Jane Goodall talk on wildlife fascinates students

PORTLAND — The chimpanzee call rumbled up from deep in Jane Goodall's slender chest: "Oooh, oooh, oooha." It grew faster, higher and louder until the world-renowned primatologist and conservationist nearly squealed, "ooooooha, aaah, aaah, ooooooh."

The crowd, naturally, went wild.

More than 1,000 students from across Portland and Salem gathered Monday at The Portland French School to listen to the 75-year-old scientist, author and United Nations Messenger of Peace share not only her rousing rendition of a chimp greeting but also the wisdom she shares worldwide.

"We've made a right mess of this planet," Goodall said, her British accent familiar to any fan of TV nature shows. But, she said, "If we lose hope, then we might as well give up."

On Tuesday, as keynote speaker at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums annual conference at the Oregon Convention Center, Goodall was set to encourage nearly 2,000 zoo and aquarium professionals from around the globe to work harder on behalf of endangered species and their destroyed or threatened habitats.

Though she's often linked to animal-rights activists who say zoos have outlived their place in an enlightened world, Goodall said Monday that quality zoos can play an important role in conservation.

"Sometimes I'd like to be as harsh and shrill as animal-rights activists," she said, "but that's not the way to get into people's hearts."

She tacked on the school visit at the request of an old friend, Doug Cress, executive director of the Portland-based Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, which aids orphaned chimpanzees, gorillas and other endangered primates across Africa.

Traveling nearly 300 days a year speaking on behalf of wildlife and the environment, Goodall is in high gear this month with the release of her newest book, "Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species are Being Rescued from the Brink" (Grand Central Publishing, 392 pages, $27.99).

She and co-authors Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson gathered dozens of stories illustrating natures resilience and the persistence of those working to save species in the face of daunting challenges. The book describes efforts to breed endangered California condors, as the Oregon Zoo does, to the plight of China's giant pandas, Madagascar's ploughshare tortoises and other animals.

Though the volume brims with engaging photos of such beasts as cotton-top tamarins, brilliant green echo parakeets and the Panamanian golden frog, it's not exactly kid stuff.

So, on Monday, Goodall arrived at the southwest Portland school bearing props appropriate to her squirmy young audience. Tucked under her left arm was a toy banana-munching monkey known as Mr. H. At the lectern sat a plush toy chimp, a leafy maple branch and something mysterious hidden inside a tall cardboard mailing tube.

Casual in khakis and flats, her silvery hair pulled into a ponytail, Goodall politely declined an offer of help onto the stage near the school's front lawn and loped up its tall steps, as agile as a woman half her age.

It's been 49 years since 26-year-old Goodall first boarded a ship from England to Africa, a continent she'd always dreamed of seeing and the place that changed her life and, arguably, human perception of the animal world.

Her decades-long study of chimpanzees in what is now Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park led to startling discoveries, including the realization that chimps, humans' closest relatives, make and use tools out of such materials as the maple branch she held up before students. She once watched a chimp do just that: strip a branch then dip it into a termite nest, essentially using the branch as a fork.

She described the primates' distinct personalities, close family bonds and a rich expanse of emotions that often mirrors that of humans. One story she told the children involved a female chimp rescuing her younger sibling from sure peril at the fangs of venomous snake.

But Goodall spoke, too, of the horrors that humans face in the poorest corners of the world, where food and water are scarce, and where the Jane Goodall Institute's TACARE Program aims to improve life. It helps residents of 24 African villages with medicine, health care, farming and education; in return, the villages have set aside land for chimpanzees.

Goodall didn't have to share too much information about another institute project, the Roots & Shoots program, which involves almost 150,000 young people in 110 countries. Oregon boasts about 90 Roots & Shoots programs, and its members work to learn about the natural environment and to change it for the better.

It's not, Goodall said, about animal rights, "it's about human responsibility."

Toward the end of her talk, Goodall reached toward the stage, picked up that mysterious mailing tube and pulled out its contents. The mornings clouds had cleared as Goodall held up a 2-foot-long California condor feather against the promising blue sky.

"That," she told the children, "is one of my symbols of hope."

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