Q&A with Jane Goodall, Pioneer in Primatology

What’s your primary mission or purpose coming to Andover? I want to wake people up to the things we are doing to our planet and provide them with reasons that can give them help, like actions that they can personally take, and to grow our youth program, Roots and Shoots.

How can we students be environmentalists, or take action? All the [students who want to become environmental activists themselves] will want to find out about our Roots and Shoots program, and join it. That is a program of encouraging young people to do projects. Actual projects – hands on, rolled up sleeves, to make the world a better place. Projects to help people, projects to help other animals, and projects to help the environment that we all share. This program’s now in 140 countries, and we’ve got about 100,000 active groups. The most important message is that every single one of us makes a difference every single day, and we have a choice as to what kind of difference we will make.

How can we harness social media to advance environmental protection causes? I think it’s vital that one does more than just be connected through this technology. It’s important, and there’s a way to use it for good, like with social media bringing people together around an issue. For example, last year, when I was at the Climate March in New York in September, the organizers expected maybe 80,000 people. In fact, there were 400,000. I was there, and I know that everybody there was on their little gadgets. They were calling up their friends, or they were tweeting, twittering, whatever it is that you all do. I saw there were people coming in response… This was the biggest gathering of people in the history of the planet around a single issue. It’s very important to have face-to-face as well, and it’s really important to make time to be out in nature so you actually get the feeling for what it is you maybe want to help protect, especially for children.

What’s your favorite social media outlet? I have one blog that I [update] every two weeks called “Jane Goodall’s Good for All News Stories of Hope.”

How did you find the courage to bring the situation in the Gombe Stream National Park into light? How did you find the courage to be the face of the cause? It didn’t take courage at all! It was what I had always wanted to do, for me there was no courage involved. What the fight was was everybody laughed at me and said it was ridiculous and I’d never manage it. Except my mother said I would have to work hard, take advantage of opportunity, and never give up. It’s what I say to all the students every time I speak.

How did you transition from working on one environmental issue, the deforestation of chimpanzees in Tanzania, to gradually, a lot of issues – a lot of diverse issues? Just [by] taking things as they came and becoming involved with this issue and that issue and moving up very gradually. There was no plan, there was no plan to do this. It just evolved like a tree growing.

How were you first inspired to start your practice? Researching and eventually, activism? I was born loving animals, and I decided to go to Africa when I was ten. I eventually got there and Louis Leakey, [a Kenyan paleoanthropologist and archaeologist], offered me chimps above all else, and I became passionate and wanted to learn more and more and more. Why did I leave the beautiful forest? It was because I realized chimp numbers were decreasing, forests were being cut down, treatment and captivity, and things like that. It was time I did something for the chimps.

What do you think are the personal traits that have helped you establish your career? One, I think, was where I was brought up, with my supportive mother. Two, I was given two gifts – just given them – one was a very strong constitution to help the world, to travel, all over, and remain healthy. The other was a gift for communication.

How did your ideas of nature and wildlife change after your many years of research? The only thing that changed was that I realized there was no way of protecting chimps and forests unless the local people’s lives could be improved, the people that live in such poverty that having cut down all their own trees, there was no way we could keep them from cutting protected trees. So that’s how our big program, which we call Take Care, or TACARE, that’s how that began. It’s very, very successful. Now the local people are helping us protect the forests.

How can students experience something similar to what you felt during your research that connects them more with nature and wildlife? You can volunteer. If you look it up on the Internet, there’s all sorts of programs. If they need money then they’ll have to make it. So many students expect everything to be given to them on a plate, and you can’t do anything unless you get a grant. Take a look at the stuff that’s out there which talks about the state of the planet, or get involved with the Jane Goodall Institute or some other similar organization. As I say, most people believe that whatever they can do will be inconsequential, and they won’t bother to do anything.

What project(s) are you working on now? I personally am not working on a project. There is really nothing now. It’s all interconnected, but I suppose one of my main goals is growing these programs around the world, because if we have a critical mass of young people out there being educated through a program like Roots and Shoots.

Could you give us a preview as to what you’ll be speaking about next week at Andover? I’ll be speaking about my upbringing, my research attempts, why I left the forest, and why we need to get involved now before it’s too late.

Goodall will be presenting on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m. in the Cochran Chapel.