Opening Speech for "Jewels of the Jungle" exhibition at Joja-Wendt concert
In the kingdom of animals, chimpanzees are considered to be strong, social and intelligent. They are also noisy and belligerent. No doubt, they are our closest relatives. But how much do behavioral and social studies, observations of chimpanzee’s abilities in using tools and calculations of how many of men’s and chimpanzee’s DNA, Y-Chromosomes and amino acids are identical really tell us about similarities and differences of the two species?
They do tell us that we have come a long way together. It was only a few million years ago that chimpanzees and men branched off from the same ancestor, a blink of an eye in the history of life on earth. Features of our emotional systems are very similar, deeply rooted in the earlier stages of evolution. Yes, man has developed a culture to bring his feelings to expression, in music, dance, paintings, plastic and visual arts, literature. But just look into the eye of a great ape, and you find them reflected there, too.
This reflection is not premeditated, and that, admittedly, makes the difference. Premeditation is a feature of only man, but: more often than not even man is lacking comprehensive consideration of the consequences of his action. In man’s history, premeditation was – and too often still is - limited to the calculation of his immediate advantage and does not encompass the effects of his activity onto the environment he inescapably is a part of himself. Even if we know today that it is a condition for the survival of mankind herself to enter this environmental aspect into her equation, for the individual apparently it is very tempting to leave it out – for his personal benefit but to the detriment of all of us.
This is why we have to witness the ongoing decrease of wildlife habitat. But how can we account for it? With respect to the jungle, we do not behave like humans but apply the law of the jungle – not recognizing any right of other creatures. We should know better. In the German language, Great Apes are called Human Apes – this shows that we are hurting us if we hurt them. The most important difference between man and apes – and all the other species – is that man is now in the position to shape the environment of all of us and thus has a responsibility to guarantee the habitat for wildlife, too. We owe this to these beautiful creatures, we owe this to our descendants, and we lastly owe this to ourselves.
The title of this exhibition is well chosen: “Jewels of the Jungle”. Each representative of each species in the jungle should be considered a jewel you do not treat carelessly. Actually, you will find in this exhibition, diligently curated by Robinah Nansubuga, lots of jewels also of the savannah and other habitats, brilliantly photographed by Barbara Hollweg and masterly painted by Taga Nuwagaba. I would like to express my deep appreciation for their generous donation of the proceeds of their works to the new veterinary ward for sick chimpanzees on Ngamba Island.