World-renowned primate researcher and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall came to UC Davis Wednesday evening to melt the ice around the human heart.
For nearly two hours, Goodall spoke to a crowd of 1,774 about the plight of Earth and its denizens and what the audience members could do to help.
Goodall is best known for her groundbreaking work in East Africa researching chimpanzees. She is widely credited with discovering tool-making behavior in chimps, in addition to finding that they are omnivorous.
The majority of her lecture was about the problems currently facing the world and their possible solutions. Part of her message came from a United Nations peace summit she attended in 2000.
Goodall quoted the leader of the Eskimo nation’s remarks at that summit: “‘My brothers and sisters, I bring you a message from the North. Up in the North we know every day what you people are doing in the South. Up in the North, the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?'”
Goodall began her lecture by talking about her memories as a small child, which included a love of animals and intense curiosity about Africa. She tried to sate this curiosity by reading books about the continent and its animals, including Tarzan novels.
“I fall in love with Tarzan, and what does he do? He marries that other wimpy Jane,” she said of her childhood readings.
Goodall, with her great love of the jungles and forests of Africa, talked about why she now travels an average of 300 days a year.
“Why on earth did I leave these forests that I love?” she said. “Because in 1986 I realized that chimps were in big trouble all across Africa.”
The chimpanzee population has dwindled from almost 2 million in 1960 when Goodall began studying them to approximately 150,000 spread over 21 different nations today.
“Many of the populations are so small and spread over such small patches of forest that there is little hope for their long-term survival,” Goodall said.
The chimps are threatened by ever-growing numbers of human beings encroaching on the forests. Matters have not been helped by the voracious nature of the logging companies in Africa, she said.
“Early in the 1980s the big logging companies moved into the Congo Basin, opening up the previously inaccessible forests with roads,” she said.
Because of the roads, the forests are now open to hunters, who will spend several days in the forest at a time, shooting most animals they can find. The hunters then smoke the meat and bring it to local villages, selling it to the urban elite who are willing to pay more for the delicacies than for goat or chicken meat.
“This is commercial hunting, and it is absolutely not sustainable,” Goodall said.
Even the Gombe National Park, the area where Goodall began her research, is in danger of slipping away due to the extensive logging in the area.
“The park is only 30 square miles,” Goodall said, adding that such an area is a very limited space for three large groups of chimps.
Goodall also said that despite the grim news facing chimps and the world’s climate, she still has a great deal of hope for the future.
“One of those reasons is the energy, commitment and determination of young people,” she said. Goodall then spoke a great deal about the Roots and Shoots program, which is designed to inspire young people to overcome problems in the human community, the animal community and the world community. Goodall spent the earlier portion of her day at the Sacramento Zoo, seeing the projects that Northern California chapters of Roots and Shoots had been working on.
“Roots and Shoots is the reason I was chosen to be a UN messenger of peace,” said Goodall, who has also been honored as a dame of the British Empire and an officer of the French Legion of Honor.
One of her other reasons for hope, she said, was “this amazing human brain.”
“My bet is that somewhere along this evolutionary path, we developed this spoken language that I can use to tell you about things that aren’t here that you may never have seen, and if I use the words right I can paint pictures with them,” she said.
Goodall noted that despite this, humans were perhaps not putting their brains to good use.
“If we are arguably the most intellectual being to ever have walked the planet, how come we are destroying our only home?”
The lecture concluded with a question-and-answer session, which included an audience member’s query about Goodall’s thoughts on the UC Davis Primate Center, which provides primates to research programs to aid in investigating human disease.
“I don’t think we should be using primates for medical research,” she said. “[Doing so] has not led to major breakthroughs. I want people to say ethically and morally it’s not right to inflict torture on innocent beings,” she said.
The event, which was part of the Mondavi Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series, sold out on subscription when it was announced.
Consequently, the Mondavi Center made the event available as part of a webcast for UC Davis students, the first time it has done so, said Mondavi Center public relations manager Joe Martin.
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