Though she isn't the voice narrating the new Disneynature film Chimpanzee – Tim Allen has that honor – she served as an adviser to the filmmakers, who captured the story of an orphaned 3-year-old chimp who gets adopted by an alpha male.
While shuttling between stops on her busy promotional schedule in New York, Dr. Goodall, 78, called to tell us about the film and why chimpanzees are important. Catch Chimpanzee in theaters starting Friday, April 20. See it the first week, and part of the proceeds will benefit the Jane Goodall Institute.
How rarely do you see an alpha male adopting a young chimpanzee?
It's not rarely, it's never. It's only ever been seen once before in all the 53 years I've been involved with wild chimps. It's most unique. And the fact that it would actually happen while the film team was there, it's almost inconceivable. It's just amazing.
Why is it so unusual?
An alpha male is a very busy gentleman and he's got to patrol his boundaries and spend a lot of time grooming the males to keep the group cohesive. And when Freddie is busy with little Oscar, he neglects those duties, so that might have cost the entire community in its relations with the neighboring community.
Is it something unique about Freddie that allows him to do this?
It's little Oscar who does the reaching out. Little Oscar starts following, having lost his mother. He follows, and he follows, and he follows, and eventually, he gets through. Freddie just tolerates him following, then he tolerates him riding on his back, and then, he actually shares food with him, so it's a very amazing progression of events.
I should say, while looking at Oscar might make people feel like, 'Wow, I want a pet chimpanzee,' when they realize that Oscar can grow up into a leader of the community, they'll think twice. They don't want an adult chimpanzee in their house. Hopefully, they'll also realize that infant chimps belong to their mothers, and how cruel it is, if you buy a chimpanzee pet, it's being wrenched from its mother, and nobody should want to do that after they'd seen the film.
I'm not sure I understand the impulse, but some people definitely have it.
When I was little, to have a monkey would have been my absolute joy. Of course, there was no environmental stuff going on when I was little. I had no knowledge. I didn't know a monkey would be taken from its mother, but now we know. I'm fortunate in understanding that this doesn't, it's not right to take wild animals away from their mothers.
Apart from seeing this beautiful story unfold, what will moviegoers learn about chimpanzees from this film?
They'll learn how like us they are, absolutely. Hopefully understand them better. I think they'll come away caring because they understand.
It seems too obvious a question, but why are chimpanzees important?
They're our closest living relatives. They're one of an amazing diversity of animal life, and I think future generations would be upset if such an extraordinary, intelligent, socially-complex being, if we allowed it to disappear. It means we have to protect the forest, we have to protect with the people living around the forest to make sure that they somehow benefit and can lead better lives in an environmentally sustainable way, and help us to protect the forest, not just for the chimpanzees and other animals, but also for themselves and for their children.