Catch her if you can. Dame Dr. Jane Goodall has spent her eighty-five years on this planet preternaturally woke and driven by purpose.
Since she first arrived in Africa in 1960 (Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania to be exact), solo and, as a young woman, not resembling the average scientific researcher at the time, she has not stopped studying, speaking up and fighting for her beloved chimpanzees, and later, the environment as a whole.
In the process, this rockstar primatologist revolutionized the study of wild animals and the approach to animal welfare. With no plans to retire, her work still has her travelling 300 days of the year giving lectures and continuing to raise awareness. Just think about that for a second. An output of twenty-six books, thirty-eight prestigious awards, forty films focusing on her work and countless keynote speeches delivered. That’s more than just prolific, it’s supernatural.
And with her Jane Goodall Institute in twenty-five countries and youth-oriented Roots & Shoots educational organization in over eighty, plus 2017’s highly-re- garded Jane documentary, her reach has never been so broad and her work never
as pressing. So it’s understandable that she’d prefer not to sit in a cushy club chair, in a downtown Toronto hotel suite she would like you to know was donated (the owner is a supporter), being photographed and discussing what she deems the “least interesting topic.” Herself. Yet as a natural teller of stories on behalf of others, most of whom cannot speak for themselves, she neglects to realize just how riveting her own story is, even if it’s been told quite a few times before. For each time it reaches a new ear, passionate eye or curious mind, the potential for her work to be supported by more people increases exponentially. Goodall gets that narrative reciprocity is her key currency and generously agreed to share some of her hard-won wisdom.
When did you realize your work had evolved from scientist to storyteller?
“When I began, I had absolutely no hope of being a scientist because women didn’t do that sort of thing. All I wanted to do was to go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them—that was
the dream. I went on my own and I hadn’t been to college even. Gradually I got to know the chimps. I documented a chimp I named David Greybeard making his own tools. That got the National Geographic excited and they said they’d fund the research. After six months the money ran out, they sent a photographer [Hugo Van Lawick, Goodall’s first husband] and we caught the attention of [scientist] Dr. Louis Leakey and soon enough “Jane and her chimps” was made known around America. After I’d been with the chimps about two years, Leakey said I had to get
a degree. There was no time to mess with a B.A., I had to do a Ph.D. I was very nervous. The professors told me I’d done everything wrong: I shouldn’t have given the chimps names, numbers were more scientific. I couldn’t talk about personality, mind or emotion, those being unique to us. But luckily, I’d been taught by my dog as a child that that was rubbish. And so, I was able to continue with chimps names and describing their vivid personalities. Having gotten the Ph.D, I built up a research station and was planning on spending the rest of my life there. It was a wonderful life. I had students there, I could be out in the rainforest every day.
Then in 1986, there was a conference in Chicago bringing together about six chimpanzee research sites across Africa for the first time. We had a session about conservation, which was shocking: forests disappearing right across Africa, chimps’
numbers dropping, the live animal trade, shooting animals to steal babies to sell. We also discussed the conditions at some captive labs, chimps in medical research, cruelly trained for circuses. I went to that conference by then a scientist with this fabulous life and I left as an activist. It wasn’t a decision. I felt compelled.”
You have a unique ability to inspire people not just to become more aware, but really to affect change. How do we all learn to do this in our own way?
“I don’t use tactics and tricks. I’ve learned from experience. I have good Welsh blood in me and I’ve always been a storyteller. It’s very easy to see that the way to move people is to tell stories. It’s no good argu- ing. It’s not the head you have to reach, it’s the heart.”
It can be overwhelming to think of how we, as a society, can combat all these environmental stressors that are resulting in planet degrada- tion and climate change. What are some key things you would encour- age us to implement on the individ- ual level to make a difference?
“Think about the consequences of all the little choices we make—what we buy, what we eat, what we wear. Did it harm the environment? Did it involve animals suffering? Or factory farms? Did it involve slave or child labor? If you think about the consequences with those choices, people begin to make more ethical decisions. That approach is leading us toward a different kind of world. But people will happily munch away on meat, which symbolizes fear, pain and death.”
You were an early proponent of vegetarianism, which has recently become more prevalent in many parts of the world. Why do you think there has been this shift?
