Jane Goodall on Our Connection to Animals
It’s been over 50 years since Dr. Jane Goodall first set foot on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in what is now Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. The chimpanzee behavioral research Dr. Goodall pioneered there has produced a wealth of scientific discovery, and her work has evolved into a global mission to “empower people to make a difference for all living things.” The 77-year-old world-renowned primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace also has an inspiring new book out, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink and her own organizations, the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots, which aims to empower and educate youth.
In 2010, Jane’s 50th anniversary of her arrival in Gombe, I had the opportunity to talk to the legendary naturalist, who was in a reflective mood, sharing openly her wisdom and insights.
Marianne Schnall: This year marks the 50th anniversary of your arrival in Gombe, Tanzania, and all that has resulted from your groundbreaking research on chimpanzees, which is now one of the longest running studies of a wild animal species. How do you feel about this anniversary?
Jane Goodall: Well, it’s very extraordinary to me to think that half a century has passed, that we’re still studying the same community, that we’re still learning new things, that students who’ve have been through Gombe have now gotten university positions all over the world, and that it’s impacted probably thousands of people by now, not just the foreign visitors coming in, but Tanzanians as well.
MS: How do you think your vision and mission has expanded since then?
JG: Well, enormously. It was just concerned with learning about the behavior of one group of chimps, then realizing that chimps across Africa were becoming extinct, then traveling around Africa and talking about conservation. And then realizing how many problems in Africa are due and left over from colonialism and the continued exploitation of Africa’s resources. So traveling in Europe and Asia and North America and realizing how many young people have lost hope, and so starting the program for young people, Roots & Shoots, which now in 120 countries. And that involves young people from preschool right through university. So I don’t know how many active groups there are, but it’s pretty amazing.
Next: Jane Goodall’s message about hope and our connection to animals
MS: If you had to look back and pick important milestones over the past 50 years, which milestones or defining moments come to mind? For example, the discovery that chimpanzees use tools.
JG: Well, using and making tools was the first – well, actually even before that the first day that a group of chimps let me come close was pretty amazing. Then the tool-using and tool-making, definitely. And hunting and eating meat happened very soon after. And then the day that David Greybeard took the nut from my hand and then didn’t want the nut, then very gently squeezed my fingers like chimp reassurance, which was a clear communication between me and him – it was a very extraordinary moment. And then the conference at which I realized that chimps were becoming extinct in 1986 in Chicago and realizing the extent of suffering of captive chimps and that took me on the road – I call it my Damascus moment. I went in as a scientist and came out as an advocate.
MS: Which brings me to your important new book, Hope for Animals and Their World. If you had to distill it, what message are you most hoping to convey?
JG: That people should never give up – that there is always hope. That, OK, the natural world is in a real crisis situation, but there are all around the planet extraordinary people who are absolutely determined that certain animal species or plants or ecosystems shall be helped to restore themselves. And the success stories which are in that book. And it’s very inspiring to young biologists and botanists who want to set out on this kind of career and are always told it’s useless because it’s too late. So this book is very important in that respect. If we all give up hope and do nothing, well then indeed there is no hope. It will be helped by all of us, every one of us taking action of some sort.
MS: Sometimes people honestly just fail to see how these issues are connected to their lives. Why is this all so important, biodiversity, conservation, saving endangered species – how is it connected to their lives?
JG: Well, it’s connected in that we learn more and more how everything in this life is interconnected. And things which go on in let’s say the Congo Basin- it may seem incredibly unimportant in the Midwestern United States, but then when you realize that the loss of the tropical forests in the Congo Basin is having an enormous effect on climate change, and climate change in turn is effecting weather patterns all over the world, then you start to realize that life is interconnected. Then, on the other hand, maybe there may be some small ecosystem and there may be an endangered species, it may be an insect and so what if it disappears, you know? But maybe that insect is the main prey of a certain kind of bird, and if the insect goes, the bird goes, and maybe that bird was important for dispersing seeds of various plants and so those plants will start becoming extinct – and one thing leads to another. And none of the biologists know where it’s going to stop. So the answer to it really is that we know we are all interconnected and we don’t yet know the effects of removing a strand from the web of life.
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