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Goodall Talks Primates and Peace in L.A. Visit

October 01, 2006|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

"The first thing I'm going to give you is a chimpanzee greeting, because it sounds lovely in a place like this," said Jane Goodall while looking out from a stage in Griffith Park across a meadow containing 1,000 people.

Her voice started off soft and low: "Oooo, oooo, oooo...." Then her voice rose: "Hooo, hooo, HOOO! HOOO!"

She finished with a smile, leaving her audience stunned for a second before they burst into applause.

Goodall, arguably the world's most famous primatologist, was in Los Angeles this weekend combining two of her passions -- world peace and chimpanzees -- in one locale: Griffith Park. Today she will address the ChimpanZoo conference being held at the Los Angeles Zoo, on protection of captive chimps. Later, at 12:30 p.m., she will speak at the zoo as part of its Ape Awareness Day.

On Saturday, she presided over the annual Day of Peace in Griffith Park, which was organized by volunteers and various chapters of the Jane Goodall Institute's youth service program, Roots & Shoots. Similar events were planned throughout the world, Goodall said.

A procession of giant white peace dove puppets, mostly constructed of recycled materials such as bedsheets and carried aloft on poles by youngsters, made its way down a forested hill and around the meadow. The parade has become the event's hallmark, and this year there were 57 puppet doves.

"I think it's great that so many people of so many ages came together to do this one project," said Lily Armstrong, 10, a sixth-grader who was working hard to grip one of the poles holding up her local Roots & Shoots chapter's peace dove.

Goodall agreed. "Everyone coming together here with peaceful thoughts in your hearts -- it just moves me," she told the crowd before listing some of the projects her nonprofit institute has undertaken on behalf of environmental conservation and boosting economic conditions.

Near Gombe National Park, a protected 30-square-mile haven for chimpanzees in Tanzania, Goodall's institute has undertaken economic programs to help local villagers. "Instead of being mad at us -- here are a bunch of people coming in only caring about chimpanzees -- they feel good about us," she said. And in return, they have cooperated with her efforts to reforest the denuded area.

Goodall spent years crawling around grassy forests watching chimpanzees go about their lives. She named them, wrote about them, discovered that they used tools and generally did for chimpanzees what Jacques Cousteau did for fish: revealed them as fascinating to the general population.

Now she travels 320 days a year, having shed the mantle of animal researcher for the role of global conservationist.

"I grew up in England in World War II," she told the crowd. "Of course I'm passionate about peace. So is everyone here. We don't want war."

Goodall parlayed her worldwide household name status into her institute, which, in addition to its environmental, economic and youth programs, works for the protection of chimpanzees in the wild and in captivity.

She managed to connect them all together when she told the story of a visitor to a zoo who watched a terrified chimp unwittingly throw himself into a deep-water moat -- chimps don't swim -- and struggle to come up for air. The zoo visitor jumped into the moat to save the chimp. He was later asked why. "Well, I happened to look into his eyes, and they were the eyes of a man, and they seemed to say, 'Won't anyone help me?' " Goodall recounted."

"I've seen that in the eyes of chimpanzees dressed up for entertainment," Goodall continued. "I've seen it in the eyes of children in gang-ridden neighborhoods. I've seen it in the eyes of the homeless. Once you've seen it, you have got to do your bit."

Goodall's fascination with animals led to her peace activism. Hearing about the destruction of the forests at an academic conference in 1986, she decided to put aside her primate research and pursue environmentalism.

"It's the other side of it, you see," she said. "I had my dream of going off to Africa.... I had years of living my dream. Then when I realized the chimpanzees were in such dire needs and the forests were going -- you have to pay back."

Chimpanzees in the wild have seen their numbers slashed and their forests ravaged. She says that when she started, there were 1 million chimpanzees across Africa. "Now there are about 200,000 at the most," she said. "You may think 200,000 sounds like a lot, but that's spread over 21 nations."

The British-born Goodall, who is 72 but swears she feels as energetic as she did at 30, has garnered just about every honor short of a Nobel Prize and was named a Messenger of Peace in 2002 by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Goodall was divorced, remarried and then widowed, and her one son is in his 30s. He lives in Tanzania, helping run one of the Goodall Institute's most ambitious projects: an organic food enterprise for the local Tanzanian farmers. Among the items for export will be coffee.

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