Jane Goodall takes cause of primates to U.S.

May 12, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Decades from now, Jane Goodall figures, humans will look back at the nabbing of chimpanzees to be pets and medical guinea pigs as regretfully as they do the human slave trade.

She predicts that we will liken the act of isolating our thinking, feeling chimpanzee cousins in tiny boxes for medical testing to the shameful practice of warehousing mentally ill humans.

We will wish, she says, that we had learned from our earlier, shameful mistakes.

Ms. Goodall is the Margaret Meade of the primate world, the chimpanzee chum who has spent a career studying apes in Africa. Now, in a clipped British accent recognizable from her many "National Geographic" TV specials, she speaks full time about the mistreatment that has pushed many species of primates into endangered status. For instance, chimps, once common in 25 countries, are gone from four nations and near extinction in five others.

A book, "Visions of Caliban," published in March by Houghton Mifflin, got Ms. Goodall out of Tanzania and to the United States for a speaking tour.

Though not a fan of zoos, she said she agreed to a speaking engagement at Miami's Metrozoo because good zoos make people more empathetic to animals. "I'll be talking about chimps and their similarities to us," she said in a telephone interview from New York, where she spoke to the Rain Forest Alliance. "I've done research for 30 years, and now it's my job to share what I've learned to raise awareness."

Chimps are our closest animal kin, she says. They share 98 percent of our genetic code, making them closer relatives to us than zebras are to horses. Ms. Goodall was among the first to discover that, like humans, they laugh and cry, use tools and can communicate.

Yet they are tortured, killed and tested at human hands simply because they resemble us so closely.

"What kind of society are we when there is so much cruelty around us?" she asks.

As Ms. Goodall does in her talks, the book vividly describes everyday mistreatment of chimps, from the time nursing mothers are killed for capture of their infants to the cruel disposal of pet chimps when they're "not cute" babies anymore, to the isolation of the highly social animals in small cages while undergoing medical testing.

She wonders why creatures with intelligence, distinct personalities and the ability to express complex emotions are treated in such a manner.

"I think it's because people in general just don't understand the issues involved," she says.

Ms. Goodall, who has devoted her life to chimp understanding, says it's a constant struggle for her to be moderate in her talks. Her gut reaction is to scream out about cruelty, but she knows that offends people who don't share her views.

"If you make people angry," she says, "they get defensive and then they don't listen."

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