Posts Tagged ‘primate’

Dr. Goodall, I Presume?

by | April 13th, 2010

What if I told you that there is one person who brings more star-struck expressions to the faces of our teen volunteers than any other? Who might you guess it would be? What if I told you that this person is not an actor or musician, and has never graced the cover of “US Weekly”? That in fact, this person is 76 years old and has been known to carry a stuffed animal everywhere? Doesn’t sound like a teen idol to you? Well, expectations are often defied when you’re Dr. Jane Goodall.

Dr. Jane with a few of the Oakland Zoo's Teen Wild Guides

As Dr. Jane’s groundbreaking study of the chimpanzees at Gombe celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it’s a good time to reflect on the legacy her work has created. Her contributions to science cannot be understated- what began as a study to learn about chimps as a means of learning about ourselves, has evolved into one of the longest and most complex animal studies ever undertaken. From Dr. Jane we have learned some of the most basic things we now know about chimpanzees- that they hunt for monkeys, live in complex family groups, and of course, make and use tools. To this day, scientific data is recorded at Gombe that continues to deepen our understanding of chimps and their relation to us.

But I might argue that Dr. Jane’s greatest legacy is reflected on the faces of those teens I know personally who look up to her like no other. Dr. Jane is a legend to them. They see her as an icon, but also not so very different from them. Dr. Jane herself was 26 years old with a secretarial degree when she traveled to Tanzania to begin her study and was able to change our most basic assumptions about chimps and the animal world. As today’s teens stand ready to take on the world, what might they accomplish?

TWG Arianne Olarig with Mr. H, Dr. Jane's constant companion

Dr. Jane has always recognized the power of youth to change the world, which led her to found Roots & Shoots, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Founded on the core values of knowledge, compassion and action, members of Roots & Shoots design their own projects to assist animals, the environment and the human community. The creativity of youth results in a stunning variety of projects all over the world. Here at the zoo, our Teen Wild Guides can claim to be one of the largest independent Roots & Shoots groups in the United States, with projects like the Asian Animal Festival, animal enrichment, and countless hours of visitor education under their belts. At a recent Wildlife Conservation Network Expo, they were recognized by their idol, when Dr. Jane Goodall herself asked them to stand and be applauded by an audience that had gathered to hear her speak.

And so, as we look back in this momentous year for Goodall, Gombe and the chimps, I raise my glass to Dr. Jane, along with all the future Dr. Janes that she inspires each and every day.

Hairy People

by | March 8th, 2010

Chimpanzee, Photo Courtesy of Oakland Zoo

Why are chimpanzees so fascinating to us? Is it because they are so much like us, sharing 98 percent of our DNA? Does this cause people to minimize their wildness? Or is it the reason we forget entirely that they are inherently wild animals? Does our propensity to anthropomorphize diminish our respect for these majestic primates?
According to a 2008 study published in the journal Science, it does. The results of that study indicated that the frequency with which we see chimpanzees in movies, TV, and commercials leads the general public to believe that chimps are not endangered. In fact, they are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red list. Chimpanzees are already extinct in 4 of the 25 countries in their natural range. Since the 20th century, the estimated chimpanzee population in the wild has been reduced by a staggering 70-80 percent.

Chimpanzees in captivity however, are another story. More than 2000 chimps live in captivity right here in the US. Half of those are in biomedical research and about a quarter of them live in sanctuaries. Only 12 percent of chimps living in the US live in AZA accredited zoos. That leaves nearly 250 chimps in unaccredited facilities or private ownership. In fact, there are over 100 chimps documented as private pets in the US.

How did we get to this point? While the IUCN may list chimps as endangered, it has no recourse for individual countries. Each country makes their own list of endangered species that are protected by their local laws. Chimps in the wild are threatened by habitat destruction and bush meat consumption, but it is all too easy to point the finger at a country halfway across the world. We can and should support these far away places. The Oakland Zoo has made a huge impact by supporting the Budongo Snare Removal Project.


However, there are still 2000 chimpanzees in the US, and they didn’t get here by accident. Chimpanzees are the only species that our own government has double listed in our endangered species laws. This is confusing because the United States government classifies WILD chimps as “endangered” and CAPTIVE chimps as “threatened.” This means captive chimps are not afforded the same protection under federal law that every other endangered species receives. Therefore, private breeders are selling chimps to unsuspecting families as pets. Chimps are dressed up in clothes for our entertainment in movies and TV.  Because chimpanzees are portrayed this way, many people lack the understanding and appreciation for one of the world’s most intelligent animals.

As an AZA accredited zoo, the Oakland Zoo participate s in the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP). Recently, the chair of the Chimp SSP began an ambitious project to document ALL chimpanzees living in the US and educate the public about their plight, not only in the wild, but here in our own country. The website,, is not only educational, but gives us, as consumers the power to make choices in our daily lives that will affect how chimps are treated here, in our own backyards. Chimpanzees are not just hairy people; they are majestic, magnificent animals that deserve dignity and respect.