Pioneer in the study of chimpanzees in their natural habitat, the British primatologist Jane Goodall has lived for decades among them in Gombe Stream, Tanzania, currently a national park, before becoming a global star of conservation. At 82, she does not do field research anymore, but she spends 300 days a year traveling around the globe to promote the activities of the institute that bears her name. Wherever she goes, she carries Mr. H., a gray stuffed monkey that she received as a birthday gift twenty years ago. One of their latest destinations was Honolulu, in Hawaii, where Dr. Goodall attended IUCN's World Conservation Congress (story in Portuguese).
Jane Goodall and Mr. H in Honolulu (photo: Bernardo Esteves)
Jane Goodall announced that she would begin with the customary greeting. He opened his eyes, made a beak, and began to imitate the cry of wild chimpanzees. "So they should pay attention," the 82-year-old lady with long white hair mocked, her sunglasses resting on top of her head. There were no monkeys there, but the British soon gained the focus of crowded crowds to see her in Honolulu, Hawaii, during the World Conservation Congress .
A pioneer in the study of chimpanzees in their natural habitat, Goodall knows our closest relatives like no one else. He lived for decades with a group of them in the forest of Gombe Stream, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, now a national park. It was accepted by the animals and made observations that changed the way we see these primates - and ourselves - before becoming a global star of environmentalism.
She no longer engages in field research but spends 300 days a year traveling to promote the activities of the institute that bears her name. Where it goes, carries Mr. H, a gray plush monkey holding a banana. He won the birthday doll twenty years ago. In Honolulu, the mascot sat facing the viewers and a few feet from the pulpit made of recycled cardboard, behind which was the owner.
Mr. H did not yet exist when, in 1960, Goodall first visited the Gombe Stream Forest. At age 26, she had no field experience or scientific background. Observing some chimpanzees, he noticed that each had a unique personality. For this reason, he decided to give them names - such as Flô, Goliath and Passion -, unlike other primatologists, a discipline that was beginning to consolidate.
At ease in the presence of the young researcher, Davi Barba Cinza was the first she caught using a branch of plant as a stick to fish termites in a hole. "At that time, it was considered that only humans could create tools," recalled the primatologist in Honolulu. "That was what defined our species."
Goodall did not enter the university until after the fieldwork. He graduated and went straight to the doctorate in Cambridge. "The teachers said I did everything wrong," he told the audience. The British should have assigned numbers to the monkeys instead of names and should not have associated them with emotions and personalities, characteristics that were believed to be unique to humans. But Goodall is convinced that he acted the right way. "Whoever has any bug knows that the teachers were wrong. Do not you know? "He asked the audience. "I learned this in my childhood with my dog Rust."
The screen behind the scientist featured aerial Gombe Stream imagery produced by NASA, the United States space agency, with which the Jane Goodall Institute has been collaborating for three years. The British made a point of emphasizing a paradoxical aspect: the partnership allows to use a very sophisticated technology to study the chimpanzees, who make very rudimentary tools. "This juxtaposition is fascinating."
Goodall then called on the researcher at the institute responsible for the association with Nasa: Lilian Pintea, a 45-year-old Moldovan-born American who specialized in the use of remote sensing to protect the environment. To applause, she left the pulpit and sat down on the floor in front of Mr. H.
Satellite images showed inaccessible corners of the forest where chimpanzees live. Pintea said the scenes helped to understand how monkeys' feeding and mores were being affected by increasing pressure on their habitat. On the big screen, an animation began to portray the evolution of the landscape in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika between 2005 and 2014. There, based on satellite imagery and information collected locally , villagers redefined how they use land. The result could not be more palpable: areas with erosion declined and plant cover increased. "Amazing, is not it?" Pintea commented. Only Mr H did not applaud.
A palavra “esperança” aparece no título dos três últimos livros que Jane Goodall lançou. Nas conferências que dá pelo mundo, costuma enumerar as razões de seu otimismo. De uns anos para cá, vem incluindo na lista as redes sociais. “Usadas do jeito certo, podem unir milhões de pessoas em torno de uma mesma causa”, afirmou para jornalistas no dia seguinte à palestra. “Nos velhos tempos, precisávamos telefonar, escrever cartas. Agora as mudanças tendem a acontecer muito mais rápido.”
Com o Sr. H no colo e um colar havaiano no pescoço, a britânica aproveitou a presença da imprensa internacional para narrar a história da mascote. O macaco de pelúcia foi batizado em homenagem a Gary Haun, ex-oficial da Marinha americana que perdeu a visão num acidente de helicóptero. Quando o ofereceu à pesquisadora, o militar acreditava se tratar de um chimpanzé. “Fiz com que ele pegasse no rabo do bichinho para perceber que não era”, contou Goodall. O boneco acabou se tornando seu companheiro de viagem para lembrá-la sempre de Haun, que depois do acidente praticou esportes radicais e virou mágico – as crianças só descobrem que ele é cego ao fim dos shows. “O Sr. H conhece 62 países e deve ter sido tocado por uns 4 milhões de pessoas.”
As the lecture ended, the audience lined up to take selfies with the scientist or simply to see her more closely. That afternoon Mr. H went through the hand of two or three dozen other admirers.