“Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.”
In the Disney documentary “Chimpanzee” we journey deep into the African rainforest — with its sprawling forests, wind-swept clouds, crackling lightning storms, and microscopic night creatures — and learn the story of a young chimpanzee named Oscar coming to terms with the loss of his mother, Isha, and his unusual adoption by the leader of the group, Freddy.
We learn that to a chimpanzee, “making a living” means finding food which can be anything from nuts to fruit to meat. This quest for food — the true means of survival — can spotlight behaviors that remind us of people. The chimpanzees use rocks to break open nuts and hone branches into fishing poles to scoop out yummy termites from the inside of tree trunks.
In fact, it was this attribute, the making and use of tools, that caused Jane Goodall, chimp pioneer of yore, to suggest a link between chimpanzees and human beings. This in turn prompted her boss at the time, Louis Leakey’s now famous response: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”
Life isn’t all fun and games, however, in the forest. There is the constant threat of a rival chimp group, which is strategizing to horn in on Oscar’s group’s territory or leopards prowling at night, looking for their dinner. The documentarians are geniuses at capturing this story. The narration by Tim Allen also provides just the right amount of humorous pathos to the evolving story.
I remember viewing this documentary in a public setting well before the pandemic, where Alice Macharia, program director of Africa Programs at the Jane Goodall Institute, described that organization’s initiatives, which are occurring in Tanzania, Uganda, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. A variety of methods have been implemented to protect the endangered species of chimpanzees through sustainable efforts of environment and community lifestyle.
What began as a conservation and wildlife focus has grown into a community effort with people learning how to better their own lives as they grow in their consciousness for bettering the environment. It’s really interesting how all this emerged from a simple mission of “saving the chimps!”
Shawn Sweeney, national manager of youth outreach and engagement for the Jane Goodall Institute, also spoke about the institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program, known as Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots. Their mantra, “What it takes to save a species is what it takes to save the world,” speaks to the institute’s efforts to engage young people in leading local projects that improve the environment and quality of life for people and animals.
This holistic approach of knowledge, compassion, and action fosters a spirit of engagement and compassion to address the well-being of people, animals, and the environment that we all can learn from.