Follow Your Heart....

My dream world was shaped by the African jungle…


I met Sabine Bernert for the first time in Paris in February 2007. She was among the many people lined up after one of my lectures to have their books signed. She brought me a small book of photographs she had taken when visiting our sanctuary for orphan chimpanzees, The Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden, South Africa. I could see at once that here was someone who cared deeply about the subjects of her photographs.  There were many people waiting that day, and there was unfortunately no time to talk. In her copy of In the Shadow of Man I remember having written “Follow your heart”.  And that is just what Sabine did.

By the time we met again, one year later, Sabine had joined the Jane Goodall Institute in France and done some work as a volunteer, knowing it was important to sensitize the people of France to the plight faced by chimpanzees in the wild. The Jane Goodall Institute France had organized a striking exhibition of about twenty of her photographs of the chimpanzee orphans she had met in Chimp Eden. The pictures were displayed on the outer walls of the Conseil Régional d’Ile-de-France, in the centre of Paris, and I could see many passersby gazing up at the greatly enlarged photos, amazed by the obvious similarities between ourselves and the chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. The photographs were accompanies by short texts telling the tragic stories of the early lives of each of the chimpanzees pictured.

And now, as part of her dedication to helping wildlife in Africa by raising awareness, Sabine Bernert has produced this inspiring book “Rencontres Africaines.”  In her own life Sabine has been inspired by the people she meets, such as those introduced in this book who have devoted their lives to working to save endangered species. And so she decided to share some of her own experiences, hoping to raise readers’ awareness of the plight of these animals. She showed us that each one of us must play our part in preserving the wild life and the wild places of our planet before it is too late.

I would like to share one of the stories close to my heart about a chimpanzee named JoJo. He was born in Africa, his mother was shot by poachers when he was about two years old – you can only capture an infant by killing the mother. He was sent to a zoo in North America where, for over ten years, he lived in a small cage, by himself. Eventually a new director raised money for a big enclosure surrounded by a moat filled with water. A group of 20 chimpanzees was assembled, which included Jojo. After they had been introduced to each other, they were left to themselves.   At first all was well – and then one of the group challenged JoJo with the vigorous dominance display of the adult male. JoJo, terrified, climbed the barrier intended to prevent chimpanzees drowning in the deep water beyond, and ran into the water to escape his aggressor. But JoJo, like all chimpanzees, did not know how to swim. Three times he came up, gasping for breath, and then he vanished under the water. 

Having witnessed this scene, one of the zoo visitors, Rick Swope, immediately jumped in to help , despite being told that male chimpanzees are stronger than men and potentially dangerous. Somehow he got JoJo’s 130 pound dead weight over his shoulders, climbed the barrier, and pushed the barely conscious chimpanzee up onto the bank of the enclosure. Then turned to rejoin his family, at whichpoint everyone began screaming at Rick to hurry back – three adult males were approaching, hair bristling, to see what was happening. At the same time JoJo was sliding back into the water – the bank was too steep.  Rick went back, ignoring the approaching males and the screams of the people, managed to push JoJo up to where the ground was level before climbing back over the barrier to safety. When asked what had made him risk his life to save a chimpanzee he answered: “I looked straight into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a man, and the message was: won’t anybody help me?”.

That appeal for help is all around us if we will only open our eyes and our hearts. In “Rencontres Africaines” you can, through Sabine’s lens, look into the eyes of Sally the young female chimpanzee, those of CP the cheetah, or of Nelson the Cape griffon vulture. In all there is a silent message, a plea for help. These animals are representatives of endangered species and without our help they will, like the Dodo – the bird endemic to Mauritius which became extinct at the end of the 17th century - disappear from the planet as a result of the relentless growth of human populations and our exploitation of the planet’s rapidly dwindling natural resources, the wild places are shrinking, and more and more species are becoming endangered.

The only hope for wildlife on planet Earth is if we all play our part to stop this happening. And the good news is that everywhere I meet people who, like Rick, have seen the appeal for help and have jumped in to do their bit.

Of course, most of us will not be able – or qualified – to devote their lives to working full time with endangered wildlife. Yet each one of us can play our part – helping to raise awareness. Sabine does this through her writing and photography, inspiring others to get involved. Some people help by raising money, volunteering their time, or working with children (for example, becoming involved with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots programme for youth). And we can all make changes in our life style so as to leave as light an ecological footprint as possible and lead a more environmentally sustainable life.  Only when everyone becomes involved can we hope to save life on earth, as we know it, for future generations. It is up to us, to you and me.

So thank you Sabine for this book, for these wonderful images, for this timely message. May it reach into the hearts of those who read it and inspire in many a new determination to do their part, to make a difference.


 Jane Goodall PhD, DBE

Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute

& UN Messenger of Peace


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