03/20/2012 04:15 pm ET

Jane Goodall: Chimps Need Our Help 'Desperately'

Dr. Jane Goodall hates apathy.

The world-renowned chimp expert is the first to acknowledge that saving threatened species is an uphill battle, but believes that's no reason to throw up one's hands in frustration.

"Sometimes people feel helpless, because if you care about the environment and the future, there are so many problems, and they just do seem overwhelming. Therefore, people sometimes think, 'Well, there's no point in doing anything,' and that’s the very worst, this apathy," she told The Huffington Post.

A quick glance at the record of Goodall's extensive work proves that lack of passion is not among her character traits. In 1960, despite the odds, the 26-year-old Goodall ventured to Tanzania to study chimpanzees in the wild. Her research challenged conventional beliefs, revealing the complex nature and human-like characteristics of chimps.

Fifty-two years later, she still sees a long road ahead. Chimps need our help "desperately," Goodall said. The animal is endangered, its population on the decline, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. Rough estimates suggest the total population is less than 300,000 left in the wild.

"Numbers have plummeted over the past hundred years. ... They are in 21 countries but spread thin," Goodall said, citing the trade in bushmeat (the meat of wild animals) and dwindling forests as two major threats to the animal.

Rachel Nuwer reported last year for The New York Times that bushmeat markets are common in many regions of Africa. Researchers found that chimpanzee meat was occasionally sold at these markets and that legislation -- establishing fines for possession, for example -- could prove beneficial in slowing the hunting of threatened species.

According to Goodall, the bushmeat trade in Africa is being "made possible in areas that previously were inaccessible because logging companies have moved in ... and the hunters can go along the [newly made] roads. So everything is shot now."

Although political action could help protect chimps, it's not an easy solution. "We're talking about 21 sovereign nations," Goodall noted. "Some of the countries in Africa are pretty volatile politically, and they have other matters that to them seem more important."

Meanwhile, Goodall said, the forests where the chimps live are disappearing as human populations grow and people clear land for cattle and crops.

A U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization survey, released in November 2011, found that between 1990 and 2005, the planet saw a net loss of 4.9 million hectares of forest a year. That's nearly 10 hectares of forest per minute​. The loss is largely attributed to the transformation of tropical forests into agricultural land.

Goodall cited British climate economist Sir Nicholas Stern, who in a 2006 report suggested deforestation prevention as a cost-effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Goodall drew the links: "Saving our forests is the cheapest and most efficient way of slowing down global warming. ... If you're going to save chimps, you must save forests."

How can individuals help the chimpanzees?

Goodall voiced support for "Chimpanzee," an upcoming Disney film that she hopes will "help raise awareness about how amazing chimpanzees are." A portion of the first week's ticket sales will benefit the Jane Goodall Institute, a chimp conservation nonprofit focused on research, education and sustainable community outreach.

People can also donate directly to the Jane Goodall Institute.

Goodall pointed to Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where the institute works with local communities, "helping them to improve their lives in environmentally sustainable ways. Instead of having people competing for the surviving forest because they need it to feed themselves, they've now become our partners."

Goodall concluded, "I hope that people will understand that they matter as an individual. Every single day the choices they make will have either negative or positive impacts on the environment, on animals and on human health. So it's really, really important to live each day knowing you make a difference."