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Orange County

Youngsters Hear Plea for Animals

September 19, 2002|CLAIRE LUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spinning tales of the exploits of David Greybeard, Spindle and Little Mel, chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall captivated an auditorium full of Laguna Niguel children Wednesday, slipping in a subtle lesson on conservation.

The grade-schoolers at St. Anne School pondered the danger that Goodall said a "gluttonous" world poses to a species whose social interactions so closely mirror our own.

"All over the world animals are disappearing," said Goodall, 68, who was in Orange County for a benefit to raise money for cougar preservation.

Goodall trained a gentle gaze on the kindergartners sprawled on the floor. "When you small people grow up, the world will be different," she said. "You can break through and make this a better place."

Fifth-grader McKenzie Tremblay, her blue plaid jumper a far cry from the khaki shorts and safari hat costume that she wore to look like Goodall for a class presentation two years ago, introduced her idol to the 600 kindergartners through eighth-graders.

The 10-year-old from San Juan Capistrano said afterward that Goodall was "much kinder and less serious" than most adults she knows and that she envies her job.

"Not many people get to grow up and play with chimpanzees in Africa," said McKenzie. She said she believes in Goodall's message of preservation.

"I don't know why people would do anything that would give us less chances to find out about animals that are so wonderful and so smart and maybe can do math," she said.

Goodall started studying chimps during the 1960s in East Africa and was the first researcher to observe their strong personalities, tool-using abilities and hunting behavior.

The London resident founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation in 1977. These days, she travels 320 days a year to encourage conservation of natural resources as a United Nations messenger of peace, a title bestowed on her this spring by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Telling stories of the chimps she has studied, whether of David Greybeard squeezing her hand when she offered him a nut or Spindle's adoption of orphan Little Mel, is the best way to get through to younger children, Goodall said.

Wednesday night's benefit in Laguna Beach was sandwiched between engagements in Costa Rica and Sacramento. It was expected to raise $100,000 for the Cougar Fund, a Wyoming-based organization that seeks to protect mountain lions. Goodall stopped at the private Christian school because of a connection through the group.

When she talks to children, Goodall said, she tries to impress upon them that they have power to change society.

"Each of you makes a difference every single day," she told them. "You cannot go through a single day without making an impact on the world around us."

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