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Friday, May 2, 2014

Jane Goodall, on Zoos

Jane Goodall has been hailed by one biographer as "the woman who redefined man."  Her years of field research into the lives of chimpanzees have completely changed not only our understanding of our nearest animal relatives, but of our own species as well.  Among her most famous discoveries were the use of tools among wild chimpanzees (i.e.: using twigs to "fish" for termites) and that chimp troops will go to war in order to expand their territories.

Dr. Goodall doesn't spend much time out in the field these days.  Instead, her years at Gombe have instilled in her a passion for chimpanzee conservation and welfare.  She has been a vocal advocate for chimpanzees both in the wild in Africa and in captivity around the world, and has been especially active in promoting the welfare of chimps in laboratories.

So, probably the world's most famous wildlife biologist and a prominent critic of the way that animals are often kept in captivity - what does she have to say about zoos?

Charlotte Louise Daniels, a student at the University of Chester in the United Kingdom, decided to find out.  After attending one of Dr. Goodall's lectures in Edinburgh, Ms. Daniels was given the chance to ask the primatologist what role she felt zoos had to play in the conservation of chimps and other great apes.  The response:

"You know, there's a fallacy that life in the wild is wonderful and perfect and that everybody should be out there. There's so many of the places that I've been that chimpanzees and gorillas there in complete uhm, you know, a lot of them live in fear as the logging companies move in and they're caught in these snares. They're pushed from one area to another which means another community will attack them, and they're killed. 

So on the other hand there are zoos keeping apes and other animals that shouldn't be there because they don't have the facilities, they don't have the money, they don't have the know how, and they should be closed. But then what do you do with the animals. But if you have, if you can be in a country where you can raise the money. Where you have keepers who are dedicated and educated. Where you have a zoo going public that kind of understands. Where you have proper educational materials. Where you have some scientific research going on. Where you put a percentage of your profit to helping research conservation in the wild, then they provide a way of, particularly children, but not only children, coming up close to an animal they may never have the opportunity to see in the wild. 

And while yes you can see amazing documentaries, when you're actually with an animal in a good condition, in a good environment, you can sense its beingness. You can look into the eyes, you can smell it, you can hear it that's different from looking at even the best photographed animal in film, because you know that animal is not looking at you. and I've watched children just today when i visited the chimps here looking through the glass making eye contact, seeing a child put its hand to the glass and the chimpanzee the other side doing the same, that child will never be the same. And so they do provide a very good tool for education and that in turn will lead to people being more active about conservation."

Thanks to Charlotte Louise Daniels for posing such an important question, and, more importantly, for helping to share the answer!


  1. Hello! Do you mind if I share your post on my facebook? I thinks Jane Goodall words are really important and that's why I would like to share. If you don't agree just tell me, I will understand your decision
    Thanks and congratulation for your blog!