MÁS SOBRE+The Jane Goodall Institute
For Jane Goodall, the great paradox of Homo sapiens, the intelligent primate, is that its prodigious brain has not saved it from endangering its own survival. Or as she puts it: “How is it possible that the most intellectual creature on the planet is destroying its only home?” Under the leadership of the British primatologist, the institute that bears her name has since 1994 conserved over half a million hectares of chimpanzee forests by creating new protected areas that cover 42% of the animals’ habitat in Tanzania. It is for this “extensive track record” and “major global impact” that the jury has granted the organization the Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation.
Jane Goodall was a young secretary, just 26 years old and with no scientific training, when the celebrated British anthropologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey charged her with undertaking research into the behavior of chimpanzees in the forests of Gombe (Tanzania). The year was 1960, and her observations there brought the first proof of these primates’ ability to make and use tools; a revolutionary finding that challenged the long-held notion of a unique capacity which distinguishes human beings from all other animal species. Furthermore, Goodall showed that chimpanzees are individuals with their own distinct personalities, capable of expressing a wide range of emotions and of forging strong social ties within their groups that withstand the test of time.
“The study of chimpanzees – the primatologist explains – has helped us to understand where we come from, and shown that we share with them gestures of love and compassion, such as kissing and embracing or patting one another on the back, but also tendencies to violence, aggression and war. So it helps us to better understand where we have gone wrong and what we should be doing about it.”
Dr. Goodall did not stop at discovering the astonishing cognitive and affective capacities of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. She also recognized the critical situation these primates were facing as a result of deforestation, hunting and the overexploitation of land, and reached the conclusion that they would soon be extinct unless steps were taken to halt the deterioration of their habitat.
She was also convinced that the chimpanzees could only survive if something was done to improve the living conditions of the human communities sharing the same lands. “In Gombe I learned about the plight of so many people living in and around chimpanzee habitats. Observing the crippling poverty, the lack of good health and education facilities, and the degradation of the land, I realized that if we didn’t do something to help the people find ways of living without destroying the environment, there was no point even trying to save the chimpanzees.” It is for this reason that the conservation program run by the Jane Goodall Institute has focused from the outset on lending support to local communities, offering them economic, healthcare and educational resources, and getting them fully involved in the development of its projects by means of environmental education programs.
“It is vital to get local communities engaged in conservation, so they understand that it is their own future that is at stake,” the primatologist explains. “Our program has been so successful that it now extends to 104 villages across the whole of the chimpanzee range in Tanzania. We have volunteer forest monitors selected from those villages who have learned to use smartphones to record the health of forest reserves. They have become our partners in conservation and are now rightly proud of their work.”
This initiative has served to stabilize the decline in the chimpanzees’ population inside Gombe National Park, with records showing an average of 96 individuals between 1994 and 2016. At the same time, the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education Project – abbreviated as TACARE and pronounced “take care” – has helped the people restore fertility to their land while introducing water management programs throughout the region. The success of the project is evidenced by the fact that its “community-centered” conservation model – based invariably on providing support and environmental education to local communities – has been replicated to preserve biodiversity in a further four African countries (Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal and Uganda).
Goodall regards saving chimpanzees as an ethical imperative: “What will our great-grandchildren say if there are no more chimpanzees? They will feel how shocking that we let these amazing and wonderful beings become extinct.” But she also points up the critical role of the ecosystems that harbor these primates for the health of the entire planet, and thereby for the future survival of all terrestrial life, including our own species: “It’s important to conserve the habitats of chimpanzees because they almost all live in rainforests, and rainforests are one of the great lungs of the world. They absorb carbon dioxide and give us oxygen. They give us clean air and water.”
The so-called “sixth great extinction” is a threat that is never far from Jane Goodall’s mind. She laments that “we have cut ourselves off from nature, despite the fact that we are part of it and depend totally on ecosystems for our survival.” Yet despite what she describes as the “inexplicable” rise of political leaders who question the deterioration of the environment and the importance of protecting nature, Goodall believes that the mass protests in defense of the Earth being staged by young people in the world’s major cities “are our best hope for the future.”
It was precisely this faith in young people that led the British primatologist to found the “Roots and Shoots” teaching program back in 1991. Now running in the thirty-four countries, including Spain, that are home to Jane Goodall Institutes, “Roots and Shoots” seeks to educate the new generations on the importance of conserving nature, through an array of environmental training initiatives. Goodall subscribes fully to the dictum that “we haven’t inherited this planet from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children,” while acknowledging the sad reality that, in point of fact, “we have been stealing their future.” People simply must realize, she continues, that “destroying the planet for short-term gain is destroying the future of our own species as well as all the other species with whom we share the planet.”
We now know that, biologically, chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. In fact, says Goodall, “we share with them 98.6% of our DNA.” But however much they may resemble us, as shown by her revolutionary observations of these members of the great ape family in the Gombe forests over half a century ago, there is a fundamental difference that lays on us a special responsibility, to them and all other living things on Earth. This difference she describes as “the explosive development of our intellect, possibly triggered at least in part by the fact that we developed a spoken language and so can discuss problems and find solutions.”
“What is truly extraordinary,” she adds, is that we humans have been able to “send a rocket to Mars from which crept a little robot taking photographs of the surface,” yet we are simultaneously destroying “our only home, this beautiful green and blue planet.” For the primatologist whose institute has been distinguished with the Worldwide Biodiversity Award, this can only be explained by a tragic gulf that separates “the clever brain and the human heart.” If we want to bequeath a livable planet to the coming generations, then we must, insists Goodall, connect our intelligence with “love and compassion” for all forms of life on this Earth, our common home. Her commitment, and that of all the people who form part of her project in more than a hundred countries, is to continue doing everything in her power to achieve that goal, before it is too late.