Renowned researcher Dr Jane Goodall, known best for revolutionising our understanding of chimpanzee behaviour nearly 60 years ago, finds it “shocking” that Singaporeans think animals belong in a zoo.
Speaking at a press conference of the Human-Wildlife Co-Existence in Asia: Conflicts and Mitigation Conference 2019 on 26 November, Dr Goodall was responding to an observation made by Mr Robin Hicks, deputy editor of news site Eco-business, who volunteers with the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres) here in Singapore.
Mr Hick said that he had received requests before from Singaporeans who demonstrate a lack of knowledge about wildlife in this highly urbanised island. One example he gave was a person who had asked him to remove a cobra from a public park, saying that “these animals belong in a zoo”.
Another example was of a resident near Delta Swimming Complex in Redhill telling Acres about a hornbill spotted in the area which the resident said belonged in Jurong Bird Park.
Dr Goodall said that she often learns something new from the countries she visits which are sometimes shocking, and this fall into that category. She added that she has never heard that mentality before though she’s been here a number of times in 2011, 2015 and 2017, noting that it is incongruous since “most of our kids are saying, ‘No, there shouldn’t be any zoo. Animals should be in the wild’.”
Education and individual action is key
A question then asked about what the country can do to move away from this culture of intolerance towards wildlife. The 85-year-old said that education is key.
“A very major component… is to get children as young as possible out into nature. Because once kids get out there, once they see how things grow, once they can watch spiders making a web, then they become absolutely fascinated,” said Dr Goodall.
She was also asked about Singapore’s continued love of shark’s fin soup among certain groups of consumers. Dr Goodall said she recognised the cultural tradition of shark’s fin soup among the Chinese, noting that it would be hard to crack. But again, she says it comes down to education.
She emphasised that it is down to individual consumers to not ask for shark’s fin and meat in dishes, or even write complaints on such dishes being offered in order to stop hotels and restaurants from serving the dish in Singapore.
“If everybody did that, it would soon start to change, just as most hotels are beginning to have more vegetarian options,” she said.
From there, Dr Goodall, who became a vegetarian 50 years ago, took a moment to give her feedback on hotel that is hosting her stay in Singapore. She noted that the room service only had one vegetarian option and it was a cold one. Unfortunately, she wanted a hot meal instead.
Dr Goodall is in town for the fundraising gala dinner organised by the Jane Goodall Institute Singapore, a non-governmental organisation founded in 2007 to empower individuals to make a difference for all living things. It is one of 34 institutes the primatologist set up around the globe.
In Singapore, the institute works with communities and school to raise awareness on the conservation of indigenous monkey populations and more.
In her speech during the dinner, Dr Goodall said she continues to travel around the world for 300 days in a year to speak about the threats faced by chimpanzees, the environmental crises, and her reasons for hope in protecting the earth.