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Primatologist Jane Goodall to set up conservation organization in Israel

Branch of global Jane Goodall Institute will focus on ecological corridors, wetland restoration and use of Bedouin knowledge to replant native species

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Dr. Itay Roffman (bottom right corner), co-director of the new Israeli branch of the Jane Goodall Institute, addresses the 50th annual conference of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, against the backdrop of an undated photo of him with Jane Goodall. Tel Aviv, July 7, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel))
Dr. Itay Roffman (bottom right corner), co-director of the new Israeli branch of the Jane Goodall Institute, addresses the 50th annual conference of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, against the backdrop of an undated photo of him with Jane Goodall. Tel Aviv, July 7, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel))

The renowned primatologist, environmental campaigner and UN peace messenger Dame Jane Goodall announced Wednesday that a new branch of the Jane Goodall Institute is being established in Israel.

It will be based at the Max Stern Jezreel Valley College in northern Israel, where Dr. Itai Roffman, an evolutionary anthropologist and long-time associate of Goodall’s, teaches and carries out research.

Goodall announced the move by video link at the start of the 50th conference of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, held in Tel Aviv.

She established her institute in 1977 to promote a holistic conservation approach that seeks to harness communities and improve the lives of people as well as animals to conserve the planet.

The new branch will be the 26th in the world.

Roffman, 39, reached out to Goodall’s institute in Germany when he was a teenager growing up in the central coastal city of Herzliya.

Dr. Itai Roffman, Tel Aviv, July 7, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

He had joined forces with then-Herzliya mayor Yael German to save a local wetland that was due to be drained for construction. German battled real estate developers for nine years and eventually succeeded in saving 720 dunams (178 acres), today the winter pond in Herzliya Park.

Roffman went on to organize and report on a beach cleanup. Several days later, he received a long, handwritten fax from Goodall.

It was the start of a lifelong friendship.

Goodall encouraged him to organize educational and conservation projects under the flag of her Roots and Shoots initiative for children and youth. Later, she inspired him to become an evolutionary anthropologist, focusing — like her — on bonobo chimpanzees.

Dr. Itai Roffman (upper right, holding the flag) during a program he arranged for children in Mali under the banner of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots initiative for children and youth. (Courtesy)

The new institute, which will be reaching out to municipalities, community centers, schools, and other institutions, already has several goals. These include encouraging Israeli cities to set aside land for ecological corridors to enable wild animals to move between protected areas; working with Bedouin in the Negev in southern Israel to map and replant some of the native trees and medicinal plants that once peppered the area’s dry stream beds when the landscape was desert woodland-savanna; and restoring the wetlands that made up large swaths of northern Israel before they were dried and converted for construction and agriculture.

Roffman said the institute wanted to utilize the cross-border networks of Bedouin tribes to map the flora and fauna not only of Israel, but also of Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

“We want to connect the tribes and their knowledge with the scientists at the Jezreel Valley College,” he said.

Goodall was “really excited to come to Israel,” he added, but would only visit once programs were operating on the ground.

An old Atlantic pistachio tree in a dry stream bed at Ein Ovdat in the Negev, southern Israel. (Eitan Ferman, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Goodall, now 88, spoke for nearly 15 minutes to the conference, telling them it was “bizarre that the most intellectual creature to walk the planet is destroying its only home.”

She said, “We are part of the natural world and rely on it for everything.”

Poverty, ignorance, and unsustainable lifestyles were helping to propel climate change, she went on, along with international corporations competing to produce the cheapest products, and “this crazy notion that there can be unlimited economic growth on a planet with finite natural resources.”

She had particularly harsh words for industrial farming and its dependence on pesticides and herbicides which, she said, poisoned wildlife, and killed the soil, washing into rivers and polluting oceans.

Hope, she said, was “not just about wishful thinking – it’s about action. We have to roll up our sleeves and work around all of the obstacles.”

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