How do you feel about zoos? Though they are controversial, some have breeding programs that seem to be successful.
Well, my stand on zoos is that some zoos shouldn’t exist at all. I would prefer all animals to be free. The fact is that, in many cases, even free animals are incredibly stressed and jeopardized by human actions. Like wild animals are affected by [everything from] the bush-meat trade to cutting down forests, and so forth. And then at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got animals in medical research, in tiny, barren, bleak cages. And so, if you have a really good zoo, with keepers who understand and care; a management that enables young ones to stay with the adults; and above all an enriched environment, so they have lots to do, then they’re probably okay. If I was a chimp, I would probably choose a really good zoo, rather than a piece of wild Africa, where every day I heard the chainsaw and where hunters might come and shoot me as I was getting up in the morning. So it’s all relative.
There was briefly a report in the media here that the lack of financing would force the Boston zoos to shut down, and that the animals would have to be euthanized.
Yeah, well this comes up again and again. When a zoo is closed, what’s going to happen to the animals? To be honest, if a zoo has closed down, and you can’t find other zoos prepared to take the animals, what are you going to do with them? If there’s no money to keep them in the zoo…Like, if you’re in the developing world, they do keep the animals in the bad zoos, and they just die of starvation, because there’s no money to feed them. So you can’t have that. Many of the animals in Africa [if there’s a siege or a conflict], the animals just get eaten.
Do you have a sense of your place within the pop-culture landscape? Have the pop moments from your career ─ whether it’s being labeled as a “Leakey’s Angel” or the Gary Larson cartoon ─ helped you gain traction with regard to your overall scientific or ecological goals?
Oh, yes. Absolutely. Because, my goals aren’t really scientific, are they? They’re just all about humanism and the future and our children and everything. But I give lots and lots of lectures all over the place. And I know the kind of people who come to my lectures. But if I can get that same message out to the people who wouldn’t come to a lecture perhaps ─ then it’s ever so much better. It reaches a much wider, wider audience. So I’m all for those kinds of things. And they’re mostly quite respectful. And I adore Gary Larson, and Dave Mathews is doing a terrific concert for us.
Where and when is that?
We have our 50th anniversary next year. It’s Gombe 50, we call it ─ it will be 50 days in July from when I first arrived at Gombe National Park. And so the Dave Mathews concert is in Washington, DC, in late April next year.