Canberra Times - Monday, 10 July 2006
The world's leading chimpanzee expert, Dr Jane Goodall, wants to establish an environmental research institute in Australia and has ranked Canberra high on the list of possible locations.
"I like Canberra, and you do have a significant advantage. You've got the best taxonomist - the taxonomist - the remarkable Colin Groves," she said.
An internationally respected expert on primate biology and human evolution, Professor Groves is based at the Australian National University where he is a Reader in biological anthropology.
Dr Goodall, who began her research career as a 23-year-old assistant to British anthropologist Dr Louis Leakey in Kenya, overturned conventional theories about primate behaviour with a string of unexpected discoveries about chimpanzee behaviour.
Working at Gombe, in Tanzania, she observed that chimpanzees made and used tools to "fish" for termites, used sign language, showed emotion and had differing personalities and complex family networks. Dr Goodall will visit Canberra next week to talk at the National Press Club and ANU on primate conservation in Africa and to establish Australian branches of her global youth outreach program Roots & Shoots - a program which encourages young people to find practical solutions to environmental problems. While in Australia, she hoped to finalise plans to establish a Jane Goodall Institute for primate and wildlife research, animal-welfare activities and conservation.
She was keynote speaker last week at an international primate conference in Uganda, attended by more than 700 scientists - including Professor Groves. "For the first time since I've been attending these conferences, the bulk of presentations were dealing with conservation ... It was heartening. I think scientists have realised we have to do something to save the habitat of the great apes - it's no longer enough to swan around studying them and ignoring the fact that their forests are disappearing."
Dr Goodall has established more than 20 research institutes in Africa, the United States and Europe to focus on primate research. She hopes an Australian institute will raise awareness of threats to the survival of chimpanzees and other primates, and also raise funds and train volunteers to help with primate research in Asia and Africa.
"We don't yet know where it will be located. Some people have mentioned Adelaide as a possibility and others are talking about Sydney.
" Canberra - well, it also has its merits. The reality is that the institute will be located wherever we find the commitment and expertise to support it," she said.
Professor Groves is travelling overseas and could not be contacted. He will return to Canberra this week and is understood to be involved in organising Dr Goodall's visit to the ANU. He supported a visit last year by gorilla researcher Dr Ian Redmond to promote the United Nations Environmental Program's global Great Apes Survival Project and helped raise funds for orang-utan conservation in Kalimantan.
During a career spanning four decades, Professor Groves has conducted studies of wild orang-utans and gibbons in Borneo, mountain gorillas in Rwanda with the late Dian Fossey, of Gorillas in the Mist fame, and chimpanzees in Tanzania.
On his ANU website, he describes primate habitat conservation as "an increasingly urgent theme in my work".