Our brains can save us

Pri­ma­tol­o­gist Jane Goodall points out even in­sects show sur­pris­ing in­tel­li­gence. The woman who dis­cov­ered chim­panzees use tools tells Erik Nils­son hu­mans’ in­tel­lect may be our best mech­a­nism to blunt eco­log­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion.

China Daily (USA) - - DINING | LIFE - Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­son@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Bees can use tools. So can birds. Oc­to­puses can slither out of tanks, slink into oth­ers to gob­ble fish and squish back into their own, pulling the lid closed be­hind them — hu­mans none the wiser, un­til they re­view­surveil­lance footage. Clever crea­tures. In­deed. Espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the mol­lusks don’t have brains, per se.

This, says Jane Goodall, the house­hold-name pri­ma­tol­o­gist­who dis­cov­ered chimps use tools, makes it an amaz­ing time for hu­man­ity’s next gen­er­a­tion to study an­i­mals.

And hu­man in­tel­li­gence can be the in­stru­ment by which we blunt eco­log­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion, the Bri­ton be­lieves.

Goodall re­al­ized decades ago, upon ob­serv­ing the apes mod­i­fy­ing nat­u­ral ob­jects to ma­nip­u­late their en­vi­ron­ment — for in­stance, us­ing sticks to ex­tract yummy in­sects from the earth— that we needed to “re­de­fine man, re­de­fine tool or in­cludechim­panzeeswith­hu­mans”. So, sci­ence did. “It was very ex­cit­ing for me be­cause I was the first to learn about chim­panzees,” she says.

But revo­lu­tion­ary dis­cov­er­ies about an­i­mal in­tel­li­gence are gen­er­at­ing new­paradigms.

“In 1960, if I talked to the pro­fes­sors about, ‘let’s study the in­tel­li­gence of the oc­to­pus’, they would have laughed at me and locked me up as an in­sane per­son,” she says.

“Now, there’shugein­ter­est­be­cause oc­to­puses are in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent, and they can solve prob­lems. Crows … can­make tools. Th­ey­can­doth­ings even­somepri­mates can’t.”

But ex­perts for decades be­lieved birds’ brains’ dis­sim­i­lar struc­tures meant they weren’t ca­pa­ble of in­tel­li­gence, she points out.

“So, it’s a very ex­cit­ing time for young peo­ple to go out there and learn about an­i­mals.”

Bum­ble­bees were re­cently taught to pull strings to earn a re­ward. More strik­ingly, oth­ers repli­cated the pro­ce­dure af­ter ob­serv­ing it, she points out.

Goodall, who made the jour­ney to Tan­za­nia’s forests as a young woman with­out for­mal train­ing, is cel­e­brated for rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing our un­der­stand­ing of our species’ clos­est kin. But her meth­ods weren’t with­out crit­i­cism, espe­cially giv­ing names rather than num­bers.

“(Num­bers) make them ob­jects of study rather than liv­ing be­ings. So, tomeit’s very, very im­por­tant, if it’s pos­si­ble, to know them as in­di­vid­u­als, to name them and de­scribe them,” she says. Jane Goodall,

They­may not be peo­ple, yet have in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties. They share emo­tions like joy and sad­ness, she dis­cov­ered. They’re ca­pa­ble of em­pa­thy.

Goodall first doc­u­mented chimp war­fare.

“(It’s) not only learn­ing about the pri­mate but also learn­ing from the pri­mate. There’s a dif­fer­ence,” she ex­plains.

“It’s more a hu­mil­ity. I have a lot to learn.”

Goodall left the chim­panzees she loved decades ago— to save them.

She saw, while fly­ing over Tan­za­nia’s Gombe in the early 1990s, de­for­esta­tion had shaved sur­round­ing forests bald. That changed ev­ery­thing. She re­al­ized: “You can­not do an­i­mal con­ser­va­tion un­less peo­ple con­ser­va­tion.”

Pro­tect­ing na­ture re­quires sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment that pro­duces so­lu­tions for hu­mans who share other species’ habi­tats, she un­der­stood.

