When it comes to habitat preservation, the chimpanzees' interests and the humans' long-term interests go hand-in-hand. The rainforests (which are being rapidly destroyed around the world) are critical for maintaining our planet's surface -- that thin, delicate layer we rely on for life -- in a human-habitable condition.
If you're asking "What about the interests of the people who live near the rainforest and would like to harvest its resources?" -- remember that the continued existence of the rainforest is in their long-term interest as well, for themselves and their descendants. But when you're faced with a choice between "food today" and "no food today," it's hard to put future generations' interests first. That's one of the reasons why the Jane Goodall Institute's mission involves ecology as a sustainable source of livelihood for the local human population (see here). (The same is true of many other rainforest-preservation organizations, such as our local favorite, aiding the Masoala National Park in Madagascar in conjunction with the Zoo of Zurich.)
I know that rainforest preservation gets painted as some sort of out-of-touch, elitist cause (especially with the U.S. economy exploding lately). But the thing is that once a section of rainforest is destroyed, the tremendous biodiversity needed to sustain that ecosystem -- thousands (millions?) of species that haven't even been discovered and named -- isn't going to just grow back within the span of a few human generations. And what if humans discover that, in fact, we needed that giant green lung in order for our species to survive? And what if we discover this after it's too late? There are rainforests now, but we won't have them for long unless we do something. The Jane Goodall Institute is a good place to start.
But that isn't what sparked my interest in Jane Goodall and her work. Her books on chimpanzees were the first primatology books I'd ever read, put into my hands by a boyfriend during my BYU days. And I've just read a fascinating recent biography by Meg Greene that brings to life the story behind Goodall's chimpanzee stories, from Jane's childhood dreams, to finding a way to fulfill them against all odds, to her astonishing research and discoveries (chimpanzee tool-use, warfare, etc.) that have changed the way we think about apes, including humans.
Early in the story, Meg Greene points out that Jane Goodall wasn't just an ordinary-type scientist. She was a woman scientist:
But through her work, Goodall brought a woman's touch, one that emphasized relationships rather than rules, to be receptive rather than controlling, to be empathetic instead of objective. Her approach flew in the face of conventional science, a science defined by male views and values.
Interesting point, I thought, reading that in the introduction. I hadn't really thought of relationships as being at odds with rules or objectivity as being a "male" view or value...
So I read the entire book with an eye out for Greene's claim that Goodall's femaleness was crucial to her research. The evidence Greene presents for this hypothesis is the fact that Goodall named her subjects and wrote down what she observed them doing (instead of performing controlled experiments on them).
As Greene herself points out, Goodall didn't invent the idea of doing scientific research through field observations. This had been the standard technique for all naturalists (including male ones), and had merely fallen out of favor around Goodall's time. And -- through this book -- we learn that Goodall had a number of other qualities that were also crucial to the success of her work: ambition, tenacity (finding every possible opportunity and refusing to give up in the face of major setbacks), courage (to follow chimpanzees alone in the wild when she was well aware that they might easily choose to kill her), stamina (to continue to do research even when she had malaria so bad she could barely get out of bed), self-confidence (to know she was right despite ridicule from much of the scientific community), not to mention intelligence and a talent for observation.
How many of these qualities are "female"? How many are generic human qualities? But when you're a minority -- as women are in science -- you're always viewed through the lens of your minority status. (Now I'm starting to wonder how empathy helped Madame Curie understand radioactive elements...)
Anyway, all in all, Jane Goodall is one truly astounding female primate! :D