Jane Goodall: Environment Shouldn't Be Victim of 9/11

David Braun
National Geographic News
April 12, 2002
Primatologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Jane
Goodallis in Washington, D.C. for the premiere of her new television
documentary Chimps in Crisis, airing on National Geographic
EXPLORER on MSNBC on Sunday. She talks about the crisis and her changing
role as a spokesperson on hot-button environmental issues.

You have said that bushmeat [flesh from hunted wild animals] has reached
such a crisis that if something is not done to stop it, the great apes
will disappear from the wild within our lifetime. You have been working
so hard to make an impact, spread the word, and educate people about
this. Have you made any progress?

A: Sadly, the picture has not changed that much. The Jane Goodall Institute has a program, the Congo Basin Project, that we have just started on the ground. We are working with other conservation groups, NGOs, and particularly with groups of women who are selling bushmeat in the markets.

These women know bushmeat is not sustainable, so they're beginning to issue licenses to hunters, and they won't buy bushmeat if it is not from a licensed member of their cooperative.

We are also working with the logging industry, trying to find imaginative ways that the companies can control the carrying of meat on their trucks. Perhaps they can have some checkpoints on the roads. Above all, they need to find an alternate protein source for their staff.

None of this is easy.

We are working with governments in the range countries to enforce their own regulations and laws when it comes to hunting endangered animals. And we're working with organizations like the World Bank to fund some environmentally sustainable programs that will improve the lives of local people. We have to try as much as possible to remove the need for some of the illegal hunting.

Q: What's the latest estimate of the number of chimpanzees in the wild? Is there any sign of a turnaround?

A: We don't know exactly how many chimps there are. Ten years ago it was estimated to be 250,000. Today there may be 200,000. But the estimates vary. We see different figures all the time.

Attempts to focus on the problem are springing up on the ground. One interesting initiative that has come up for the first time is for the United Nations to create World Heritage Species—like the World Heritage Sites. The idea is to declare the great apes World Heritage Species.

There is a rising awareness of the issue.

Q: How is your "Roots and Shoots" initiative working out?

A: It's amazing. It is certainly growing wildly all across Tanzania. We have been trying to get it going in the francophone countries in Africa as well. Mainly because of the civil wars there, we have had trouble starting it. Lots of our initiatives have started and stopped because of the wars.

In Tanzania, we are seeing examples of trees being planted much more than ever before. Areas that were desert-like are becoming green. We are making it possible to grow trees by getting kids to change their schoolyards from trampled earth that is hot and horrible to shady groves where they can relax and do their homework and eat their meals. When people realize how beautiful it is, they want to do more of it. Now we're seeing some of it being taken into the community.

"Roots and Shoots" is spreading throughout Tanzania, also to the villages, and not only the cities. A huge amount of this work is being done by cooperating with U.S. AID and [Tanzanian] government officials.

Q: It seems, Jane, that you are becoming a spokesperson for all kinds of causes. How does it all come together?

A: Everywhere I go, interest groups come running out with facts about some environmental problem, asking me to talk about it. I always try to bring up points that have local relevance. I can easily manage one or two, provided they are not too extremist.

I got sucked into the reduction of nuclear weapons, and sucked into women's initiatives in developing countries. I have also been speaking out on some of the horrific things going on with low-frequency sonar testing being done [in the oceans] by the U.S. Navy [there are concerns that whales have become so disturbed that they have beached]. And there is the need to protect the Alaskan wilderness from drilling for oil.

All these issues have become very difficult since September 11. The big challenge is to keep people as passionate about these issues as they were before September 11.

Q: How did September 11 change the way people feel?

A: There is a real feeling in the United States that, because of the massive human suffering on September 11, it is really not patriotic to show you care for animals or the environment. This is such a monstrous mistake. If we lose interest in these matters, the planet will suffer so much that it will reach the point of no return—and then the terrorists will have finally won, although they will take themselves down with it.

I am trying to see how all these different pieces slot together like a jigsaw puzzle, to try to keep them in place and find the holes.

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