Going Ape

The Chimpanzoo Program Enables More Scientists To Join The Goodall Fight.

IN 1957 JANE Goodall packed up her meager grubstake, fled hoary old England and lighted on the Dark Continent. Soon she was rubbing elbows with exotic creatures she'd only dreamed of--and a few she didn't expect, as noted in her recent book Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters.

Apparently life in the bush tended to make her fellow researchers a little, shall we say, frisky. It didn't help that Goodall was young, vivacious and cute as a bug. "It is a bit exhausting being proposed to every few minutes," she writes. "What the devil am I to do with all these middle-aged married men? They hang in multitudinous garlands from every limb and neck I've got."

Yes, scientists do suffer passions beyond the quest for pure knowledge. As for Jane Goodall, a planet of apes can be extremely grateful that her affections quickly turned to another brand of primate. Four decades later the good doctor's relentless efforts--anchored in the Gombe wildlife preserve, where she detailed the habits of wonderful, now legendary creatures like David Greybeard, Flo, Pom, Flint and, yes, Passion--are now spreading around the world.

These days she jets from country to country pushing her Chimpanzoo program, created in 1984 as a collective effort to research chimps' responses to captivity. Also close to her heart is Roots and Shoots, an environmental education program for students from preschool through college.

This week Goodall arrives in Tucson for the 2000 Chimpanzoo Conference, and she'll give a public lecture on Sunday in the TCC Musical Hall.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this spitfire wildlife advocate is her enduring commitment, even as habitat shrinks and the world's remaining chimps are being poached at alarming rates. Indeed, her current global junket is called the "Reason for Hope Tour."

Goodall started Chimpazoo because there were "all these students becoming passionately interested in chimps because of me. And they were all coming up and saying, 'Can we go to Gombe?' I felt awful telling them no, no, no."

That's when she thought of all the captive chimps deserving more attention. Chimpanzoo was a perfect solution, she says. "It actually gives young people a chance to learn about chimps firsthand, and they all get completely amazed. I've had so many tell me 'I never would have thought there was any creature that was so much like us.'"

The program has evolved into a larger effort to raise living standards for all chimps in captivity. "By using the same observation methods, the same check sheet, basically, right across the country and now around the world, we can then compare behavior between different zoos. You can compare different kinds of social and physical environments, and start learning an awful lot more about chimp behavior."

There has been much improvement in zoo conditions since 1984, she says, with models like Florida's Busch Gardens and the Oakland Zoo. Unfortunately, there are still zoos that don't allow chimps adequate space, "places where they climb and swing, and get out of sight of humans," Goodall says. Predictably, some of the worst zoos are in Third World countries. "But there are still many, many extremely bad zoos, especially in Europe. We have people working on it, visiting them, trying to gently encourage them to do better, or sternly as the case may be.

"And what's happening is that (bad) zoos are now being closed down. As the public gets more knowledgeable, they start getting really upset. Then the city councils don't like it, and they order the zoo to be closed."

Which raises one more dilemma: "What are you going to do with the (newly homeless) chimps and other animals? It's another huge problem," Goodall says.

Still, Chimpanzoo has significantly raised the bar. "Any zoo that works with us either has to have a really good environment, or be committed to improving so it's improving the lives of the chimps," she says.

Gatherings like the one here in Tucson provide open forums on the program's progress. From a slow start, "the conferences are now extremely well attended," she says. "People are coming from all across the world. They're actually fighting to get in."

Meanwhile, chimps in the wild are becoming increasingly threatened, Goodall says. "Sadly, it's largely because of the bush-meat trade, the commercial hunting of all creatures from the Great Congo Basin, which is the stronghold for chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and many other amazing monkeys and other animals in Africa. The commercial bush-meat trade is decimating everything from elephants to bats for food. And not for hungry people, but for people who prefer the taste of wild animals. As we speak, they are shooting chimps and gorillas.

"So thinking of the future, there is now a huge building of concern about this particular problem. And only when we pressure governments in Africa to enforce their own laws, and provide money to develop other ways for the hunters to make a living ... those things have to happen."

She says the new millennium offers fleeting hope. "I think we'll be in time so the chimps won't be exterminated, nor the gorillas. But many more will go. And as human populations grow, of course the natural world is shrinking everywhere.

"I mean, look at what we've done in places like America. Fly over and see this network of roads which chop up the countryside so animals are separated into little islands, and can't survive because their gene pools are getting smaller. All over the world, the outlook is getting pretty grim.

"But we're waking up. We've realized we have to change, and that we need the wilderness. We need it for our spiritual and emotional development, I think."

Chimpanzoo and Roots and Shoots will continue spreading that very word, she says. "The message gets out, and it is spreading ... I've just come directly from the second international Roots and Shoots Conference in Germany. We had people attending from 10 different countries, and the level of commitment and enthusiasm was great. They're all going home incredibly inspired and motivated to make change."

Catch that spark yourself when Jane Goodall lectures at 5 p.m. Sunday, October 22 in the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $17.50, $12.50 for students, $10.50 for children, and are available at the TCC box office or by calling 791-4266. For more information on the Chimpanzoo Conference, call 621-4785.