As field biologist and activist, she has spent her life understanding and protecting our chimp cousins.
PUBLISHED APRIL 2, 2014
On April 3, Jane Goodall turns 80. Her work in behavioral primatology, for which the world first came to know her, focused on the chimpanzees of Gombe, a small forest reserve (now a national park) on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, in Tanzania.
She began her chimp studies there in July 1960 and continued until 1986. By then she had become acutely aware of the threats facing wild chimpanzees and of the sufferings of chimps held in captivity for medical research. (See “Being Jane Goddall”)
So she left the satisfactions of doing field biology and became an activist. For almost three decades now she has spent most of her time on the road, lecturing, speaking with schoolchildren, testifying in public, using her gentle but forceful suasion on government officials, world leaders, other scientists, and anyone else she might meet.
Much of her effort is channeled through the Jane Goodall Institute and its programs, such asRoots & Shoots (involving young people especially in efforts to mitigate the human impact on the natural world) and TACARE (promoting conservation-related development in villages surrounding Gombe and elsewhere). She also continues to write—her new book is Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants.
But sometimes even a dinner conversation with a key decision-maker (as she explains below) can yield important results. National Geographic spoke with Jane shortly before her birthday.
Q: Eighty years old. It seems a good time for looking forward.
A: [Laughs.] Somebody asked me the other day at a lecture—they said, “Your life has gone into these neat phases. What do you think the next phase is?”
What do you think the next phase is?
I said, “Well, I suspect it’s death.”
No, no, the next phase is something … else. What are the things you most hope still to get done?
Well, growing Roots & Shoots. I’m really passionate about that. It’s in 136 countries. As far as we can estimate, it’s approximately 160,000 active groups. We got a commitment yesterday to form an adult group among the staff of the World Bank.
And the TACARE program?
All around Gombe the villagers put land aside to be a buffer. The chimps apparently have three times more forest now than ten years ago. Some of the trees are 30 feet high. Other villagers have put land aside to make a corridor toward this other group [of chimps] in the south.
This is how it was originally conceived. Taken a long time, but you mustn’t give up. Now the villagers are our partners instead of our competitors, and they’re realizing the value of the forest to them. Better water supply and no more erosion. No more silting of the valleys, no more mudslides—which killed a few people a while back.
And now coffee? Some of the villagers are growing forest-friendly coffee?
Coffee is going super well. Over 2,000 individual farms, and they’ve got this cooperative. It’s amazing.
So Gombe National Park is less isolated now, and the chimps aren’t necessarily doomed to isolation effects, such as inbreeding?
Yes. Getting towards that. We’re still not sure if it’s going to work. But it’s all we can do. We’ve tried, and it looks as though it might be working.
About chimps in captivity, and their use in medical experiments: You began working against that years ago, yes? As it was then practiced within agencies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health?
1986, ‘87, I suppose, was the first interaction with the National Institutes of Health about the conditions they were keeping their chimps in. We had the first conference, funded actually by HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] and NIH. It was the first time that lab people and veterinarians had sat down with [animal] welfare people and field people. Ever. I got a lot of flak for that. Sitting down with the enemy. You don’t talk to the enemy, nothing can change.
And that sort of dialogue, that engagement with “the enemy” toward better treatment of chimps, has continued? Have you pressed it with them recently?
Just last year, maybe the year before. Francis Collins is the director of the NIH. I sat next to him at dinner, and he said he didn’t know much about the chimps. Because I asked him. So of course I spent the rest of dinner telling him all about it. Bless him, he got together a committee. And at first it was very biased toward the lab people, but he let me look at it. So we added in some field people, and there was a hearing on the Hill, and I testified at it. And this committee, their finding—do you know what it was? Not one single [research] protocol involving chimps being done today is useful to human health. And so Francis Collins said that they would retire almost all the NIH chimps to sanctuary. He has been wonderful! It’s taken all that time, but we got there.
On March 9th I had an email from Rob Laidlaw, Executive Director of Zoocheck concerning a monkey in need of being rescued. A day later I received an email from someone informing me about the pending closure of a pet shop called La Faune Domestique where a lone monkey had been living for the past 27 years. Rob Laidlaw and I spoke and he confirmed, after speaking with the pet store owner, that the monkey would need a new home, otherwise he could be transferred to a small zoo or, even worse, euthanized. Zoocheck began exploring possible temporary care facilities for him while they looked for a suitable permanent sanctuary with space. As it turned out, the timing was perfect! Fauna had space and we felt this fellow deserved a few years of goodness in his life. Fauna waited while the negotiations with Zoocheck continued and at last a date was set! Mario and I were off to Quebec City to rescue Eugene.
