GEORGE TOWN, Nov 24 — The next time you see a cute baby monkey and think how you’d like to have one as a pet, think again.
World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall has equated this to forcibly taking human babies away from their families.
“I am shocked to learn that in Malaysia, you can actually buy a baby gibbon thinking how cute, how sweet...” she said at her public talk titled “Reasons for hope: A Message from Dr Jane Goodall” at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) yesterday.
“People are buying baby orangutans, buying little monkeys, this is rather like taking a small human child away from their family because all these primates have strong family bonds,” she added.
The 85-year-old stressed that primates belong in the wild.
“They don’t belong in people’s homes and in many cases, it usually ends in tragedy... sometimes the owner gets tired when the animal becomes adult and the animal ends up in a bad zoo,” she said.
She said “live” animal trade where mothers are killed and their babies taken to be sold as pets or for entertainment is one of the major factors driving primates and animals to extinction.
Yet, there is still hope, she said.
She said animals on the brink of extinction and forests can be given another chance to grow and thrive.
“Malaysians are lucky. You have so many animals on the brink of extinction, many of your primates, hornbills and other extraordinary animals that are your children’s heritage are at risk of extinction but it is not too late if people care enough, it can be reversed,” she said.
She said nature needs to be given the chance to come back but people need to take action first.
“New oil palm plantations that had destroyed important old forests, these can be reversed... it can still give way to nature and give nature a chance to grow back,” she said.
Goodall, who is known for her long-term study of wild chimpanzees in the 1960s, said she now spends most of her time travelling around the world learning about the problems faced by the people, forests and animals.
This is her third time in Malaysia but the first in Penang where she delivered her talk to a packed hall in USM.
She said the oceans are one of the great lungs of the world as they can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can give out oxygen.
“Even more important is the forest... the forests are another great lung of the world, they give us clean air and clean water... they provide us with the spiritual strength that we don’t have,” she said.
Goodall added that oil palm plantations do not do the same thing and should not be equated to natural forests.
“Fortunately, more and more people are beginning to understand the importance of forests, the importance of protecting them, the importance of trying to restore them,” she said.
She pointed out that the biggest difference between humans and the chimpanzees and other animals is our intellect.
“Our intellect is extraordinary so how come we are destroying our only home? We have this one planet and we are destroying it, we still are destroying it,” she said.
She said it was not surprising that the youths and children seem to have lost hope and are angry.
“There’s a saying that we haven’t inherited this planet from our parents, we borrowed it from our children. That is not true, we have been stealing the future of our young people,” she said.
She then apologised to all the younger generation on behalf of her generation, the generation before and the current elder generation for “stealing their future.”
However, all is not lost as she firmly believes that there is still time to turn things around for the planet.
“The scientists say we’ve reached a tipping point, that whatever we do, we can’t make a difference and I don’t believe that... luckily, there are other scientists who agree with me,” she said.
She said there is still a window of time and if everyone gets together to make full use of this time, there is still hope for the planet.
“We can heal the harm we have inflicted on the environment,” she said.
The talk was organised by The Habitat Foundation in partnership with Roots & Shoots Malaysia, with support by USM and Malaysian Primatological Society.
Roots & Shoots is a youth-led action environmental programme by the Jane Goodall Institute that started in 1991.