Jane Goodall on the Future, Aging and Conservation

In the second part of my interview with the legendary Dr. Jane Goodall, we discuss aging, veganism, zoos, aging and her wishes for the future. For part one, click here.

Marianne Schnall: Tell us more about Roots & Shoots and its work to educate and empower youth. What does it aim to do?

Jane Goodall: What it aims to do, first of all – its main message is that that everyone of us makes an impact on the world every day. And so it’s helping individuals to understand that though they may feel their small actions don’t make a difference – which if it was just them, they would be right probably. But it’s not just them and cumulatively our small decisions, choices, actions, make a very big difference. So that’s one thing. The other is that it’s youth driven, so it’s young people sitting around either on their own or at their high school or university, or sitting with the teacher if they’re children in Kindergarten or first grade, or with parents, or with older children – it’s doesn’t matter – thinking about the problems around them, talking about them, and then between them choosing three projects that they feel would make things better: one for people, one for animals, and one for the environment. So, in almost any group of kids, you get those passionate about animals, you get some who want to really, really do community service for people and you have some who want to recycle or clean streams or something like that. So every child can become involved in a project which they helped to choose and about which they feel passionate.

And it’s working – I mean, it’s changing lives. I can’t begin to tell you how many lives it’s changing. I think this is why it’s growing so fast.

MS: How do we balance the needs of human beings and animals? Human beings tend to think only about our own needs and assume that everything on this planet is just here to serve us.

JG: They do. Well, it’s very hard, I mean, first of all that’s the importance about educating people who animals really are and that they are not just automatons and they deserve an inning as much as we do. And secondly there are too many people on the planet and everyone’s afraid to talk about family planning, but that’s interfering with people’s right to choice to have a huge family. Well, I don’t think anybody has the right to a huge family. There’s already more people on the planet than our natural resources can even support, and if everybody were to have a high standard of living, we need three or four or five new planets to provide the resources. And this cannot be, so something has to change.

And I get also upset when so many people say there all sorts of problems in Africa and India where they have these big families. They don’t realize that 10 children in rural Tanzania will use less natural resources in a year than one middle class American child. People don’t think like that, you see.

MS: Do you see hypocrisy in how we sometimes treat domesticated animals such as our pets over wild animals? An example would be someone who pampers their pet hamster in one room, yet kills rodents in another part of their house using traps and poison.

JG: Yes, that’s very true. And you get the white coated scientist who has a dog at home who’s part of the family who understands ever word I say – but then he goes and puts on his white coat and does unspeakable things to dogs in the name of science. There’s a real schizophrenia. Yes, we are very peculiar [laughs].


MS: Many women fear getting older and you seem more active and vibrant than ever. What are your feelings about aging?

JG: Well, it’s an unfortunate thing that happens. I mean, yes, you can have millions of face lifts and all these different things that women have done to their bodies – whatever they’re called, bum tucks and boob enhancements [laughs] – but personally, well: A) I haven’t the money for that, and B) I haven’t got the time for it and C) I mean, there are more important things to me than how you look. I think the most important thing is to keep active, and to hope that your mind stays active. I mean some people can’t help minds going, but that’s a disease. But if you’re lucky and your mind is working … And I have to say that I attribute vast amounts of my energy to the fact that I stopped eating meat. I really, really believe that it helped me.

MS: In what way?

JG: Because the moment I stopped eating meat I felt lighter. I did this book Harvest for Hope and I learned so much about food. And one thing I learned is that we have the guts not of a carnivore, but of an herbivore. Herbivore guts are very long because they have to get the last bit of nutrition out of leaves and things. The carnivore guts are very short, because they want to get rid of the meat quickly before it starts putrefying and doing bad things inside them. And so we have this meat going round and round inside us. And I don’t think that can be terribly good. And I think that meat has created lots of problems. In addition, the animals to be kept alive are fed all these hormones and antibiotics and we are imbibing them as well. So anyway, all I know is that when I stopped eating meat, I just felt lighter and had more energy. My body wasn’t wasting time trying to cope with the toxins that the animals were trying to get rid of when you eat them.

MS: Well, that’s good to hear because I have been considering going vegan.

JG: Well, I can’t go vegan because travelling like I do, I really, really don’t think I could. You know, it’s really difficult. And I stay with people – we had a vegan staying us one time, and it’s very difficult. Three hundred days on the road – you go to North Korea – it’s jolly hard to be vegetarian much less a vegan [laughs]. But I do my best. And if people would think about intensive farming – if they would think of the damage to the environment of growing all this corn or raising all these cattle. If they would think about the torture of the animals on the intensive farms. And then if they would realize about the antibiotics getting out into the environment, the bacteria building up resistance and the superbugs that we are breeding, more people would become vegetarians.


MS: What do you think about zoos? I know you talk a lot about good zoos and how zoos can help with endangered species.

JG: Well, not only that, but the way I look at the zoos, there are some – obviously the old fashioned zoo is an abhorrent thing. You know, the small cages and single or paired animals and nothing to do – those are just the most dismal, awful, awful prisons. But if you get a good zoo, and there are a lot of zoos that are getting better and better and they have to raise money, of course, but they are. And again, being a realist, the ideal way for an aging chimp to live is out in Africa in a protected area like Gombe. That’s the ideal. But sadly in so much of Africa, there’s no protection, there are hunters, there are loggers, and the chimps are living in fear, their mothers are shot, babies are taken, and they are driven out of their habitat and they bump into the neighboring communities who just want them there to have a sort of war. And then you look at the other end of the spectrum, the medical research, the five-foot by five-foot cage and the bad zoo and the awful life of an entertainment chimp.

