A Woman With A Cause: Dr. Jane Goodall

A conversation with Jane Goodall


BP: Throughout the years and throughout your encounters with wildlife animals, which emotions runs through your veins and surfaces the most? And would you say that a specific emotion has been the catalyst for your life’s work?

JG: Initially what brought me to Africa was the desire to live with and write books about wild animals, and it was a true love of animals, and curiosity about their lives, that kept me going. And a gradually increasing love of and respect for the forest. And then it was absolute dismay to realize, in 1986, that across their range chimpanzees are diminishing in number, forest are vanishing, and there is hunting. At the same time I saw secretly filmed footage of chimps in medical research labs, and the cruel methods used by circus trainers, and the total disrespect shown by those having “pet” chimpanzees.


BP: Your voice, your educational efforts, and your utter devotion have made you one of the most prominent figures and advocates for chimps and for the protection of their habitat. What is next for you in your ongoing advocacy?

JG: There is so much to do to make this a better world. The next steps will be following the same trail, trying to change attitudes around the world, trying to convince every person to make a difference every day – and have a choice as to what kind of difference. Growing our youth program, Roots & Shoots, and building an endowment so that the work may go on when I am gone, are high on the list.


BP: You are the first researcher to have given names to chimps. Tell us the story behind a chimp named David Greybeard.

JG: David Greybeard was the first of the Gombe chimpanzees to lose his fear of me. He is a chimpanzee who was sometimes seen by the fishermen along the beach, feeding in trees above their huts. He came into my camp to feed on oil palm nuts when they ripened – found and consumed some bananas. I always climbed the mountains before sunrise every day, and returned just at the end of daylight. Anyway, my cook reported that David came for the bananas. And after several days, I decided to stay down, hoping he would come again. He did! And because we went on leaving out a few bananas, other chimpanzees followed him sometimes. He was not a high ranking male, but he was calm, determined and a good leader. One day he took a banana from my hand. It was a breakthrough. He was the first chimpanzee to take a banana from my hand. The first to let me groom him, and follow him.

https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/maven-user-photos/92dc7582-e124-4e83-9eec-b419f37ff870 [© The Jane Goodall Institute]


BP: As you observed similarities between humans and chimpanzees, can you give us two or three examples of biological similarities, emotional similarities and behavioral similarities?

JG: Biological similarities not observed by me, from captive studies. Composition of blood, structure of immune system, anatomy of brain AND the DNA of human and chimpanzee differs by only just over 1%.

Behavioral: in greeting may kiss, embrace, pat one another. Make and use tools. Show dark violent behavior, even a kind of primitive war, but also love, compassion and altruism.


BP: We stand on the threshold of a future without chimpanzees and other great apes in the wild. Where chimpanzees once numbered perhaps one million at the turn of the 20th century, today there are fewer than 300,000 remaining in the wild.

A key factor is destruction of habitat — Africa loses more than 10 million acres of forest every year, twice the world’s deforestation rate (Source: UNEP). Meanwhile Africa’s population is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, fueling increases in poverty and the pressures that come with it. As this statement is rather grim and the challenge seems gigantic, do ‘you’ have hope?

JG: I have hope because I have seen the results of JGI’s community based conservation in Tanzania, Uganda, DRC and Senegal. Improving the lives of the people living in poverty, encouraging environmentally sustainable alternatives to destroying the forest, training forest monitors to record illegal acts in village forest reserves (such as illegal tree felling, spent cartridge, snares) and also signs of positive health – chimpanzee nest, leopard paw print. Forest regeneration is not only possible – it is happening.

Working to empower women, microcredit programs to enable them to choose environmentally sustainable projects such as tree nurseries, shade grown coffee (no chemicals), egg production and so on. Providing scholarships and sanitary pads, etc to girls so they can stay in school after puberty. Offering family planning (eagerly received). The once bare hills around Gombe are now green and tree covered.
Communities in Uganda along the Albertine Rift are learning to live in harmony with chimps as well as protect the forests, restore trees to watersheds, restore the flow in dried up streams. If we could only scale up these highly successful programs then there is much hope for the future.

We need funding.

THE NEXT GENERATION’S IMPACT: Roots & Shoots program

BP: Your global youth-led community action program “Roots & Shoots” is now in about 100 countries and blossoming. Please describe your feelings about this ‘youth movement’ and its grand success.

JG: I travel some 300 days a year all around the world, and everywhere there are groups of youth with shining eyes (kindergarten through university) wanting to tell Dr. Jane what they are doing, have done, plan to do to make this a better world for animals, people, environment, and to live in peace and harmony with each other and nature. It is a hands on program – these young people are making change even as I speak. It is my main reason for hope, and may be the most important initiative of my life next to helping people understand the true nature of animals. Animals are sentient, sapient beings with personalities, minds and emotions.

(© Robert Ratzer)


BP: The Jane Goodall Institute is a successful platform where we can engage and make a difference. What is the most urgent need for your Institute today? And what is your message to PERREAULT’s readers?

JG: Our most urgent need is funding to help us scale up our programs. There are 31 JGIs around the world, the largest being in the US, and in all cases successful work could be so much more successful if there was more funding. Another need is government support in some cases.

My most important message to every PERREAULT reader is this: The harm we have inflicted on our planet is so huge that you may feel hopeless and helpless – and so do nothing. But never forget that you, as an individual, have a place in this world, and you make a difference every day. You cannot live through a day without making some kind of impact on the planet – and you have a choice as to what kind of difference you will make each day. Think about the consequences of the small choices you make – what you buy, eat, wear. Was it produced in a way that harmed animals or people, did it involve child slave labor?’ Also, ‘Do I really need it?’ And do you water a drooping plant? Smile at a worried person? Report a stray dog or cat? Sign a petition to stop the murder of whales?

Each of those little choices made by one person alone would not help the world – but hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of small ethical choices, together, will bring about the change we so desperately need’.


Inspiring hope through action.

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Comments (5)
No. 1-5

"But never forget that you, as an individual, have a place in this world, and you make a difference every day" Don't give in to cynicism people!! What a beautiful interview with this amazing, amazing woman


i have a lot of respect and admiration for Dr. Goodall.


What an amazing woman and human being!


Dr. Goodall is awesome