Renowned primatologist and environmental advocate Jane Goodall was named the 2003 Global Environmental Citizen Monday (April 28) by Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.
The award, given at an afternoon ceremony at the New England Aquarium’s Imax theater in Boston, recognizes Goodall’s lifetime of work, both in groundbreaking studies of East Africa’s chimpanzees and as an advocate and leader of global movements aimed at helping humans live cooperatively with the environment.
Center Director Eric Chivian, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said generations have grown up learning from Goodall’s work since she first arrived in Tanzania in 1960, inexperienced but determined to study the region’s chimpanzee population.
Since her first excursion into the Tanzanian bush, Goodall has changed the way mankind looks at its closest animal relative. Her work has uncovered the use of sticks by chimpanzees to fish termites from mounds, the first documented tool use by an animal. She showed that chimps have individual identities, eat meat, and even wage wars on rival chimpanzee clans.
Her research has been widely published and her story widely told through books and documentaries.
“All of us have grown up being moved by her experiences,” Chivian said. “Her work to foster understanding and compassion for all human beings and to foster a sense of kinship with all beings on this planet could not be more important.”
The crowd of about 400 who gathered at the theater for the event greeted Goodall enthusiastically, giving her a standing ovation when she entered and again when she finished speaking.
Goodall accepted the award – a marble statue of a dove – standing at a podium set up in front of the theater’s enormous screen where images of her life had played out minutes before in the Boston premiere of a new Imax movie: “Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees.”
Goodall is the third recipient of the Global Environmental Citizen award, which was established in 2001. Goodall joins the first recipient, Harvard biologist Edward O.Wilson, and last year’s recipient, actor Harrison Ford, who serves as vice chairman of the Board for Conservation International.
Goodall thanked the center for the honor, saying she hoped winning such a prestigious award would help open doors and further her work. She talked a bit about the film, saying Boston is the last stop on an 11-city inaugural tour.
Goodall said she had doubts about the movie when the idea was first proposed, but understood that it could potentially be a great educational tool.
She had doubts about the technical and logistical aspects of making the film, particularly whether the chimps would accept the enormous film equipment needed for the Imax format. She also had doubts whether the film crew could work in the rough terrain around the Gombe Stream Research Center, which she founded in 1964.
In the end, however, the film was made, though Goodall said there are some important things she wished were included that were left out.
Chief among the images that didn’t make the film, Goodall said, is a closer look at the deforestation around the reserve, which has largely happened since the reserve was founded. A major cause of the deforestation has been human population growth. Goodall has embarked on several efforts to help the people living around the reserve with economic programs aimed at local women, scholarships for gifted girls, family planning and AIDS education, tree-planting programs, and conservation education.
“When I flew over the area and saw the devastation, I was shocked. Because how can we expect chimps to survive when people living around are in such dire straits?” Goodall said.
One consequence of the deforestation is that the Gombe chimps are isolated from other chimpanzee populations. This has resulted in a rising threat of inbreeding. The reforestation project she has embarked on with the people around Gombe, she said, aims to create a forested corridor north to other chimpanzee populations, in hopes that individuals will flow along it, enriching the gene pools of currently isolated populations.
Goodall also called for international peace and asked the environmental community to end the silence that she said has reigned since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After those attacks, she said, people kept silent on environmental issues because they were afraid they’d appear unpatriotic.
In response to questions from the audience, Goodall said she came to her advocacy role gradually, as people heard of her fieldwork and asked her to talk. She said at first she felt reluctant to take on that role, but said she feels a deep responsibility to do what she can to create harmony between humans and the environment.
“I have three little grandchildren,” Goodall said. “When I think of how we have harmed the world since I was their age, I feel deep shame.”