A Chimp Called Wounda: A plea for the future

When Dr. Jane Goodall walked out to a full house at Centrepointe Theatre on Sept. 27, I was immediately transported back to my grade school science class. Since third grade when I first saw footage of Goodall in the Gombe Stream Reserve, I have been struggling with how to make a difference in the environment […]
Photo: Dana Simpson
Jane Goodall at Centrepointe Theatre on Sept. 27

When Dr. Jane Goodall walked out to a full house at Centrepointe Theatre on Sept. 27, I was immediately transported back to my grade school science class. Since third grade when I first saw footage of Goodall in the Gombe Stream Reserve, I have been struggling with how to make a difference in the environment when I am not scientifically minded.

At 28, I am now two years older than Goodall when she first arrived in Africa. This week, I came face to face with those childhood feelings all over again when I gathered with other lifelong admirers – and new ones too – for a night of anecdotes and climate talks.

When Goodall shared the story of Wounda the chimpanzee with the audience, it was clear that humans aren’t the only ones happy to see her upon first meeting.

To the Congolese, Wounda means “close to dying.” Severely injured by the bullet that killed her mother, Wounda spent years at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre in the Congo being nursed back to health by the veterinarian team.

Upon introduction to her new Tchindzoulou Island home, the chimp stepped out of her crate and climbed on top to take in her surroundings. Before continuing her journey, Wounda looked Goodall in the eye, shuffled over to her and gave her a hug.

This was the first time the two had ever met.

And when Goodall showed the audience the video footage as she closed the show, as if by magic I was back in grade three science class again.

With Friday’s climate change march happening downtown, Goodall’s message to the audience was extra timely. “We have been stealing the future of our young people,” said Goodall. “If we get together now…we can start healing some of the harm.”

Since her first trip to Tanzania in 1960, Goodall has been an advocate for environmental science and youth activism.

As fans, we can’t help but be inspired by her. And what she inspired in me was the feeling of am I doing enough? A question I can easily answer: no. I am overwhelmed. I feel called to help as Goodall did in her youth. “I knew I had to do something but I didn’t know what,” she said.

But Goodall did do something. She did many somethings.

In 1991, she launched the Roots & Shoots environmental youth program. Beginning with 12 Tanzanian high school students, Roots & Shoots is now in over 60 countries worldwide and supported by youth pre-school to university.

In Ottawa, Roots & Shoots has a home at Carleton University.

And while, according to the Jane Goodall Institute, the chimp population is expected to decrease another 80 per cent in the next 40 years, Goodall said the youth give her greatest hope.

“It’s not that they can change the world, they are changing the world,” she said.

Andria Teather, CEO of the JGI, echoes Goodall’s statement. “We hear youth voices rising and calling attention to the devastation,” she told the Algonquin Times in an interview following the show.

But is it enough?

Being that I am not left-brained like Goodall, my ideas on how to help have been fairly limited. I have considered a hands-on approach like building communities abroad or volunteering on an animal sanctuary but those methods seem impossible on my budget. I have thought of staying based in Ottawa and fighting for the climate from home but my english degree with a minor in music isn’t overly helpful to me in this area either.

So I write.

Ultimately, I have been struggling with a feeling of helplessness since I first saw Goodall on that roll-in television set in elementary school. I wanted to turn thought into action. So writing became my action.

If we can amp people up and make them understand that a species dying affects not just that one species but a whole system, then maybe there will be more feet on the ground at the next climate change march. It is my hope that we might inspire more scientists, politicians, and artists to change the way we think about our planet and not just draw attention to the change that must be made.

Before saying goodbye on Friday, Goodall informed her fans that since Wounda’s release to Tchindzoulou in 2013, the chimp has become the dominant female on the island. She is also a proud mother to a little chimp named Hope.

Goodall remains adamant that the world is getting increasingly more ready to take action. And while I am lifted by Goodall’s faith, I am fearful that people like Jane Goodall are becoming even rarer than the chimpanzees she has spent the last 59 years trying to save.

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