Birthday gift gives back to local wildlife


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Vinn Riggenbach, Mark Adams, Justin Cole, Addy Buck, Gabe Shelton, Sienna Shelton, Riley Riggenbach and McKenzie Buck recently launched a Jane Goodall Institute Roots & Shoots volunteer conservation club.

photo courtesy julie cole

Quest Elementary School third-grader Justin Cole’s ninth birthday gift is one that has kept on giving. His parents, Julie and Greg Cole of Suntree, indulged him last September with a trip to Tampa to meet his conservation hero Dr. Jane Goodall, a naturalist famous for her work with wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

Justin started a conservation group with seven friends to help both chimpanzees and animals in his own backyard. 

They are collecting outdated cellular devices to reduce the impact on chimpanzee habitat caused by the search for rare earth materials.

Locally, they are helping bats, a valuable mammal, he said on a recently produced educational video, that is much misunderstood.

Justin said he has been obsessed with monkeys and other primates since he was a baby because of Goodall. 

“I couldn’t believe I was going to see her in person. And then afterward they said we might have a chance to meet her, so we waited and waited. The line was wrapped around the arena. When it was my turn, she talked to me like I was the only person there. She took her time. She asked me if I love animals as much as she did. I said yes. And then she asked me what I was going to do about it. I told her I was going to start one of her Roots & Shoots groups where I live. I gave her my word.”

The gift was carefully chosen but with a sense of urgency, Julie Cole said.Quest Elementary School third-grader Justin Cole met his conservation hero Jane Goodall for his ninth birthday gift.  PHOTO COURTESY JULIE COLE

“I looked her up and saw that she travels more than 300 days a year to spread her message,” Cole said of the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the subject of many movies, books and viral social media posts. “So when I saw that she was coming to the United States I had to try. She just turned 81 and who knows how much longer she’ll keep traveling around the world.”

She purchased tickets for Goodall’s appearance at the University of South Florida and planned a scavenger hunt for the prize. She placed the tickets next to Justin’s favorite stuffed monkey.

“This kid has talked about Jane Goodall like other kids talk about Spider-Man or Superman. He’s read every book by her and on her,” Cole said of the English primatologist considered the world’s top chimpanzee expert. “When he realized what the gift was, he cried tears of joy. What was a culmination for him was also a beginning.”

Cell devices can be dropped off at the Suntree Master Homeowners Association offices, 7550 Spyglass Hill Road.

For more information, go to rootsandshoots.org or to join Justin in his efforts to help local wildlife, view his video at youtu.be/TWKIqUjRK8k or email gregjuliecole@bellsouth.net