Conservation, Population, and Health: A Conversation with Jane Goodall
By Robert Lalasz
Jane Goodall, one of the world's leading primatologists and conservationists, told an audience of Wilson Center staff members Thursday that conservation efforts cannot succeed without also ensuring the sustainable livelihoods of those living around protected areas.
Goodall, whose renowned research on wild chimpanzees in Tanzania has made her an international environmental figure, said that she has been shocked at the rampant and unsustainable deforestation around African chimpanzee habitats. "How can we save the chimps if the people outside the forest are struggling to survive?" she asked.
Humanity's Connection to Nature
Goodall has studied and worked with chimpanzees for over 40 years, breaking gender barriers throughout her career. Her Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation provides ongoing support for wild chimpanzee and primate field research, increases primate habitat conservation, and builds awareness of the ties between humanity and the environment.
Goodall, who began her Wilson Center appearance by imitating a chimpanzee greeting, said that the chimpanzee more than any other creature has helped us to understand that we are part of the animal kingdom.
"Chimpanzees show us that the line dividing humanity from animals is very blurry," Goodall said. "We differ in DNA from them by just over one percent. They use objects as tools in a very imaginative way, they show immense skill in social manipulation, and they are quite political creatures."
She added that, like humans, chimpanzees use different strategies to achieve social status. "Some use brute force, but they don't last very long," Goodall joked. "Those who use their brains last longer."
Humanity's Threat to Nature
Goodall said that warfare and unsustainable human economic development now threaten to ruin conservation efforts in Africa and worldwide.
"When I arrived in Tanzania," she said, "there was chimpanzee habitat stretching 30 miles inland from the Gombi shoreline. Now, outside the coastal area, those forests are gone." Goodall added that streams of refugees from wars in the Great Lakes district of Africa have placed enormous pressures on the Tanzanian environment.
To address these issues, the Jane Goodall Institute developed its TACARE (Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education Project) Program—-a reforestation project in western Tanzania that focuses on improving residents' standard of living while promoting reforestation, curbing soil erosion, and expanding conservation education of the local population. Goodall said that TACARE has educated villagers on sustainable vegetable growing, cultivation of woodlots, and other sustainable practices while itself becoming self-sustaining, expanding from 12 to 33 villages and run by teams of Tanzanians trained in agroforestry and health care.
"It's a very poor area," said Goodall. "TACARE helps them get support of local people not only for chimps conservation but also for a more sustainable survival strategy."
TACARE has also focused on improving the self-esteem and earning potential of women through nine microcredit banks based on the Grameen Bank system. Goodall explained that the program funds general education for women as well as specific education in family-planning, HIV/AIDS prevention, and conservation. "We concentrate on education because as education rises, family size drops," said Goodall.
Goodall noted that growing populations are destroying habitat and creating deserts in parts of Africa. And in Central Africa, where the last significant populations of chimpanzees reside, logging conglomerates are making deep roads into forests, opening them up for migrants and commercial hunters who are feeding an increasing developed-country appetite for bushmeat.
"The situation across Africa is really grim, and the bushmeat trade is a very major problem," said Goodall. Her Institute's Congo Basin Project addresses the trade through public education and conservation, and Goodall applauded the United States-led coalition that announced at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development a $60 million fund to stop the trade. Groups such as the Institute also continue to promote sustainability in Central Africa by working with governments, the private sector, and international financial organizations.
Jane Goodall Today
Goodall said that she is now devoting most of her energies "to raising generations of young people to be better stewards of the environment"—especially through her Institute's Roots and Shoots Program, which educates schoolchildren on the interrelationships between animals, people, and the environment.
Such programs give Goodall hope, as does the resilience of both nature and humanity. She reminded Wilson Center staffers that tree saplings sprung up at Nagasaki soon after the atomic bomb was dropped there, and she displayed talismans that she carries with her everywhere: a feather from a whooping crane, which came back from the brink of extinction; a bit of limestone from Robbin Island Prison, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for decades; and a surgical glove from a surgeon who had his hand blown off as a child.
"I was in New York on September 11," Goodall said, "and on the same day we saw the ultimate evil, using innocent people to kill innocent people, we also saw incredible heroism and generosity of spirit." She concluded that September 11 should boost efforts to conserve the environment, not defund them.
"If we stop caring about the environment now, then terrorism will win, because what will we be leaving our children?" Goodall said.
Goodall followed her Wilson Center visit by meeting privately with officials from the U.S. Department of State and USAID. Both her conversation with staffers and the private meeting were sponsored by the Center's Environmental Change and Security Project.