Arts Express: Jane Goodall Talks Bears


You don’t necessarily need the gift of gab to be a natural born actors, sometimes screen presence can so to speak, say it all. And nothing could be more true than the furry, stunning silent stars, you might say, of Disneynature’s Bears. Just opening in theaters, the documentary with humorous commentary courtesy of narrator John C. Reilly, plays out in the Alaskan wilderness. As new single mom Sky emerges from winter hibernation to set out on the arduous task of finding food for her cubs Scout and Amber, upon which their very survival depends. But lack of sustenance is not the only problem, as danger is never far away in the form of wolves, other famished bears with a taste for cub cuisine, and the occasional looming avalanche.

Stopping by to talk about Bears as well her longstanding concern and caring for endangered animals in their natural habitats, is eminent UK British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and Disneynature Ambassador, Jane Goodall.

What is the number one message you want to convey to humans about these animals?

JANE GOODALL: I think the main message to understand, is that every animal is an individual. Just as we are individuals.

And that they matter, and we should respect them. We should respect their right to be where they are.

And once we get to understand them, we are more likely to want to protect them. And they need our help.

How do you not get attached to these animals, and if you do get attached, how do you leave them?

JG: Because if you’re in the wild, it would really be bad for the animal to be left. But if you become attached to the animal and you love them, you want to leave them where they’re happy.

For example, lots of people like baby chimps, and that means you’ve taken the baby from its mother. That means it will never learn how to be a proper chimpanzee.

That means when it gets bigger and stronger around age seven, what do you do with it? The group doesn’t want it.

Because it doesn’t know how to behave like a chimp. So they end up at very bad zoos. So wild animals belong in the wild.

Let me add on to that, it’s a bit different if you’re doing research. And you have a permanent research station.

And that’s with the highly endangered chimps, gorillas and banobos. If it’s a sick one, we try to help them.

If you were studying Pygmy people and one was sick and you didn’t help them, you would be a pretty nasty person. That’s how I feel about chimps.

Do you think the media has been unfair in the portrayal of bears?

JG: Well, hopefully, these movies create for people a sort of intimate connection with animals. And that they’re unlikely, most of them, ever to find for themselves.

Because most people don’t have the luxury of going for weeks and weeks out into wild places. Hopefully young people might then be persuaded to go and spend more time outside.

Because there really is such a terrifying disconnect between young people and nature today. You know, with all of the electronic gadgets.

Living in virtual reality is so different. And the big screen gives you the feeling of being out in a big, wide space.

And hopefully, that will stir some young people. You know, to want to do that themselves.

What do you think are the potential benefits that come with spending so much time with nature, and interacting with animals?

JG: There are actual studies to show that children benefit psychologically. You know, from experience with nature.

I think it was Chicago, they took two areas of high crime in the inner city. And one of them they greened.

In other words, they put plants in vacant lots, window boxes and so forth. And the crime rate just dropped.

What do you feel is the responsibility of people to make this a better world for animals?

JG: If we think each day about the consequences of our actions, we make more ethical choices. And I know that’s true, because so many people have told me.

What do you buy, where did it come from. Where do you eat, how did it affect the environment and animals.

And what do you wear. Was it child slave labor. When it comes to bringing it home to bears, it’s a little more difficult.

It comes to the general thing of bears, they’re part of a beautiful ecosystem. They’re part of the planet.

And we should respect them as such. And try to work to ensure that the places where they live are saved.

And through our youth programs, we already have programs teaching people how to behave. If they have pushed into bear habitats, mainly black bears.

So the bears, they raid trash cans. And if people have absolutely bear-proof places for their trash, the bears are much less likely to get into it.

Talk about your empathy with animals, and those who are cynical about it.

JG: Yes, there’s been a big danger with science saying that we should be wholly objective. And not have any empathy.

And that has led to some very nasty happenings. And I think we need to work with the left and right brain in harmony.

So that is what we have to learn to do. And nature helps you to do that.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.