Pioneering British animal behaviourist Jane Goodall has visited Basel Zoo and repeated her calls for greater protection of endangered primates.This content was published on February 23, 2008 - 10:37
On Wednesday the zoo presented Goodall with a cheque for SFr10,000 ($9,100) for a chimpanzee project in Uganda. On Friday she attended the third congress held by sustainable lifestyle forum NATUR, also in Basel.
Despite her tireless work – the 73-year-old spends 300 days a year on the road, highlighting the plight of chimpanzees and of the environment in general – Goodall paints a bleak picture.
"The situation at the moment is grim," she told swissinfo at Basel Zoo.
"This is because of the bush meat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals including chimpanzees for food, because of deforestation, because of the logging companies moving in, all of these habitats decreasing. Chimp numbers – 200,000 at most – are down from about a million in 1960."
Nevertheless she sees a few grounds for cautious optimism, pointing out that more African countries were setting aside areas – "Gabon has just set aside 13 new forest national parks" – and that international interest was starting to make a difference.
"I think if we can make use of the carbon trading credits for avoiding deforestation – to pay people to not cut down their forests – that's one way of bringing money in to counteract what I call the Chinese bid to get the last of the timber out of the Congo basin."
She adds: "It depends on us. It's not too late if we take the right action now."
The study and protection of chimpanzees has come a long way in the past half-century. Prior to 1960, almost nothing was known about chimpanzee behaviour in their natural habitat.
In July 1960, Goodall set off for Tanzania's Gombe forest to live among the chimpanzees. Her discovery that they made and used tools was groundbreaking, as humans were previously believed to be the only species to do so.
"Humans used to be so arrogant and think we were special, separate and different from the other animals – and of course that's not true," she said on Wednesday.
All the great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, humans and orang-utans – are descended from the same common ancestor that lived an estimated 11-16 million years ago. We are all cousins.
Humans and the common ancestor of chimpanzees and bonobos went their separate ways a mere five to eight million years ago. Put another way, you and a chimp have the same 250,000-great grandfather or grandmother.
Role of zoos
On Wednesday Roland Brodmann, deputy head of Basel Zoo, presented Goodall with a check for SFr10,000 to go towards a project run by the Goodall Institute, which aims to create a "corridor" in the Ugandan forest to link two small chimpanzee populations.
The great apes face extinction, added zoo curator Jakob Huber, and zoos have an important role to play.
"Zoos give people the chance to come into direct contact with these extraordinary creatures. The resulting strong emotional connection makes people think about how close humans and apes are," he said.
"People love what they know, and they protect what they love."
Zoos, Huber said, were working hard to dispel the image of apes as a comedy circus act with a banana, and focusing instead on their educational duty.
To this end, Basel Zoo is planning a cutting-edge new enclosure for its three great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. The three species have different needs, said project leader Heidi Rodel, but variety and stimulation was important for all of them.
"As I travel around the world, I see more and more zoos thinking of providing great apes and other intelligent animals with something to do – because they get so bored!" Goodall said. "So coming to see environment enrichment, as it's now called, is exciting."
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
The Jane Goodall Institute
In 1977 Jane Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation to provide ongoing support for field research on wild chimpanzees.
Today the mission of the Jane Goodall Institute is to advance the power of individuals to take informed and compassionate action to improve the environment for all living things.
The Institute is a leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats and is widely recognised for establishing innovative community-centred conservation and development programs in Africa and the Roots & Shoots education programme in nearly 100 countries.
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