I am not sure I even have the words to describe what horrific conditions this dear little old man named Eugene was living in. He was in a concrete cell originally intended as an aquarium. It was triangular in shape with 2 sides of concrete and a front full window where people could view him. He was on display all day long, day in and day out. He had no fresh air and no natural light. Above him was encased florescent lighting under filthy plastic panels. It was dark and dreary and it reeked. My eyes and nose were watering and running from the stench in his “home.” The floor was covered with 10-12 big boulders that were caked in dirt and waste. Urine and feces had composted and turned into a dark brown earth that had a terrible stench. In places the boulders were growing mold. He had no stimulation or toys in his concrete cell and the only other additions to his surroundings were two large tree branches, one dead Christmas tree and one circular plywood disc, which might possibly have been his bed and resting area. A big metal bucket on the floor was filled with water. I had seen photos prior to arriving, but they could not possibly convey the actual conditions. However, what I really was not at all prepared for was Eugene’s “holding area.”
Aside from his triangular concrete room, Eugene only had access to one other area–the holding area–a space he would need to go into while staff would clean his cell. Monkeys need to have a second area so they are not in contact with humans and in Eugene’s case this space was a shockingly small and dark plywood box! It was attached to the back of his cell and the small entrance was closed off with a piece of pegboard for a door. The room was 2 feet high by 5 feet long, by 18” wide and had a small strip of wire mesh on top, which, I assumed, acted as a window so they could see where he was. This plywood pen was unimaginable. An employee told us that Eugene would go into this area once per day while they cleaned.He would be fed, once a day and would eat in the dark. Everyday. It was filthy, small and narrow and one would need to remove the wooden panels with a screwdriver to be able to access it for cleaning. I could hear Eugene banging something on the sides of the box–it was a bucket on a nylon rope. They would fill this bucket with food and open the door to “the box” where he would willingly go because this was the only place he could eat. Think about that. Eugene was fed once per day in this dark box.
From a safety perspective it was ludicrous–on the door that held him in his box there were only two simple little dead bolt kind of locks with no keys–they would slide. This was completely inappropriate and provided little to no security for the humans or for Eugene.
When it was time to leave the pet store, it was like taking a prisoner of war out of his cell and away from his captors. We were all holding back the tears. The older man who owned the store and everyone there seemed to truly love this monkey, but clearly they were very misguided about Eugene’s needs and proper care. So many people and several organizations let this monkey down. Why did the appropriate organizations not use their power to fix this situation?
It is indeed time to start talking about why no one did anything.
There was a lot that could have been done for this monkey, for Eugene. His stark conditions were clearly inadequate and his long-term social isolation was something no primate should ever experience. And if that wasn’t enough, his living conditions posed a public health risk to humans as well.
Remarkably, Eugene was quite well known in the area. He wasn’t hidden away out of sight.. So why was he not helped during all those long years? Certainly local and regional SPCAs knew about Eugene and the MNR did too. Yet Eugene remained in that small room, alone, year after year, until Ontario organization Zoocheck got involved and took action. Our own Quebec organizations and government agencies dropped the ball and let Eugene down. For some reason, they neglected to help him. They also let the public down by not protecting their health and welfare either . This situation should never have gotten so bad.
To prevent risks to public health while caring for primates, there is a long list of rules and regulations that Fauna must, and do follow. I wonder why these rules and regulations were not followed by the pet shop. Even after years of complaints about this store, no one stepped in. The city and the local public health department had the power to do something and could have at least helped protect the public, including children, as well as the staff at the pet store, from the risk posed on a daily basis from Eugene and his living conditions.
Monkeys carry many diseases, including some that can be life threatening to humans. They are wild animals that can be dangerous and can cause a great deal of bodily harm, especially to a small child. There were no safety areas in the pet store, no appropriate locks, no one wore masks or gloves and staff who handled Eugene’s feces would go into the store and then handle items in the store for sale. There was no sink to wash your hands; no safety station if bodily fluids came in contact with your eyes; no tranquillizers or security weapons; there was not even a safety cage he could have been placed in had he escaped.
It took a little more than 2 hours to get the little fellow into the cage. He refused to move. What finally got him to move was the pet shop owner putting a small piece of the old dead Christmas tree from Eugene’s enclosure into the transport cage. It was the only movable thing he had in his room, other than big boulders. His traveling cage had hay on the floor, two toys and some food but this did not entice him. Once the piece of branch went in, he stepped right in the cage. The branch was the only comfort to him, a reminder of his “home” for 27 years.
Bless his little soul.
Eugene under his nice warm heat lamp.