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Jane Goodall received world acclaim for her study of chimpanzees in the 1960s. Now, she travels the globe supporting efforts to protect animal habitats. (ANDREA COMAS)
Jane Goodall received world acclaim for her study of chimpanzees in the 1960s. Now, she travels the globe supporting efforts to protect animal habitats. (ANDREA COMAS)

Q&A: Jane Goodall, primatologist

Chimp champion looks to humankind Add to ...

Jane Goodall is describing a favourite memory from the Tanzanian bush: the day David Greybeard became the first chimpanzee to trust her.

"I thought I'd lost him when we went through a tangle of vegetation. And then, there he was sitting, waiting," says the famous primatologist, speaking on the phone from a hotel room in Sudbury, Ont.

"I sat down beside him. A ripe oil palm nut was on the ground and I picked it up and held it in my palm. He turned his head away, and I put my hand closer. He turned, he looked directly in my eyes. He reached out and took the nut, dropped it and, still looking into my eyes, squeezed my hand," she said. "That's how chimpanzees reassure each other."

Fifty years after her chimpanzee research began, Dr. Goodall is reassuring the rest of humankind with her optimistic new book, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink. In it, she describes how successful efforts to save iconic species like the giant panda should inspire renewed efforts to protect other threatened creatures, including Africa's chimpanzees and Ontario's woodland caribou.

Today, on the second of four Canadian stops on her book tour, she is urging Toronto business leaders to undertake green initiatives to protect animal habitat at a luncheon sponsored by Indigo, The Globe and Mail and Canopy, a non-profit organization that advocates with the publishing industry to use environmental products, such as recycled paper. Here she answers questions from Globe and Mail readers.

What would you recommend to young children ages 7 to 10 wanting to get involved to do their part for animal life on this planet? - Joel Bernard, Vancouver

I would urge them to become involved with our own youth program, Roots & Shoots. That's now in 111 countries. It's creating a family of young people, and not-so-young people, who are involved in hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves projects. It's about getting out there and doing something for people, animals and the environment, and learning to live in peace and harmony with each other and with the natural world. Its main message is: Every individual makes a difference every day.

By human standards, some animals are considered cuter, prettier or smarter than others. Do you find that support for the research on and the protection of these animals are greater than that for animals that are "less attractive"? - Joanne Loo, Mississauga

Oh yeah. The support for the charismatic creatures is much greater. And the work with the less sexy creatures like insects and little plants is much less attractive. And yet, it may be even more important. Because they're part of the ecosystem, and we're still learning how the removal of one small, seemingly insignificant species in an ecosystem can lead to total collapse.

What are your thoughts on the effects of today's intensive factory-farming practices on the environment? - Nadine Saunders, Wolfville, N.S.

It stinks, to be quite blunt. It's the methane gas produced, particularly from intensively farmed animals, that is contributing more to the greenhouse gasses than all the CO{-2} from all the automobiles on the planet. People don't know it. And they don't want to believe it. …

So, even if you eat much less meat, certainly don't eat intensively farmed animals. It costs more to have an organic free-range animal or egg. But you've got to think about the costs to the environment and human health. So you buy less, because it's more expensive. And because you buy less, you waste less. And you help the planet.

If the Great Apes are in such jeopardy, with East Africa being a dangerous place right now, why cannot a portion of the remaining apes be transplanted to a new and safe land? I do not mean a zoo. Could not apes be released into the wild in Tasmania or an island in Hawaii or on Vancouver Island? -Thomas M., Waterloo, Ont.

If you release great apes onto Vancouver Island … they're hunters. They're predators. They will probably start exterminating the small animals that live there. The habitat is totally unsuitable for them. They need tropical forests with lots of fruit. So, no, you cannot move animals from one environment to another. We're even struggling to find places in Africa, in chimp habitat, that are suitable to put some of the orphans that we're looking after.

What do you think has been your greatest achievement, or what are you most proud of, in your work? - Bill Gray, Bayfield, Ont.

When I saw that question I asked my team, because I'm always being asked and I never know what to say. They thought my greatest achievement was bridging the gap between people and the natural world. And helping people understand that we're part of the animal kingdom. We have to learn to live in harmony.

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