BERKELEY — Jane Goodall imitated the sound a chimpanzee makes three times during her talk in Berkeley on Thursday night, and the 75-year-old primatologist wasn't even there to promote the primates.
Goodall, petite and dressed in all black with a large orange scarf draped around her narrow shoulders, spoke and took questions for about 90 minutes at the Julie Morgan Theater on College Avenue.
The place was less than half full, but those who were there to hear Goodall promote peace, youth empowerment, social change and Earth preservation kept their eyes focused on the gray-haired London native as she discussed how the nonprofit organization Roots & Shoots is making a difference for this generation and future ones.
Roots & Shoots, an 18-year-old program of the Jane Goodall Institute, is a youth-driven, global network of more than 10,000 different groups in more 100 countries. Last year, young people volunteered 131,000 hours collecting recyclables to buy water filters for villagers in Africa, pulling 450,000 pounds of trash from the Los Angeles River and planting 1,000 trees in areas of Southern California that were destroyed by wildfires.
"We've been stealing and stealing and stealing from our children, and now it's time to pay back," said Goodall, standing on the large stage alongside a table lined with a few stuffed toy chimps.
Goodall, who is also an anthropologist, said the fact that forests are vanishing, deserts are spreading, species are dying, global warming is increasing, and there is disease and violence worldwide makes her want to empower young people to make change.
"We are harming this planet," she said. "Here we are with this extraordinary knowledge, and yet we are destroying our only home. What on Earth is going on? We have lost the ability to recognize that decisions made today will affect the next generations."
Goodall, who travels 300 days a year, said she really came to realize that young people needed to be empowered after talking with youngsters nationwide. They were depressed, sad, violent and apathetic, she said.
"They said, 'We feel that (the current generation) is compromising our future and there is nothing we can do about it,'"" Goodall said.
That's when she started Roots & Shoots with just 14 high school students. "Now we have groups in 111 countries or more," she said.
Goodall, best known for her studies of chimpanzee behavior in Tanzania over nearly 50 years, was in Berkeley on behalf of the International Child Resource Institute, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that aids young people worldwide. Proceeds from the event also will benefit Roots & Shoots.
Ken Jaffe, executive director of the International Child Resource Institute, said he and Goodall have worked on early childhood education and on keeping children out of the line of fire when there is conflict. They have helped orphans and children with HIV and AIDS, and they have teamed up on global health care issues, he said.
Goodall started her work studying chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream area of Tanzania at the urging of Louis Leakey, the famed archaeologist, who hired her as an assistant in the late 1950s.
Although she took only a handful of questions Thursday night, one was from a youngster who wanted to know how she got into that line of work.
"I was born loving animals," she said. "When I was 11/2, I took a whole handful of earthworms to bed with me," she said, adding that her mother convinced her to put them elsewhere for fear they would die. Goodall said she later read books about "Doctor Dolittle."
"I wanted to learn how to talk to the animal," she said. If her many chimp imitations Thursday were any indication, she has learned how.
As a child, Goodall said, she had her friends fooled that she was translating what her cats were saying. Then she read the Tarzan books and as an 11-year-old girl "fell in love" with the character. "And then what did he do? He married that other, wimpy, stupid Jane," she said.
With encouragement from her mother, she set out to do what she wanted, earning money as a waitress and saving it for her trip to Africa, where she had a friend. That's where she met Leakey and her life's work began.
"I would have studied any animal," she said. "But they gave me, next to the human animal, probably the most interesting animal to study."