"We are in a position to kill them, or save them"

British-born primatologist Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to the preservation of Great Apes in Africa, especially chimpanzees. On her visit to UNESCO to receive the 60th Anniversary Medal, she discussed the future of these animals in danger of extinction.

It is considered that if nothing is done by 2015, all Great Apes will disappear by 2050. What are the main threats to Great Apes today?

The biggest threats are human population growth and deforestation, which results in the apes' habitat being destroyed, but also in poaching. In Africa especially, the bush-meat trade threatens wild animals and the future of the Great Apes.

Why would their extinction concern us?

Great Apes are our closest ancestors in the animal kingdom. They help us understand ourselves, to better understand the evolution of human beings. Most scientists consider that we share a common ancestor. Also, recent research in genetics show that we share up to 99% of our DNA. Studies carried out on primates helped show that we are not as different from animals as we used to think.

Today there are 400,000 great apes, compared to 2 million 50 years ago. Is it too late to do something?

The only way to save them, or at least some of them, is to combine our efforts. For this, we need to form partnerships with NGOs, the private sector, international organizations like UNESCO and local populations in order to find alternative activities for the hunters. We are in a position where either we kill them, or save them. Educuation is key in all of this.

UNESCO and the European Space Agency (ESA) have partnered to produce satellite maps to monitor the gorillas' natural habitat. Do you find this technology promising?

It certainly is. At the Jane Goodall Institute, we too have used satellite images to better our understanding of the chimpanzeesí environment. One of the problems is that technology often disconnects the brain from the heart. So if we use technology we must make sure that link it to compassion and care.

Are you optimistic?

We are capable of doing so many things. In more desperate situations, there are always people who resist. I think that there is increasing awareness about the need to preserve primates, especially among young people. The most difficult thing is to fight the feeling that the problem is too big and that nothing can be done to change the situation.

Photo © Quinnpac
Publication Date 18-01-2006 1:00 pm
Publication Date 18-01-2006 1:00 pm
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