Goodall soon af­ter led the suc­cess­ful move­ment to re­for­est the area and im­prove lo­cals’ liv­ing stan­dards. But her bat­tle is global. The 82-year-old en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, an­thro­pol­o­gist and United Na­tions Mes­sen­ger of Peace spends over 300 days a year jet­ting around the world as an ad­vo­cate.

What­started as a mis­sion to save the chim­panzees turned into a jour­ney to im­prove life for all liv­ing things.

Roots & Shoots, an en­vi­ron­men­tal-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram for youth run by the Jane Goodall In­sti­tute, has 150,000 mem­bers in 130 coun­tries and re­gions, and 700 groups on the Chi­nese main­land.

“My hope for Roots & Shoots is to create a crit­i­cal mass of young peo­ple who un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the nat­u­ral world — for hu­mans as well as wildlife — and a group of peo­ple­whounder­standthat— while we need money to live — it starts to go wrong when we live for money,” she tell­sChina Daily in Bei­jing. you do

“But it’s re­ally young peo­ple who un­der­stand that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment at the ex­pense of the en­vi­ron­ment is a death knell if it goes on like this for the chil­dren of the fu­ture. That’s world­wide.”

Goodall says she has seen vast changes in Chi­nese chil­dren’s men­tal­ity since she started com­ing to the coun­try three decades ago. Adults are fol­low­ing suit.

“China is al­ready be­gin­ning to do a lot. In some cases, it’s a world leader in things like so­lar tech­nol­ogy,” Goodall says.

“The big prob­lem in China is air pol­lu­tion.”

She says China has done bet­ter than many coun­tries on cli­mate change, espe­cially re­gard­ing the Paris Agree­ment thatChina signed.

But the world needs more, she be­lieves.

“Some coun­tries are re­ally do­ing well. And other coun­tries have signed it and are car­ry­ing on as usual or even worse — that’s not China.”

She’sim­pressed­byawa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tem in Sichuan prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, Chengdu, that uses grav­ity to pull water through marsh­land plants that fil­ter out con­tam­i­nants. It dou­bles as a fish habi­tat.

Wet­lands as sieves proved a prom­i­nent theme among stu­dents’ dis­plays at the Bei­jing Roots & Shoots sum­mit. Six pri­mary schools in Jiangsu prov­ince’s Zhangji­a­gang dis­trib­uted hand­drawn post­cards of wet­lands with hand­writ­ten de­scrip­tions of what they learned dur­ing field re­search.

DalianMinzuUniver­sity stu­dent Wang Shuaiyu called the event and meet­ing Goodall “very mov­ing”.

“It’s a mo­ment to cel­e­brate all our en­vi­ron­men­tal-pro­tec­tion projects,” she says.

Goodall told the crowd one of her sources of hope is “our ex­tra­or­di­nary brains”.

“It’s the ex­plo­sive de­vel­op­ment of the hu­man in­tel­lect that is the sin­gle greatest dif­fer­ence be­tween us and chim­panzees, our clos­est an­i­mal rel­a­tives — and all other an­i­mals,” she says.

Bei­jing’s air pol­lu­tion re­minds her of Lon­don when she was grow­ing up.

“It was same in New York and LA. It was when peo­ple be­gan to use brains that we grad­u­ally made the dif­fer­ence.”

That, she be­lieves, world­wide.

“You,” she told the Bei­jing crowd, “aremy rea­son for hope.”

(It’s) not only learn­ing about the pri­mate but also learn­ing from the pri­mate.” pri­ma­tol­o­gist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist

is still hap­pen­ing

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top left: Pri­ma­tol­o­gist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Jane Goodall speaks at the re­cent Bei­jing sum­mit of the Roots & Shoots en­vi­ron­men­tal-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram for youth run by her in­sti­tute. Above: at the Sweet­wa­ters sanctuary, Kenya’s only great-ape sanctuary. Goodall looks at res­cued chim­panzees in July

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