New Internationalist

A word with Jane Goodall

Issue 454

The renowned primatologist speaks to Sian Griffiths about hens, chimps and the indomitable human spirit.

What is your earliest memory?

One of my earliest memories is watching a hen laying an egg. I went into an empty hen house and waited for four hours – at age four!

It showed what an amazing mother I had. No-one knew where I was, but when everyone else was searching and worried, she saw this excited little girl running towards the house. Instead of saying, ‘How dare you go off without telling us! Don’t ever dare do that again!’ – which would have killed my excitement – she saw my shining eyes and sat down to hear how a hen lays an egg…

All my childhood I was watching animals.

When was your first experience interacting with a chimpanzee?

I try not to interact with them. The goal is to watch them, to observe them, to be a part of the environment rather than a part of their society.

Of course, the young ones would come up and touch you and poke you. David Greybeard [controversially, Goodall gave names to the chimpanzees she observed, rather than following the scientific practice of referring to them by a number] did on one occasion when I held out fruit to him. He didn’t want it. But in the end, he took it; then he dropped it, and then he very gently held my hand. Right back then, in 1963, the fact that a chimpanzee, who had been so afraid of me, trusted me to that extent was amazing to me.

The Jane Goodall Institute
The indomitable human spirit is a great reason for hope. The Jane Goodall Institute

Did you have a life-changing moment?

The biggest life change for me was going to a conference in 1986 and realizing that, right across Africa, chimps were disappearing. This was the first time all the people studying chimps came together. A session on conditions in medical research labs was so shocking.

By then, I had this wonderful life. I was going out in the field, doing analysis – my childhood dream. But I left [the conference] an activist. Since then I haven’t been more than three weeks in any one place.

Can you tell us about your latest project?

Our youth programme, Roots and Shoots [through which young people identify problems in their communities and take action to create a better environment] is now in 130 countries. One very important programme is Takare [a project based outside Kigoma in Tanzania], which is improving the lives of the people living around wilderness areas in a way that they feel is most appropriate.

What is your biggest fear?

My biggest fear is that we will fail to create a critical mass of young people who understand that, whereas we need money to live, we shouldn’t be living for money.

What has been your biggest joy?

It was a huge joy having my own child. The biggest joy with the chimps is watching infant development and family relationships – I just love that part of it.

What are you most proud of?

Starting Roots and Shoots and helping people to understand the true nature of animals.

What gives you hope?

First, groups of young people with shining eyes wanting to tell ‘Dr Jane’ what they have been doing to make the world a better place for animals, people and the environment.

And then, the animals rescued from the brink of extinction. My favourite story was from New Zealand, where there was a little bird called a black robin. It was reduced to only seven birds… of which only two were female. One of the females was infertile and the other had an infertile mate. Doesn’t that seem like the end? Wouldn’t you give up? But this biologist said, ‘No. I’m not giving up!’ There are now 500 of them – because of him! The indomitable human spirit is a great reason for hope.

 janegoodall.org

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