Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. We share 98+% of the composition of DNA.
“We share gestures like kissing, embracing, holding hands; male competition for dominance; using tools; brutality and primitive war over territory, but also compassion and true altruism. It was the chimpanzees, like us in so many ways, who helped me to convince scientists that we humans are not, so different from other animals, but a part of the amazing animal kingdom.
“There are also major differences between chimpanzees and humans, however, the most important lies in the explosive development of our intellect.”
But how could the most intellectual creature ever destroy its only home?
“It is depressing to think about how much environmental destruction and loss of biodiversity I have witnessed in my 85 years. When I was a child, I loved to listen to the dawn chorus of many kinds of birds greeting the new day – most of those species can no longer be heard. When, in 1960, I arrived in Gombe, Tanzania, the chimpanzee population stretched for miles along the shores of Lake Tanganyika.The water was crystal clear, fish were abundant.
“But when I flew over the national park in 1990 it was just a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills caused by deforestation, by economically poor human communities needing to grow more food or make charcoal to survive. Across Africa, habitat loss due to development, hunting and illegal trafficking, has changed everything. Elephants and rhinos and pangolins are slaughtered for their tusks and horns and scales. And it is the same in other parts of the world.
It is so important that we understand how each one of us has an impact on the planet – every single day.
“Today, chimpanzees are highly endangered. Over the last 100 years their numbers have dropped from perhaps two million to a maximum of around 340,000. Many groups live in fragmented patches of forest with little hope of long term survival unless we can link them. Chimpanzees along with the other African apes (bonobos and gorillas) are hunted for bushmeat. Mothers are shot so that their infants can be sold to the illegal wildlife trade as pets or for the entertainment industry.
“I’ve learned how all life is interconnected; any loss can have a ripple effect and result in major damage to the whole. In the last 40 years we have lost some 60% of all animal and plant species on Earth. We are experiencing the sixth great extinction: but the first one caused by human activity.
“Do you really have hope; after all you have seen?” I am frequently asked. Almost daily we hear stories of doom and gloom. But I truly believe that we have a window of time during which, if we get together, we can start healing some of the scars we have inflicted.”
What can people do to help conservation?
“With our amazing intellect, we are coming up with solutions to help us live in greater harmony with nature and reduce our ecological footprints. The Jane Goodall Institute has been successful in working with local communities across the chimpanzee range. Through our holistic Tacare (community-centered conservation programs), human communities have become our partners in conservation.
“The Jane Goodall Institute is involved with the ‘Forever Wild’ campaign #4EverWild to raise awareness around illegal wildlife trafficking. JGI’s Roots & Shoots program for youth encourages members to tackle projects to improve things for people, for animals, for the environment in over 50 countries. Not only can they make a difference, they are making a difference – even as you read these words. They are my greatest reason for hope.”
Nature could reclaim places we have devastated
“As I travel around the world, I meet so many amazing people doing incredible work in restoring environments, saving endangered species from extinction, fighting pollution, protecting forests, helping to empower people out of poverty and urging the rest of us to reduce our environmental footprint.
“It is so important that we understand how each one of us has an impact on the planet – every single day. And we can choose what sort of impact we make. Through social media we can communicate this message all around the world.
“On the anniversary of the Roots & Shoots program, there were celebrations all around the world. How could I not be filled with hope when I heard one thousand young people, Muslim and Christian, joined together and shouting their slogan: Together we CAN! Together we WILL! Let us work for the future of life as we know it on planet earth.”