Iconic primatologist Jane Goodall turns her microscope on humanity

Jane Goodall's upcoming tour of New Zealand will go beyond chimpanzees, and look at the state of humanity.
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Jane Goodall's upcoming tour of New Zealand will go beyond chimpanzees, and look at the state of humanity.

For many Jane Goodall is simply the chimpanzee lady, but on her upcoming tour of New Zealand she will be extending her focus to those other primates, human beings.

"I'm going to be talking about the state of the world, which right now seems to be in a particularly bad state," Goodall said.

Chimp lovers should not despair, however. Lessons learned from our primate cousins form the foundation of Goodall's observations of the human world, as well as her desire to change it.

Jane Goodall at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. She  first traveled to Tanzania in 1960, at the age of 26.
MORTEN BJARNHOF/GANT

Jane Goodall at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. She first traveled to Tanzania in 1960, at the age of 26.

"They are amazingly similar. They are similar in many of their postures and gestures, kissing and embracing, holding hands, patting on the back, swaggering. They use and make tools, they organise hunts."

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They also demonstrated war-like behaviour, Goodall said, and the males defend, and often expand, their territories at the expense of weaker neighbours.

The biggest difference is the explosive development of human intellect.

"We can do extraordinary things, like send rockets to the moon from which crawl little robots taking photographs. So the burning question is: how is it possible for this most-intellectual species to ever walk the planet to be destroying its only home?"

The hope for humanity is young people, she believes, which is why the tour has been coordinated with the rollout of the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots and Shoots programme, giving students three projects: one to help people, one to help animals, and one to help the environment.

"This involves young people from kindergarten through to university, selecting themselves three projects to work on – and I mean work, roll up their sleeves and take action and make the world a better place," she said.

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New Zealand will join nearly 100 other countries by taking part in the programme.

"We try and link them together, mostly electronically, some times physically, so they are learning about the basic similarities underlying people who may look different, dress different, have different religions. We are actually all one human family."

For Goodall, her focus broadened from chimpanzees after a conference in 1986.

"We had a session on conservation that was totally shocking, and showed everywhere chimp numbers dropping, habitats vanishing, human populations growing," she said.

"I went to that conference with the intention of continuing on my amazing life out in the forest ... I left, without making any conscious decision, as an activist."

For Goodall it all began with chimps, and ultimately, it would end with them as well.

"Unless we improve the lives of people, we can't hope to conserve the lives of chimps."

A recent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment report found 80 per cent of New Zealand's native birds were threatened, with the biggest threat being from introduced predators.

Goodall said it was essential the issue was addressed, but also that Kiwis remember that every introduced "pest" was a creature, none of which chose to be in New Zealand.

* An Evening with Jane Goodall: June 25 in Dunedin, June 26 in Wellington, June 29 in Christchurch, and July 1 in Auckland.

 - Stuff

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