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Champion of the chimps.

Jane Goodhall always knew she would have made a much better girlfriend for Tarzan. Forty years ago the world knew almost nothing about chimpanzees. Now thanks to her and many others we know that they are almost human, and sadly almost extinct

In the large amphitheatre of the Royal Geographical Society lecture hall a small bird-like woman, dressed in an African print cotton dress, speaks crisply in a captivating Jackanory voice: "There is a bird fable that explains how I came to do the work I am famous for." The auditorium settles down. "All the birds gathered together for a competition to see who could fly the highest. The eagle flew as high as he could and soared above all the other birds. It looked as though he would win when a little jenny wren flew up just a little bit higher from his back ..." The audience laughs indulgently. And then comes Jane Goodhall's real thrust, "We all need our eagles."

This jenny wren's eagle was the famous anthropologist and palaeontologist Louis Leakey, who noticed the tiny young woman's passion for animals at the age of 23 in Kenya. Leakey immediately offered her a job, as his secretary had just given her notice. Off they went on a trip to Olduvai Gorge in Tanganyika along with Leakey's wife Mary. The two women dug for fossils together and got along very well.

Once in Africa Jane Goodhall was not going to leave the land she had longed for. All her childhood she had dreamed of going to Africa and watching and working with the animals. Dr Doolittle the children's book by Hugh Lofting captivated her ambition at the age of seven, as did The Jungle Book and Tarzan.

Although Goodhall always thought that Jane was a real wimp and that she would make a much better girlfriend for Tarzan.

Wasn't this all a little fantasist as an ambition, I asked Goodhall over the telephone as she rushed between lectures, fund-raising events, and school visits on a tour in the States. "I passionately believed that animals had feelings from my experience with my own dog. At the end of the Second World War it was very difficult to go to Africa because I had no money and everybody laughed at my idea. Except my mother [now 93 and living in Bournemouth] who told me, `if you want something badly enough you can make it work'."

This advise is what Goodhall gives to all the young people who desperately want to work in the world of conservation and particularly caring and observing the chimps in Gombe National Park in Kenya -- where Louis Leakey sent her at the age of 26, in 1960. It was hard to get permission for a young woman to go into the park alone but she was allowed to go as long as she took somebody with her. She chose her mother, who immediately set up a little clinic tending to the locals' medical needs while her daughter ventured off into the unknown with rather unreliable guides. Her mother earned the vital respect and trust of the locals that Goodhall believes now is vital for any programme to work anywhere in the world. This is where she parted company with Diane Fossey who studied the but refused to believe that the locals could be involved in protecting the species.

Time spent following and observing the chimps took the patience of a fanatic, since they would not let her get at all close and it was very difficult to find them each morning. Some months later however an old greybearded chimp came to accept her presence and she watched him squat on a termite mound, pick up a blade of grass and poke it into a tunnel in the mound and withdraw it. The grass was covered with juicy termites which he picked off with his lips and scrunched into his mouth. Then he returned for more.

This may not seem that remarkable but it sent shock waves through the scientific community. For what Goodhall had witnessed, she maintained, was that this chimp had learnt to adapt an object as a tool and when previously scientists thought that only humans made tools this was an exiting discovery. Later Goodhall learned that chimpanzees use more objects as tools than any creature except for ourselves. Since the day that she saw David Greybeard, as she named him, use the grass, other primatologists have made similar observations. Even more remarkable today, scientists believe that these are learned culturally -- that is different families of chimps around the world learn to use different tools depending on their needs and this becomes part of their inherited culture. Chimps are in fact just like us, Goodhall says.

She noticed this in the early days in Gombe too. When it rained the chimps seemed miserable: they looked cold, and shivered, they got colds and coughs and during the heavy rains they got irritable and bad tempered. "Chimps are like us, not only in looks but in behaviour. You see them fighting, threatening, greeting, kissing, patting, grooming. In times of fear they group together and families remain connected and assist each other all through life. They also have a sense of humour." In answer to a very obvious question, does she prefer chimps or humans, Goodhall has a polished answer. "I prefer some chimps to some people and some people to some chimps. But if you left me on a desert island I would choose a human companion," she adds dryly.

All these inquiries are tedious for Goodhall. She is subject to endless personal questions on endless fundraising tours around the world to fund the Jane Goodhall Institute's current programmes of which there are many and all of them are pathetically short of cash. The Institute turns over two million dollars a year which has to stretch around centres in North America, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Republic of China/Taiwan. These all run awareness programmes that are called, `Roots and Shoots', conservation projects and sadly orphanages.

Chimps are in massive danger of extinction from dwindling habitats -- forests are being cut down at an alarming rate -- and even worse the voracious trade in bush meat. Bush meat is a delicacy and fetches a high price in the local and international market. The rarer the species the better. Mothers are shot so that their infants can be sold. Some are sold to dealers who smuggle them out of Africa for the international entertainment and medical research industries. Others are sold as local pets and are abused, taught to smoke, dressed in clothes. An estimated 200,000 chimps are left in the world today.

How did Goodhall feel about the Mary Chipperfield case of violent abuse against Trudy, a chimp that was caught on film screaming at the kicking and beating she was being given? "I was told that I clinched the case because I could definitely say that Trudy was screaming in fear which is a completely different cry to that of a tantrum or rage which is what the defence lawyers were claiming." Ever since a cruelty video was sent to her in 1986 Goodhall says that she was forced to begin the battle against cruelty in the labs and circuses around the world. This education, lobbying and campaigning is what takes most of her time these days. "There is hope for the future if we can educate the young. I also have faith in the resilience of nature, the human brain and the indomitable human spirit. If we can't have faith we may as well all give up."

While the debate rages in the newspapers as to whether we have found the missing link, between ourselves and apes, Goodhall is desperate to save the family of chimps at Gombe that she has been watching these 39 years. This is her family and certainly her skill in communicating the humanity of these animals has been key to a wider public understanding of them. "There are only 120 chimps left in Gombe and they have no access to other populations which they need for their genetic pool. Unless we can make a corridor of protected forest between another group of 30 or so nearby there is little hope."

I leave Jane Goodhall surrounded by well-wishers and her own employees who are busying around and seeing to it that people can buy her books, get them signed and ask that question that everyone always asks: `Don't you miss the chimps?' Yes she does miss the chimps, but there is more important, more tiring work to do than Tarzan's Jane or Dr. Dolittle could ever have conceived. Goodhall is exhausted, poised, neatly dressed and polite but deeply tired. When will you go back to the forest? "I'm going in June but there will be an Imax film crew there ..." her thin voice trails off. Does she feel alone? "A lonely life is different from being alone. I'm never alone in the forest, but that life has gone now and I'm constantly being surrounded by people. I think I am a private person but it doesn't have much opportunity to show itself."

If you would like to adopt a chimp you can contact The Jane Goodhall Institute, 15 Clarendon Park, Lymington, Hants, SO41 8AX Fax: 01590 670887
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Author:Haines, Miranda
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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