And then when you come to a really good zoo, where the chimps are in a group where the keepers understand them and love them, where their environments are enriched. And you think, well, if I’m a chimp, and you give them that range of habitats to choose to live – there would be two where they chose to live. One would be the Gombe type, and the other would be the good zoo type. We have this idealized view of freedom. And even for people it doesn’t always work. That they’re going to get freedom and suddenly their lives will be wonderful. And same with the chimps – you know, life in the wild, they may be free but they’re not free from fear, pain.

MS: What is the most important point you would like to raise awareness about right now? Where is the most important area for change?

JG: You know, it’s so difficult. People ask that and you think well, okay – you come back to – I think a really, really important thing is thinking about the size of our families – that for some people that is very, very important. Because all of the other problems really come down to the basic fact that there are so many human beings on the planet, it means that there is competition between people and the environment. And so the numbers of people on the planet is something that we really should be thinking about, but also, people should plan their cities better. You wouldn’t get urban sprawl – you could have areas left for wild animals and you could have the human population living in such a way that you’ve got these big corridors and spaces where the animals could move from A to B. It is happening. You can put roads just as well over above a piece of wild habitat as by chopping down the trees and building it across. Yeah, it will cost a bit more. And what do we want for the future? If you think how we waste money – if we could just stop building up armies and things like that, we would have all the money we need for wildlife and poverty.

MS: You are such a tireless advocate. What do you think is the source of all your phenomenal energy and passion? What drives you?

JG: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I people are always asking me that. Is it that I have grandchildren and I’m so upset about what we’ve done to their future? Is it that I love the wilderness and I’m so upset to see it disappearing? Is it because I’ve lived long enough to understand the horrors of things like nuclear war and chemical spills? I don’t know. But there is something almost every day that makes me quite passionate, so I’m trying to create change. There is not much you can do singly, but if we can involve young people, especially at that age I mentioned, 18 through 24, going out in the world as the next politicians, the next lawyers, the next doctors, the next teachers, the next parents – then perhaps we get a critical mass of youth that has a different kind of values.


MS: People think of you as the voice of the animal world. What does the animal world, what do chimpanzees, what would they say if they could speak? What is the voice of the natural world?

JG: The voice of the natural world would be, “Could you please give us space and leave us alone to get along with our own lives and our own ways, because we actually know much better how to do it then when you start interfering. ” You know, give nature space – it is resilient. Unfortunately we’ve messed it up so much we have to go in and manage very often. We have to, otherwise they would all disappear. Which I don’t think they want to be managed – they might want to be helped from time to time.

MS: Many people think of you as a living legend. What do you think is your legacy and what would you like to be remembered most for?

JG: Well, partly for helping people understand the true nature of animals and to better understand their relationship to the rest of the natural world. And I think my job has become nowadays bringing hope to people. Because I think that’s my job.

MS: What’s your wish for the children of the future, or just in general for the future?

JG: Well, without the children there’s no future. That basically we come to our senses! That we really, truly do start regaining wisdom. If we just regain wisdom, and join our hearts to our heads, then I think in the future we would not be making the decisions that some of these big multinationals are making. We wouldn’t decide to throw pesticides over huge areas of the land knowing it’s actually going to harm not only the pests, but the biodiversity and eventually us. We wouldn’t be building nuclear plants not knowing what to do with the nuclear wastes. If we stopped doing all these things, if we just thought about the future. All these decision affect the future. So my hope for the future is that we learn wisdom again.

Enter now to win a trip for two to Los Angeles to meet Jane Goodall and go backstage at Jane Goodall Live at http://www.care2.com/jane.

For more information visit the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots.

Photo of Jane Goodall (c) Michael Neugebauer


Marcia O.
Marcia Oyler4 years ago

Great interview!!

D. T.
D. T.6 years ago

You are such a wonderful inspiration, thank you for all that you have done!! Much Love

ANA MARIJA R6 years ago

Thank you!:))

Prochi T.
Prochi T6 years ago

What a wonderful person Jane Goodall is.

Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog6 years ago

I love what she said about what the voice of the natural world would be! It's so true, I have always thought exactly that and I'm so glad that she's saying it :) What an amazing woman - someone whose values we must emulate!

Misty Stahl
Misty Stahl6 years ago

She is right, there is so much we can do. I hope that one day like she said, for the sake of our future we clean up our acts! Yes I am only one person, you are only one person but together we are many and can make a big difference! About 4 years ago I decided to be vegan and ever since I have learned more / experienced more of life then I ever imagined I could or would! It truly is an amazing feeling and its a small step towards a better future!

Olena Kuzmina
Past Member 6 years ago

"you get the white coated scientist who has a dog at home who’s part of the family who understands ever word I say – but then he goes and puts on his white coat and does unspeakable things to dogs in the name of science. There’s a real schizophrenia..." So true!

Shalvah Landy
Past Member 6 years ago

Thank you for a very interesting article.

Lu Ann P.
Past Member 6 years ago

good lessons from jane, thanks!

Lu Ann P.
Past Member 6 years ago

good lessons from jane, thanks!