore, it was only fitting that Ms. Goodall started her day in Ottawa with the children. She said they are the world’s greatest promise for saving wildlife.

“Around the world the youth is losing hope,” she said, in her quaint, quiet voice. “There is no point struggling to save wildlife if we are not educating new generations to do it better than we have.”

There is plenty of work yet to do. IFAW president Fred O’Regan said a new approach is needed for the existing conservation model, which has obviously not worked.

“We’ve had a conventional conservation for 100 years and the endangered species list looks like the Manhattan phone directory,” he said.

Ms. Goodall’s visit coincides with IFAW’s Animal Action week, a campaign dedicated to battling wildlife trade. Standing on stage in front of an assortment of animal pelts, tusks and antlers, Ms. Goodall and Mr. O’Regan spoke about one of the leading forces behind the horrific rate of animal extinctions. One-fifth of the world’s animal and plant species could vanish within the next 30 years, they warned. The billion-dollar business of illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products is second only to drugs. In Canada alone, wildlife trade is valued at between $25 million and $30 million.

“We want to get kids mindful about it,” said Mr. O’Regan. “If you don’t buy, they won’t die.”

Despite the pessimistic prognosis, Ms. Goodall, a Dame of the British Empire and a United Nations Messenger of Peace, remains upbeat about her ability to make a change.

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” she said. “My main mission is to spread hope. Because without hope there is no hope for the future.”