Jane Goodall discusses the future of chimpanzees

July 21, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

In the July 2010 edition of Nature (available online only to subscribers) Jane Goodall calls for urgent action to save chimpanzees “our closest living relatives,” from extinction in the wild.

It never ceases to amaze me that humans will go to great lengths to wonder about and investigate whether even the smallest life form exists on another planet, yet we  allow a dwindling populations of amazing animals to perish on our own planet. We just can’t stop increasing the numbers of human animals on this planet, even as our water and soil are being depleted worldwide.  We can’t even talk about this issue. We just can’t stop expanding into the last few patches of jungle in order to chop down the habitats of other animals in order to grow more food to feed more humans, all the while proclaiming that we “care” about preserving the environment and that the last thing we would do is to steal from our children. Nonetheless, we are stealing our children’s opportunity to live on a planet that includes natural populations of chimpanzees.

When I think about how we are killing off so many species of plants and animals, it distresses me; it even makes me feel sick. It’s hard for me to hide my frustration and to think positively, because the news is 95% bad. Everywhere, the news is the same: humans are expanding into new areas, forcing out and destroying native plants and animals. We are destroying a planet that we claim to treasure.

Jane Goodall is working harder than I am to keep an upbeat attitude, at least in public, even though she sees the decimation of chimpanzee communities up close and first-hand.  She is also making real progress to encourage the world to change its ways in order to preserve chimpanzee habitats. Fifty years ago, she traveled to Gombe Stream National Park to observe its then-large populations of chimpanzees. In the 50 years since her arrival, she has ceaselessly engaged in research, education, advocacy and fundraising. What is so special about chimpanzees? Why should humans care more about chimpanzees?

As analytical methods have evolved, work with the chimpanzees of Gombe has provided a profound understanding of humans’ relationship with animals. From this and research elsewhere we now know, for example, of numerous similarities between human and chimpanzee brain structures and any insistence, and how alike the two species are genetically: there is about 1.5% difference between human and chimpanzee DNA. There are striking parallels between chimpanzee and human non-verbal communication: an embrace, holding hands and a pat on the back mean essentially the same thing in both species. We also understand much about the intellectual abilities of chimpanzees and the complexity of their motions, which seem remarkably like ours. . . . as our knowledge about chimpanzees has increased, their existence has come under increasing threat.

In 1900, there were more than 1 billion chimpanzees in Africa; today, despite all our achievements, fewer than 300,000 remain in the wild, many in fragmented and isolated populations. Some conservationists have suggested the species will be extinct in the wild in 30 years.

Goodall wrote this article in nature and to promote the work of TACARE, which has integrated traditional conservation approaches with a range of environmentally sustainable rural development strategies. Goodall notes that thanks to efforts of many organizations, including TACARE, “although population and the rate of deforestation nearly doubled between 1991 and 2003, more recent satellite images suggests that deforestation is finally beginning to slow.”

This is not good news, but it’s smaller amounts of bad news, which is a glimmer of hope.


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Category: Environment, Human animals, nature, Sustainable Living

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. I may be wrong about this, but I think the human animal, despite all its brainpower and capability to reflect on its own actions, ultimately just lives out its basic program: continuation of the species. That program evolved over eons when the ecosystem was impacted but not controlled by us. Now we can do just about whatever we want, so to hell with the ecosystem. We're on a rampage.

  2. Brynn Jacobs says:


    So sorry to ruin the sunny mood you've brought to this post, but I started noticing news stories popping up more and more frequently lately on the topic of extinction. If you really want to ruin your day, check out the following links, all from mainstream, highly credible news sources (although primarily UK news sources for some reason?):

    Scientists warn of the arrival of the "Anthropocene epoch"

    <div class="firstPar"> </div>

    <div class="firstPar">Humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes on the planet that we may be ushering in a new period of geological history. </div> <div class="secondPar"> Through pollution, population growth, urbanisation, travel, mining and use of fossil fuels we have altered the planet in ways which will be felt for millions of years, experts believe. It is feared that the damage mankind has inflicted will lead to the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth’s history with thousands of plants and animals being wiped out. </div>

    <div class="secondPar">-Microbiologist who helped eradicate smallpox warns of the coming extinction of <span style="font-style: italic;">Homo sapiens</span>

    WE humans are about to be wiped out in a few decades. The grandchildren of many of us will not live to old age.

    Hear it from Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University and the man who helped eradicate smallpox."Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years," he told The Australian this week."It's an irreversible situation." Blame global warming.

    Researchers now recognize the planet's 6th great extinction event is underway<p class="font-null">

    <p class="font-null">Researchers now recognise five earlier cataclysmic events in the earth's prehistory when most species on the planet died out, the last being the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event of 65 million years ago, which may have been caused by a giant meteorite striking the earth, and which saw the disappearance of the dinosaurs. <p class="font-null">But the rate at which species are now disappearing makes many biologists consider we are living in a sixth major extinction comparable in scale to the others – except that this one has been caused by humans. In essence, we are driving plants and animals over the abyss faster than new species can evolve.

    <p class="font-null">

    <p class="font-null">-The U.N. says the case for saving species is "more powerful" than that of climate change

    The UN report's authors go further with their warning on biodiversity, by saying if the goods and services provided by the natural world are not valued and factored into the global economic system, the environment will become more fragile and less resilient to shocks, risking human lives, livelihoods and the global economy."We need a sea-change in human thinking and attitudes towards nature: not as something to be vanquished, conquered, but rather something to be cherished and lived within," said the report's author, the economist Pavan Sukhdev.The changes will involve a wholesale revolution in the way humans do business, consume, and think about their lives, Sukhdev, told The Guardian. He referred to the damage currently being inflicted on the natural world as "a landscape of market failures".

    -U.N.: One-third of plant and animal species are at risk of extinction

    Speaking in advance of the report, Ahmed Djoghlaf, who heads the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that countries had failed to honour pledges to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. He said: “The magnitude of the damage [to ecosystems] is much bigger than previously thought. The rate of extinction is currently running at 1,000 times the natural historical background rate of extinction.” He added: “It’s a problem if we continue this unsustainable pattern of production and consumption. If the 9 billion people predicted to be with us by 2050 were to have the same lifestyle as Americans, we would need five planets.”

    Rapid extinction of amphibians should have all humans "very concerned"

    The extinction numbers far outweigh the emergence of new species. From a purely selfish perspective, humans should be very concerned. Since we haven’t terraformed Mars yet, we still need a livable ecosystem on this planet in order to survive. As mass extinction occurs, experts say that we end up dealing with serious consequences. Recently, a team of scientists have discovered new information, that indicates things are worse than we previously thought. "There's no question that we are in a mass extinction spasm right now," said David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. "Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn't. The fact that they're cutting out now should be a lesson for us."

    Oceans undergoing such massive changes that human survival is at risk

    "This is causing fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way marine ecosystems function. We are becoming increasingly certain that the world's marine ecosystems are approaching tipping points. These tipping points are where change accelerates and causes unrelated impacts on other systems, the results of which we really have no power or model to foresee”


    Environmental changes are leading to rapidly spreading diseases, wiping out species of amphibians faster than we can find them

    Believe me, I share your pessimism.

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