Jane Goodall Reflects on Her Work in the Wild

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

JANE GOODALL'S 30 years of work with the chimpanzees in Tanzania constitutes the longest unbroken study of a single animal species in the wild. In a telephone interview, she spoke on a number of issues related to her efforts.

How much resistance is there still to your using terms to describe the chimp behavior that have been normally reserved for describing humans?

There still are some ``pure'' ethologists who will not ascribe human emotions to animals. It strikes me as so peculiar when some people wax eloquent on the similarities of the brain, central nervous system, and composition of the blood. How is it that they can be so resistant to the fact that there are likely to be similarities in emotion? It occurs to me to ask, why should it be up to us to prove similarity before we treat these animals differently, instead of up to the hard-liners to prove dissimilarity? Although I think in their heart of hearts almost all of them accept the [emotional] similarities.

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You say in your book that scientists have sometimes dismissed your observations as ``anecdotes.'' At what point do ``anecdotes'' become evidence?

It depends on the scientist. Some branches easily accept anecdotes, really, now. But what is an anecdote? It's really an observation that's been seen once or twice. The fact that it has only been seen once or twice in no way diminishes it as an observation. These observations are so valuable when you're talking about creatures as complex as chimps. I was once criticized for publishing the [chimps] brutal warfare attacks. I was accused of trying to get publicity. To me, five battles with nine individuals was a lot. Suppose it had only been two, and I hadn't published. Then someone else sees two somewhere else. We need to look at the whole picture of what is going on and if no one publishes these observations, we will miss a whole range of behavior that may not happen that often.

How do you decide when to interfere with the chimp's normal lives?

We always, right from the beginning, decided to help with medicine when we could put it in bananas, but not if it meant darting. It was an easy decision really. There are two ways of looking at it. Look how we as a species have encroached on them, look at the hurt we inflict. We couldn't make all of this up to them, but we can try. Just because chimps aren't human doesn't mean they aren't as worthy of help.

The other way of looking at it, which scientists might prefer, is that the Gombe chimps are surrounded by man; there are approximately 150 individuals in the park. The genetic diversity is very small and every individual matters a great deal. They have probably reached the point of no return, unless we manage them, which we could do. We could introduce young females, but this would be so difficult. It may not be possible. They will be OK for another 50 or so years, but that may be all.

We are just talking about the Gombe population now, right?

Yes, there are other places with populations in the thousands. But they too are in danger from man's encroachment and poaching. They live in forests and men need wood. If you are going to have more long-term parks for the chimps, you have to remember the people living around there have to be helped too. They need rural development and agroforestry programs. Tourism based on the wild animals needs to be carefully developed. The people must see it as their park, their heritage.

When I interviewed you about a year and a half ago, you were trying to get chimpanzees on the endangered species list. Did that succeed?

Yes, as of March they were declared endangered, just in time for us to go to the European Community and encourage them to tighten their laws on imports. The action taken in the United States is a real encouragement to the African countries that are trying to protect their chimps. It's hard to stop poachers when there is still a demand.

The meeting I had recently with [Secretary of State] Baker was incredibly helpful in Africa. US embassies over there are very willing to help. ... They have the go-ahead to take positive action where chimpanzee protection is concerned. Baker arranged for me to meet with President Mubutu of Zaire. He was unexpectedly out of town, but the Zairian officials were so helpful. We confiscated our first chimp; he [was being used] in the tourist market there. We went and did it officially. The minister and police were with me. The press was there too.

In your book you say that between 10 and 20 infant chimps will die for every one that lives through the first year at its ultimate destination.

That's right, it is very sad.

Is there progress on conditions for chimps being used in labs?

More labs are now talking about change. ... There is no real consensus among scientists that chimps are useful anyway. The pharmaceutical companies don't want to use them because they are too expensive, but [testing] is required by the Food and Drug Administration.

What kind of response do you hope your book elicits?

Raising the general level of awareness, really. Hopefully people will get a better understanding of the chimps.

In Canada, we are starting an Adopt-a-Chimp program. The money will go to helping build sanctuaries for previously captive chimps that have been rescued. We want to get this started in the states. We also have other programs for children, and adults. For information about the Jane Goodall Institute, write: The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation, P.O. Box 41720, Tucson, AZ 85717.

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