“Maybe people don’t care about the cruelty, but when you realize that pigs are every bit as intelligent as dogs—it’s fine to be angry about the dog meat trade, it’s horrible, but how is it any worse than the horren- dous hog farms? Maybe people don’t care about the harm to the environment? With more people eating more meat, billions
of animals are being raised for meat, and they’ve got to be fed. Huge areas of the environment are destroyed to feed them. More grain is grown to feed animals than to feed people. Yet, we have starving people. And the animals in their digestive process are creating methane, which is a very bad greenhouse gas.”
As you know, the apparel industry is one of the worst environmental polluters. Currently, many brands are exploring fur-free alternative materials, but oftentimes faux-fur is made from carcinogenic plas- tics, which are very harmful to the environment and in turn the animal ecosystem. How do you rectify those kinds of compromises?
“You can’t expect anything to suddenly change. It’s always steps. The kinds of plastics the fashion industry uses, they are not as bad as single-use plastics. The first thing we have to tackle is single-use plastics and plastic straws. Go on any plane and everything is wrapped in plastic. It’s totally shocking because I am always on planes and it really hurts me. In hotels, trash bins are all lined with plastic. You put two tissues in and the whole thing will be thrown out. So I never use the plastic in the bins. If somebody brings a Starbucks in a paper carrier, I save it and put my trash in those. I never touch the plastic in the bins.”
It’s a small gesture, but just think about if everyone made these kinds of minor commitments. It would really add up.
“Totally, and I do a lot to educate stu- dents in our Roots & Shoots programs to become local advocates for this kind of environmental consciousness and reusing of resources. Recently at one of our events in Los Angeles, a young man presented us with a coat he had made entirely out of different used straws, all twisted and tied up. It was extraordinary and poignant.”
Your work inspires unity and collaboration at such a grassroots level. In these politically divisive times, how can we make the envi- ronment a unifier we can all come together on?
“As we look at politicians in many parts of the world who are turning the clock back in many ways, we must ask ourselves: what can we do? Consumers have a choice. If we don’t buy products made by certain compa- nies because they’re unethical, soon they’ll start doing things differently. The problem is, we have to solve poverty. If you are really poor and live in a certain area, you have to buy the cheapest option because you can’t afford anything else.”
Can you tell us about your lifestyle. It’s very…
“…Environmentally unfriendly. It is. I am posting a blog on all the little things I do to try and mitigate all of this travel. Roots & Shoots has about 150,000 active groups all taking action. I would say between them, they plant several million trees a year. So I think my carbon footprint is probably absorbed by the trees they plant.”
Well I was going to say impressive. I’m in awe of your stamina. How do you have the endurance to continue to sustain this kind of schedule where you are constantly on the road? What keeps you motivated?
“It’s probably because I know it makes a difference. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. The amount of people who come up to me and say ‘I read your book or I went to your lecture and it changed me.’ The amount of young people everywhere I go who approach me with shining eyes and tell me what they are doing to make the world a better place is astounding. And they are. We have to solve poverty, the growing human population and then you’ve got cor- ruption. All we can do in the face of these obstacles is to work with young and older people and just carry on making the world better each day on an individual level with your own choices. Sometimes that’s the best way people can influence others.”
Your dedication is clearly inspiring across generations. How important do you think it is to find one’s call- ing in order to live a life of purpose?
“This all happened because I had a passion to go and do what I wanted to do. I loved wild animals and wanted to live with them. That wasn’t a calling, that was following a dream which my mother encouraged me
to do, even though everyone else laughed at me. At first, it was very self-indulgent, until I felt compelled by the work to share stories and fight for change.
I find that young people can be very concerned with what they want to do. There
is so much choice now. I encourage people to take time to figure it out. At some moment, you’ll realize what you want to do with this life. Just stay open to receive that message when it does come. Also, as my mother said to me when I was ten, “If you really want to do this thing, you’re going to have to work really hard, take advantage of all opportunities, but don’t give up.” It’s almost as if my path was predestined.”
Throughout your career, you’ve challenged the norms and pre- sented bold new ideas. With that comes praise, but also criticism along the way. How do you respond to it?
“You either have ways of refuting criticism and if you haven’t then it’s not worth it. I am really good at ignoring it. I know what I am doing is right. I just get on with it and do it. I am very good at focusing on what matters.”
It’s clear you care more about experiences than things, but what are your most treasured possessions?
