Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall visited Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 14th July, accompanied by the Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr. Kitili Mbathi. When asked if she would be cold riding in the back of an open safari vehicle on the chilly morning, with characteristic pragmatism she replied, “I suppose I shall just have to be.”
In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall travelled from England to what is now Tanzania and courageously entered the extraordinary world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her resolute patience and optimism, she won the trust of these initially wary creatures, and she managed to open a window into their mysterious lives, finding surprising similarities with our own. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day. Her 1971 book, In the Shadow of Man, was an international best-seller.
Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share.
The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), founded in 1977, works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where she first began her research 56 years ago, but also supports community-based conservation throughout East Africa and the Congo Basin, engaging with communities to win long-term conservation impact.
The Institute’s community-centred conservation programs in Africa include sustainable development projects that engage local people as true partners. These programmes began around Gombe in 1994, but they have since been replicated in other parts of the continent. Likewise, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which Jane started with a group of Tanzania students in 1991, is today the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program for young people from preschool through university with nearly 150,000 members in more than 130 countries.
Jane came to Nanyuki, where Ol Pejeta Conservancy is located, to speak at Mount Kenya Safari Club to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Kenya Roots & Shoots programme. PEGAS thought it offered an ideal opportunity for her to return to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, which was created in 1993 largely through her instigation, in cooperation with KWS and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The aim is to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The first chimpanzees to arrive were individuals that Jane had rescued from horrible conditions of captivity in Burundi.
After obtaining enthusiastic agreement from Ol Pejeta for Jane’s visit, PEGAS contacted Alpana Patel, JGI’s representative in Kenya (also a PEGAS Steering Committee member) for her views on the visit. Would the 81-year old world traveller have the stamina and desire to combine a day visit to Sweetwaters with an evening talk and fund-raiser at Mount Kenya Safari Club? After checking with Jane’s people in the USA, yes was the resounding answer.
Jane and Kitili Mbathi arrived from Nairobi on the PEGAS charter flight right on time, and off we drove across Ol Pejeta Conservancy to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, where the CEO Richard Vigne and other staff were waiting to welcome them.
The first order of business was for Jane to open the new Education Centre at Sweetwaters, which provides informative graphics that instruct visitors about the threats to chimpanzee survival, including the capture of infants for the lucrative pet and entertainment industries.
After a presentation on infant capture and trafficking, Jane asked, “How many chimpanzees are killed during these infant captures?”
I replied, “It’s estimated that 9 to 10 are killed for every infant captured.”
With a slight smile Jane remarked, “I always hear that number, but chimps are intelligent. When the shooting starts they just run away.”
She made her point, and I think some actual field research is in order on great ape poaching and capture.
For the next two hours we visited both chimpanzee groups, which live in large, fenced enclosures vegetated by natural savanna bushland on opposite sides of the Uaso Nyiro River. The river acts as a natural barrier to separate the two groups, as chimpanzees cannot swim.
Jane was anxious to see Uruhara, a chimpanzee she had rescued from Burundi more than 20 years ago (see the photograph above). When we found him and Jane offered him a banana she remarked, “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.” After a moment she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and added, “I think I’ve done a bit better.” I had to laugh and agree with her – she certainly had.
Encouraged by the many media journalists who had been attracted by Jane’s visit, she began expertly tossing bananas through the fence wires. Both to protect the chimpanzees from predators – there are about 70 lions and numerous leopards on Ol Pejeta – and to prevent their escape, the 250 acre sanctuary is enclosed by an electrified fence.
Jane requested some privacy from the media and other observers because she wanted a moment alone with the Sweetwaters caretakers. Some of these dedicated and professional staff have been with Sweetwaters since the beginning and Jane wanted to hear from them how the chimpanzees had been faring, what problems there might be, to hear stories of the individual chimpanzees that she had known from many years ago and to share her thoughts and observations with them. To take time out to do this demonstrates the thoughtfulness and care for others that this extraordinary woman has.
We then proceeded to visit the last three Northern White Rhinos left on the planet. Kitili Mbathi had yet to see them, so was particularly interested in finding out more about their situation. Attempts are being made to breed new offspring, but the single male, Sudan, is 43 and beyond mating capabilities – his age is equivalent to over 90 years for a human.
I was astounded to see Jane Goodall appear, she had walked the 300 metres or so from Morani’s restaurant, where we were to have lunch, under the hot sun to meet Sudan. The woman’s curiosity and energy know no bounds.
During lunch at Morani’s PEGAS had the opportunity to discuss the project and what we are trying to do and hope to achieve. Jane and Kitili were both very supportive and hopefully we can cooperate closely to achieve results in various planned actions in the near future.
It was an honour and great pleasure to host two such positive, outspoken and yet modest advocates for wildlife conservation at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.