Jane Goodall is an icon.
As a child Jane was fascinated by animals and the Africa she discovered in the storybooks of Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle.
In 1960, a 26-year-old Jane entered the Tanzanian jungle with no formal qualifications or degree, but an unwavering fascination and passion for understanding chimpanzees. Her landmark study and discoveries at what was then called Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve completely redefined the way we understood primates and our relationship with them. Her work has been instrumental in working to try to save chimpanzees from extinction, throughout her lifelong dedication to advocacy.
At 83, the activist travels an average 300 days per year, speaking about the threats facing chimpanzees, other environmental crises, and her reasons for hope. In her speeches and books, she emphasises the interconnectedness of all living things and the collective power or individual action, urging her audiences to recognise their personal responsibility and ability to effect change. “Every individual matters,” she says. “Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
We are thrilled she’s joining the Business Chicks stage in June, and we were lucky enough to spend some time talking to the powerhouse ahead of her Australian visit…
1. You have chosen to spend a great deal of your life understanding and protecting chimps. Why?
Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, along with the bonobo we differ, in genetic DNA, by only just over 1%. We share many behaviours – such as gestures of communication (kissing, embracing, patting, swaggering, tool using and tool making, long lasting bonds between family members, brutal aggressive behaviour on one hand, loving and compassionate and altruistic behaviour on the other hand. They are highly intelligent and adaptable with a long period of childhood dependence on the mother during which learning occurs. From an understanding of chimpanzees we can have a clearer picture of how our earliest ancestors may have coped with life. It is desperately important to protect them and the forests where they live.
2. Let’s go back to 1960 for a moment, it was unheard of for a woman to venture into the jungle to study chimpanzees, what propelled you forward?
I loved animals as a tiny child. I watched birds and small mammals around my home. I read books about animals – Doctor Doolittle and Tarzan. When I was ten I decided I would go and live with animals in Africa and write books about them. And although everyone laughed at me, and told me to dream about something I could achieve, my mother simply told me I would have to work hard, take advantage of opportunities and never give up.
3. Was failing ever an option?
4. If you weren’t an animal activist, what would you be doing?
Something to do with animals. Writing books perhaps.
5. You have so many accolades and commendations, what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Helping people to understand the true nature of animals. That there is no sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom as I was told when I finally got to Cambridge to work for a PhD (although I had never been to university). I was told there was a difference of kind – but it is only a difference of degree. The other achievement is starting Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute‘s global environmental and humanitarian youth driven movement for young people of all ages, now in 98 countries.
6. What still surprises you?
That we, the most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet, continue to destroy our only home.
7. If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
The first of the ape-like human-like apes that gave rise to the modern apes on one hand, and us on the other. Would love to study them and compare with behaviour of chimpanzees today.
8. Do you think people are less interested in animal conservation and protection now than they were 20 years ago?
They are much more interested, more aware, and more and more groups like the Jane Goodall Institute Australia who are working to protect environments and endangered species
9. What angers you most about dismissive climate change attitudes?
If we carry one exploiting natural resources, often faster than mother nature can replenish, the future looks very grim. The lies that are perpetrated by those exploiting the natural world for profit and fed to people who believe them.
10. What can we do as a society to change?
We must realise that each and every one of us makes a difference every day and start to think about the consequences of what we buy, eat, wear. Each day we have a choice – to act for the future or carry on with business as usual.
11. What should we be focusing on as a collective nation?
Fighting to preserve your unique ecosystems. Fighting corruption. Making your voices heart through letters, peaceful protests, well thought out campaigns, education programs for children.
12. As one of the only humans to have connected with primates on such a deep level, what can we still learn from them?
That long term studies are the only way to truly understand the complexity of primate social life through generations. The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know, how much more there is to learn.
13. What’s the key to connecting with chimps (and humans!)?
Respect, patience, and truly opening our hearts to better understanding.
14. What inspires you?
The energy, commitment and hard work of youth. The indomitable human spirit – people who tackle seemingly impossible tasks and refuse to give up, who overcome physical disabilities and provide inspiration to all those who meet them. And the resilience of nature, how places we have destroyed can, with time and perhaps some help, once again become green and beautiful and support life.
15. How do you inspire young people, and future leaders, to make a difference in their world?
Simply with the simple message: You matter and have a role to play. You make a difference of some sort every single day, and you have a choice as to whether you will make this a better world, even in a small way, by make the right choices. And while it may not seem that you, as an individual, can do much – when hundreds, thousands, millions and millions make the right ethical choices in their daily lives this creates real change. You can use social media, wisely, to get other young people, your friends and others from far away, to join you in a campaign for change that matters to you. And finally you can influence your parents and grandparents.
16. The Jane Goodall Institute aside, what do you want your legacy to be?
A critical mass of people who understand that we need money to live, but that it goes wrong when we live for money in an of itself. Who make decisions based on “How will this benefit future generations?” and not, as so often the case now, “How will this benefit me now? The next share holders meeting? My next political campaign”. And who realise that unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources and a growing human populations is simply not a scenario that can work in the long run.
17. What work do you still want to get done?
Continue to grow our Roots & Shoots program right across Australia and all around the world. Because young people, when they understand the problems and are empowered to take action, when we listen to their voices, when we encourage them to roll up their sleeves and find ways to tackle the injustices and problems that they care about, are my greatest hope for the future.
Dr. Jane Goodall will be joining the Business Chicks stage in June, head to the events page to book your ticket now.