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Jane Goodall Moves From Jungle to City to Help Save Her Beloved Chimps

People, too, are a part of her caring projects

By Duncan MoonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 4, 1998


In the summer of 1960, a young Englishwoman arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in Tanzania. She was then a virtual unknown, just beginning a pioneering study of wild chimpanzees that would, in time, make her the subject of National Geographic specials and a household name worldwide.

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In the 38 years since, Jane Goodall has spent most of her life immersed in the remote African jungle working with her beloved chimpanzees - the longest study of any group of wild animals in history, and arguably the most famous. But encroaching civilization and a dramatic loss of chimpanzee habitat have forced her to spend more and more time away from her "jungle paradise" in an attempt to save what forest is left.

When she first arrived in Africa, 1 million to 2 million chimpanzees thrived across the lush equatorial belt. Now best estimates say only 250,000 remain in the patches of fragmented forest. Deforestation due to large-scale logging and local villagers' need for firewood is rapidly destroying the chimpanzee habitat. Poaching of chimps by hunters for trophies and meat is further eroding their numbers.

The fight to halt their loss has brought Dr. Goodall to the Washington area, where in late January she officially moved the headquarters of the institute that bears her name and assembled a savvy and experienced team to help launch her work onto a new stage. The move is just the latest, and most visible, step in the evolution of her career from isolated field work to that of international advocate for environmental issues.

Goodall says she didn't seek the notoriety of the world stage; she would have been just as happy to spend the rest of her career in the jungle with her chimpanzees. But "Dr. Jane," as she's known to her staff and friends, says the very survival of her chimps dictated that she begin taking a hand in addressing the destruction of their habitat - finding solutions to the causes of that destruction rather than just trying to relieve the symptoms.

"It came to me suddenly in a flash of light, like Paul on the road to Damascus," she says. "And from that point on I have not been more than three weeks in one place consecutively."

She quickly discovered that trying to arrest the degradation and erosion of the chimpanzee habitat depended as much on meeting the needs of the people living on the margins of the habitat as it did on meeting the needs of the chimps.

"If you want to save a species, you need to save the habitat; if you want to save the habitat, you have to bring people into the equation and look to their needs," she says. "The two cannot be separated. If all the chimpanzees are suffering and all the forests are disappearing, then people are suffering, too."

Initially, Goodall worked locally, working with the 30 or so villages around Gombe National Park, her main research area. Through the Jane Goodall Institute, she began teaching community-based conservation and environmental education, and established natural-resource management projects.

Today, through one project called TACARE (Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education), the institute is raising the standard of living of local residents by planting fast-growing timber for firewood, fruit trees, and vegetables, while promoting reforestation and curbing soil erosion. There are now tree nurseries in 27 of the nearby villages.

"We make use of the local people to help us in our research and give them as many jobs as we can to boost the local economy and buy what we can locally," she says. "In Congo, where our biggest sanctuary is, we have built a little school for the children. So in addition to them being glad that we're there, because we help them, they also get a chance to see what amazing beings the chimpanzees are and begin to see them as more than wild animals or a source of meat."