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Friday, June 2, 2023

Renowned Chimp Expert Calls for Conservation

She walked lightly up to the microphone, as if not to tread too heavily upon the Earth. Then the world-renowned anthropologist let out a throaty, heart-of-the-jungle chimpanzee howl.

“O – o – o – o – o – o – o – o – o o o o o o o o -oooooooooo-ooooooooo-ooooouiiiii!”

Jane Goodall, who visited Costa Rica this week to promote her sustainability initiatives in eight local schools, isn’t afraid to act like a primate. After all, she insisted, humans and primates aren’t all that different.

“Once we admit we’re not the only beings on the planet with personalities,” Goodall said, “it raises a lot of tough ethical problems we have to face.”

Perhaps the most prominent female scientist in the world, Goodall was living with chimpanzees in Africa in the 1960s when she made groundbreaking discoveries that chimps aren’t only capable of making and using tools, they’re socially complex carnivores that wage war-like attacks on each other.

At age 73, the naturalist whose biographer dubbed her “the woman who redefined man” has moved on from cohabitating in the African bush with chimps to a globe-trotting conservation advocate.

She came to the private CountryDay School Aug. 30, in the western San José suburb of Escazú, to hear reports of students’ conservation efforts as part of the Jane Goodall Institute’s program Roots and Shoots. The program was created to promote “service-learning” projects for students to help animals, the environment and communities in need.

One project headed by a group of highschool boys raised $2,000 for conservation of the biologically diverse Isla del Coco, 365 miles off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Clutching her stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee, Goodall spoke at the school before heading off on a tour through Costa Rica that ended in the northwest province of Guancaste, where she learned of a friend’s plan to build the University for a Sustainable Future.

It was her third trip to Costa Rica in recent years, having come in 2004 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the research park INBIOparque and in 2002 to promote her Roots and Shoots program (TT, Sept. 24, 2004; Jan. 25, 2002).

The animal kingdom caught Goodall’s imagination at a young age. As a child the nascent scientist smuggled worms into bed with her and hid out in a henhouse for hours to watch an egg-laying, she said.

She was enthralled with wildlife and Africa, thanks at least in some part to reading about the vine-swinging Tarzan.

“I fell in love with the Lord of the Jungle and I was jealous when he married that other, wimpy Jane,” she said.

All grown up, she now laments threats faced by species like her beloved chimps – whose populations have tumbled to some 150,000 spread across Africa, down from as many as 2 million.

Goodall blames commercial hunting, rampant deforestation driven by the logging industry, global warming and corruption. And the advocate has no plans to stop waving the green flag anytime soon.

“Our brain is now beginning to tackle global problems because enough people are beginning to admit we have caused harm,” she said.

After her speech, The Tico Times sat down with Goodall at the school’s lunch table to discuss chimpanzee warfare and Costa Rica’s environmental efforts. Excerpts:

TT: Monkey populations are dropping quickly in Costa Rica (TT, April 27). Does that surprise you?

JG: They are everywhere. I’m afraid it doesn’t surprise me. But Roots and Shoots has spread across the country.

Costa Rica has more than doubled its forest cover in two decades (TT, Nov. 10, 2006). Would you call reforestation efforts here a success?

Costa Rica’s been leading the way in environmental protection for quite some time. I’m particularly impressed by paying farmers and land owners to not cut their trees down. I think that (Costa Rican President) Oscar Arias really is trying to preserve the environment to make Costa Rica carbon neutral.

Carbon neutrality, or balancing carbon output with carbon input, is a buzz phrase here. What do you think about Arias’ plan to make Costa Rica carbon neutral by 2021 (TT, July 27)?

It’ll be hard to do. But we have to try. If you make a vow to make the country carbon neutral in so many years you’ll get half of what you ask for. If you vow to make it completely, you’ll probably get 50%. That’s the way it works. You have to have a big vision.

You’ve become an advocate for environmental efforts around the world. As an advocate, what has been your greatest achievement so far?

Ask somebody else. We’ve got a long way to go. But I’m very excited about Roots and Shoots. You can tell from listening to those kids what a difference it’s making. Imagine making presentations like that in nearly 100 countries, wherever I go. It’s very inspiring.

Tell me more about chimps and warfare. As you know, this is a demilitarized country.

I know. If only all countries would demilitarize themselves what a different world it would be.How much better it would be to alleviate the causes of war.

Are chimps capable of war?

It’s primitive. More like rage. It’s like prewar. Like males going into a neighboring territory and finding a single individual and attacking them so bad they die of their wounds. Not on the spot, but they’re left all wounded. And on one occasion, in four years the males of the larger community completely annihilated a small neighboring community.

What can we learn from that?

We can learn that we have aggressive tendencies from our ancient primate past, but we have the brain and the capability of becoming peaceful.We don’t do a very good job of it. And we should take heart in the fact that we have also inherited these ancient qualities of love and compassion. So we have the two sides within us.

Would you rather be a chimp?


You’d rather be a human, then?

Well, yes I think so. If I was a chimp I’d probably be living in a horrid situation like so many chimps are. And secondly I wouldn’t be able to do anything about changing the world.



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