“That’s hard to say. I’ve lived nearly eighty- five years. I’ve got so many precious things: my secondhand Tarzan book I saved up to buy as a little girl; Jubilee, my toy chim- panzee given to me when I was 18 months; then I have another [stuffed animal] Mr. H, that I travel with now all the time. I’ve had him 28 years. He’s a symbol of the indomitable human spirit. He was given to me by a man named Gary Haun. He went blind and decided to be a magician and was told that was impossible. His messag
don’t give up, there is always a way forward. He now does scuba diving, skydiving and even taught himself how to paint.”
When and where are you most happy and at peace?
“The place where I can really be me most is in [Bournemouth], England, in the house I grew up in. All the books I had as a child, the trees I climbed, they are all there. There are people coming up saying ‘Can I have a selfie?’ Every single airport! They weep. Sometimes they sob. I never say no though.”
Where are you most uncomfortable?
“The thing I hate most in the whole world is having my portrait taken. And I don’t like looking in the mirror.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH ANDRIA TEATHER, CEO, THE JANE GOODALL INSTITUTE OF CANADA
Andria Teather, JGI Canada’s CEO, not only works alongside one of the most influential and lauded conservationists of our time, but through the JGI Canada organization, Teather and her team are spearheading programs both at home and in Africa. Here, Andria speaks to the Jane Goodall effect and the interconnection between people, animals and the environment.
M: What is it about Dr. Goodall that allows her to be such an effective storyteller and call people to action?
AT: There’s something about Jane that’s intangible. At events, I see sold out audiences with a wide range of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. I am blown away every single time. She carries this incredible aura about her that people are drawn to. In this time of leadership where people are questioning beliefs, whether political or corporate, she embodies a person who lives her beliefs and philosophy. She never wavers and delivers it in a concise and believable way where she’s not screaming and shouting. She’s expanding from these two issues that are incredibly important for climate change – genetically modified food and the captivity of all sorts of species of animals – to a much broader range than when she started. People listen to her on all of those issues and so she is the common denominator.
M: What is the experience of travelling to Africa with Dr. Goodall like, taking the projects that are planned and organized here and then implementing them abroad?
AT: The projects we are doing in Africa are really focused on people. We always talk about the interconnection of people, animals, and the environment. We’re addressing all three of those so a big part of our work is conservation. A big part of our work is making sure that people living in chimp-scapes are healthy, have sustainable livelihoods and are not putting pressure on the natural environment. Again, all connected. I like to say that, in Canada, ‘we are trying to create the next Jane’. Whether that’s male or female, people are going to stand up for whatever they believe in. It doesn’t have to be chimpanzees or the environment, but understand, recognize issues and problems and do something about it. Stand for something.
M: Tell us about the maternal health program that you are working on in the Democratic Republic of Congo and what that work entails.
AT: That work is very compelling. Specifically, it is a strategy to work with communities of people who live near the largest population of wild chimpanzees and other species including gorillas. We also work in twenty villages in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Congo Basin, which is probably one of the largest contiguous patches of forest on this planet. From an air quality standpoint, it’s important to all of us that we work with communities of people there to make sure that they are healthy and thriving.
M: How does that link to a chimpanzee operation?
AT: Take for example one of our projects: workshops on family planning. We talk to them about family planning because the smaller the family size, the less they have to chop down forests or hunt wild animals for food. That’s the connection. We have also worked with them on having sustainable livelihoods so crops will grow and survive in those areas. There is definitely a link, and once you work with communities of people around what they need, and they tell us what they need, they then become our partners, allowing us to have conversations with them about conservation. You can’t just walk in and say, “don’t mow down the forests;” it doesn’t work. They know that we care about their health and their livelihoods.
M. Can you tell us about the work that the organization is doing with First Nations communities and your internship program?
AT: The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, through our Roots and Shoots program is now not only working with kids in private elementary and high schools, but we’re also very focused on identifying opportunities to work with underserved populations. We’re working with the First Nations Council of BC and an organization in Uganda that’s doing conservation and reforestation work. The three organizations, with us as the lead, applied for and received funding to send approximately thirty-five youth to Uganda. They will come back and share that information, learning and experience with their communities and potentially choose careers in conservation.
M. And you feel what they would learn in Uganda could help them in their local communities in Canada?
AT: Definitely. Not only from a practical and technical side, but from international exposure. When you travel internationally, you get involved with people in passion projects that are different, but still trying to do the same thing. It changes your perspective and opens doors.