When you think of Jane Goodall, chimpanzees are probably the first images that come to mind, but the global icon’s 60 years of work goes far beyond saving wild animals. At 86 years old, Goodall still travels the globe 300 days a year, with an untiring drive to change our world by empowering local communities, younger generations and even the “bad guys” of the oil companies, so that they not only have a fascination for our planet, but also a responsibility to protect it and all the creatures on it. Even those who have no opposable thumb.
At the age of 26, despite the doubts of pessimists who at the time believed that women should not be alone in the jungle, Goodall left home in England and dared to live with chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. With her only tool, a notebook and binoculars, dressed in her lowly converses or more often just barefoot, she went into the wilderness and in some ways never left it.
During this initial research, Goodall made an earth-shattering discovery: chimpanzees also make tools for hunting, thus dispersing the myth that humans are unique in this respect. Goodall’s historic discovery in 1960 showed that animals were not only much more complicated than science had thought, but also more connected to us than we had imagined.
It was this connection between humans and wildlife that transformed Goodall from a scientist to a conservationist to an activist in her life’s work, founding the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and Roots & Shoots. Her mission was to inspire community-based conservation work and empower new generations to make a difference. And she still does.
Tekk.tv spoke with Goodall about the coronavirus pandemic, her new documentary film Jane Goodall: The Hope, and the most important message she hopes her life’s work will leave behind.
This interview has been edited and shortened.
In the documentary film Jane Goodall: The Hope, you say that the key to protecting the forest and wildlife lies in strengthening the local community that surrounds them. How do you think we can strengthen these communities which, as you said, seemed to be the missing link in the chain of conservation?
If you think about it, the forests have been partly destroyed by foreign companies that have been cutting them down, or by the mining that has destroyed them. But also because the human population is growing and moving further and further into the forest – and needs more and more space for their villages to grow their crops. And so this means that as their numbers increase, they become poorer and poorer.
If you are really poor, you will cut down the last tree, not because you don’t understand anything about erosion and so on, but because you are desperate to feed your family. So the secret lies in finding alternative ways for these people to live without destroying their environment.
And this is exactly what the JGI program [Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education] does. There are now people who, with the help of microcredits, mostly women, are starting small tree nurseries with silver seedlings to reforest the slopes.
The people [understand]now that saving the environment is not only for the wildlife, but also for their own future, because they need the forest for clean air, for clean water. And the destruction of the forest’s biodiversity makes the forest less healthy, and that is the fate of their own children. This is how they become our partners.
In Hope, you also share why you made the decision to work with the oil companies – “the bad guys” as you called them – to build a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Republic of Congo. Why do you think we should consider working with oil companies not only to save the wildlife, but also to bring this planet into a better state?
Well, it’s certainly not all oil companies that I dream of working with. It was Conoco before it merged with DuPont and Phillips, but right from the start it was the most environmentally friendly oil company I knew.
And I asked myself: should I take money from them? We were desperately looking for a place for these little chimpanzee orphans. And I thought: Well, I use the products of the oil companies when I travel; I drive, I fly, I live in hotels. So if the company is actually trying to do it right, it is very hypocritical of me to say that I am not a chimpanzee orphan.