By Pat Sherman
The world’s foremost authority on Chimpanzees, Jane Goodall, was in La Jolla Sept. 28 to raise money for her Virginia-based wildlife and environmental conservation organization, The Jane Goodall Institute.
The event was held at the La Jolla Farms estate of Michelle Lerach, owner of Cups bakery, and husband, William Lerach.
Prior to the event, the 78-year-old primatologist, anthropologist and United Nations Messenger of Peace sat down with this newspaper group to share some of her observations on mankind’s closest living relatives.
Though Goodall does not travel with a live chimp, a stuffed Congolese companion was at her side, similar to Jubilee, the toy chimp her father gave her as a child, which still sits on her dresser in London.
“He’s too frail to travel,” Goodall said of Jubilee, introducing “Mr. H,” her stuffed traveling companion of 16 years, which was given to her by young Marine who lost his eyesight.
Asked about the moment at Gombe Stream National Park when Goodall discovered chimpanzees’ dark side — which includes a capacity for violent and aggressive behavior, including cannibalism — Goodall said it was “really shocking.”
However, she said chimps also have a tremendous capacity for love, compassion and altruism.
“The chimpanzees show both, just as we do,” she said. “They have very strong bonds between family members, and can live to be 70 years. … Brothers will support each other; adult females will rescue their fully-grown sons, or go to their help, anyway.”
During her 45-year study on the social and familial interactions of wild chimps in Gombe Stream in Tanzania, Goodall became one of the first researchers to challenge two long-held beliefs — that chimps are strictly vegetarian and that only humans construct and use tools.
Asked if chimps have the capacity for more crafty endeavors, such as knitting or decoupage, Goodall laughed, noting that chimps in captivity have displayed a love of painting and have been taught more than 400 symbols of American Sign Language.
“There are some chimpanzees who are very sophisticated in the use of touch pads and computers,” she said. “They have amazing memories for positions of numbers on the page.”
The greatest difference between chimps and humans, she said, is mankind’s “explosive” intellectual development — an evolutionary process she doesn’t see occurring in chimps without a spoken language or its equivalent.
“If they did develop, I would hope that the right brain would develop at the expense of the left brain, because look at the mess we’ve made,” she said. “How is it the most intellectual creatures who have ever walked on the face of the planet are destroying their only home?”
Goodall currently travels 300 days a year sharing her message of forest conservation, raising awareness about the commercial monkey, chimp and ape meat trade, and reaching out to the next generation through her organization’s “Roots and Shoots” program, which works with preschool- to college-age youth in more than 130 countries.
“In Tanzania there’s about 200 square miles of forest that we’re helping to restore or protect, by working with the people, getting their support and helping them to live better lives — working with the people so that they don’t need to cut the trees down or hunt the monkeys, because they can do other things,” she said.
Roots and Shoots participants work in groups, choosing from three projects to improve the planet: people, animals and the environment.
“You learn about it, yes, but (you also) roll up your sleeves and get out and take action,” Goodall said. “It’s main message is every single individual matters, every single individual makes a difference every single day — and we have a choice as to what kind of difference we’re going to make.”
“There’s no point in saving anything if the young people aren’t going to look after it better than we have,” she said.
To learn more about The Jane Goodall Institute: janegoodall.org