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Jane Goodall, Google Earth and Villagers Are Saving the Chimpanzees

Michael Williams, Coordinator, Partnership Marketing, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

Google Earth made the world seem a bit smaller when it launched more than 15 years ago. From the canals of Venice to the Great Wall of China, users could explore their dream destinations or even their backyards from their home computer. Jane Goodall, however, found a different use.

As the famed primatologist combed through maps of Tanzania, she noticed the rapid deforestation of Gombe, the location of her 1960 chimpanzee study. Deforestation has destroyed these habitats and chimpanzee populations. Millions of chimpanzees used to roam central and western Africa, but today, there are estimated to be at most 300,000 chimpanzees in all of Africa.

Goodall met with Google (a Consumer Technology Association [CTA] member) in 2006 to highlight the usefulness of tools like Google Earth for animal conservation, which  spurred the creation of Google Earth Outreach, a charity program for non-profit organizations.

“I think the relationship was about recognizing that Google, as a tech company, was at the forefront of innovative technology,” said Lilian Pintea, Vice President of Conservation Science at the Jane Goodall Institute.

Officials shared Google Earth data with local leaders in Gombe to map where Chimanzees were spotted. The program, specifically designed to run in communities without strong internet connection, allowed villagers to get involved. Equipped with GPS devices and smartphones, village volunteers served as forest monitors.

How did leaders know the program was working? Poachers came back to the area.

“I never saw a bullet cartridge on our village land, but now it’s because the forest is restoring — wildlife is coming back, and so are wildlife hunters,” said a monitor.

Though poachers are a direct threat to the dwindling chimpanzee communities, officials hope the restored wildlife in the hills of Gombe Stream National Park will spur a revitalized population.

Learn more about the Jane Goodall Institute and the Google Earth Institute below: