Conservation news

Jane Goodall interview: ‘The most important thing is sharing good news’

This week’s podcast featured a discussion between Mongabay’s founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler and Jane Goodall, the world’s most recognizable conservationist and one of this media outlet’s esteemed advisory board members (listen to excerpts of it here). Rhett and Jane check in regularly, but given the recent research vindicating her long (six decade) contention that animals – from the chimps she studied to the everyday animals we are all surrounded by – are individuals with personalities, just like humans, we decided to record and share the conversation. Listen here or read the transcript below:

In this context they discuss the idea that trophy hunting is an important component of funding the conservation of species like lions and rhinos (Dr. Goodall calls that “rubbish” for multiple reasons, including the loss of accumulated wisdom and experience held by elder animals). Also discussed is China’s increasing environmental awareness; the importance of conservation groups working with communities on multiple levels like health and education, and not just the environment; the recent disasters like in Puerto Rico and northern California; news that the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI)’s youth program Roots and Shoots now has perhaps 150,000 chapters worldwide; and an update on JGI’s network of village-level volunteers, which in combination with tech tools like remote sensing, is able to provide the latest observations of what’s happening all over the world, as in the examples she shares from Tanzania and Burundi. The two spoke just before Dr. Goodall set off on her latest speaking tour: at 83 she travels 300 days a year to inspire the next generation of conservationists.

In her early days at Gombe, Jane Goodall spent many hours sitting on a high peak with binoculars or a telescope, searching the forest below for chimpanzees.



Rhett Butler for Mongabay: So you’re off to Japan next?

Jane Goodall: Yes.

Mongabay: And then home again?

Jane Goodall: No, then it’s Los Angeles, New York, DC, Argentina, five European countries, and Malaysia.

Mongabay: Wow, so when do you get home again?

Jane Goodall: The 20th of December.

Mongabay: Wow, okay. I don’t know how you do it, it’s truly amazing.

Jane Goodall: I haven’t done it yet.

Mongabay: (LAUGHS) That’s true! So when you were working in Gombe you attributed personalities to chimps, which at the time was pretty controversial. But then last month a study came out that basically vindicated all your research, finding that chimps in the wild had personalities that were very similar to chimps in captivity. So I’m just curious, is that a little bit frustrating that it takes so long to confirm something that was obvious to you after you’d spent time in the wild with these chimps?

Jane Goodall: Quite honestly I think almost everybody recognized that animals have personalities whether they were in the wild or whether they weren’t. And it was just science saying, ‘Well we can’t prove it, therefore it’s better we don’t accept it.’ And it was the same with emotions. It was the same with ‘mind.’ All of those things were absolutely taboo. I went to Cambridge in 1961 and I wasn’t supposed to have given the chimpanzees names, even. That was supposed [to] compromise the validity of the research, ‘It would be better if they have numbers.’ And I find this is not actually a logical way of thinking. It would have been far better for the scientists to say, ‘Well yes, we absolutely agree. Of course animals have personalities. But we don’t know how to study it, so we can’t talk about it’ – but they didn’t say that. They just said ‘No, they don’t have personalities, because only humans have personalities.’

Dr. Jane Goodall and field staff observe chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

Mongabay: And so when we’re talking about individual animals versus individual species, [your] research and a growing body of research confirmed that individual animals have individual personalities. So how does that play into issues like trophy hunting for you?

Jane Goodall: Well for me it plays into it in many, many different ways. First of all, in conservation. So if you’re conserving a species, that’s very different from conserving the individuals within a species, in order to conserve the species. And with trophy hunting – I mean any hunting – every single individual animal has a life that’s playing an important role in its society, I’m sure. Especially with trophy hunting, because the hunters go after the lions with the biggest manes, the elephants with the biggest tusks. And of course they are very important in that particular society. That’s why they’ve evolved that way. And so by picking out always the animals with the most magnificent appearance you’re bound to be changing the nature of the future, aren’t you I think?

Mongabay: I think what’s been interesting is we have gone from looking at an entire species to looking at populations. And now that we understand that the individuals within these populations [are] important, taking out an individual may have a critical role within its own community. So when you lose that animal it changes the structure of the whole community.

Jane Goodall: Yeah, I’m sure it does. Like I remember when somebody paid a huge amount of money to go and shoot a very old male rhino. You must remember that? It was a huge controversy. And everyone said, well he doesn’t play any important role in the genetic survival of his species. He’s too old. But on the other hand people are finding out that rhinos have more of a complex social life than anybody ever thought. And they’ve been seen congregating – even black rhinos. So nobody really understands the social system – probably never will know, because it’s been so disrupted by us.

Mongabay: And so when some folks claim that hunting – trophy hunting – is an indispensable way to fund conservation, do you have an opinion on that argument?

Jane Goodall: Yeah, I think it’s rubbish. First of all nobody’s ever proved that the money from trophy hunting actually does go back to conserve the species. And there’s this recent exposé, really, of the group in Oxford that had been working with those lions, where Cecil was shot by the dentist. And the outpouring of anger because Cecil was shot – he was a collared lion, he had a name. In fact on the one hand every single lion – just because he doesn’t have a name – is just as much of a personality as Cecil. It’s just that nobody’s bothered to study him. And when people became so outraged because Cecil was killed, then they began giving money to this research group at Oxford. I can’t remember the amount but it was quite a large amount of money. And that wasn’t used to help conserve those particular lions because the group continued to sit on the fence and not to defend even their own lions being killed, the ones that they tagged, as long as they got their collar back. And I just find it ethically very, very disturbing.

It’s something people have to try and face up to, and it’s very difficult. Take domestic animals, for one, I was reading the other day about a woman who wrote a book called The Secret Life of Cows. And she loved her cows, and she talks about their personalities. And she talks about one white calf that was born, and a second white calf was born. And the second one was an object of wonder to the one who had been born just about a month before, they were totally inseparable. They slept together, they never left each others side, they were firm friends. But when they were two she happily drove them off to the abattoir. And I find it – I don’t know how you sort this out in your mind ethically. I couldn’t.

Coquerel’s sifaka lemurs kissing. Photo by Rhett Butler for Mongabay

Mongabay: So do you feel that there’s growing awareness generally about animals in terms of them being individuals?

Jane Goodall: Absolutely, I mean I’ve noticed every lecture – when I talk of or say something about [this] kind of thing, there’s applause from at least half the audience, standing up for individual animals and their lives. Their lives matter to them.

Mongabay: You’ve been in the conservation field for quite a long time. What would you say has changed the most since you started your career?

Jane Goodall: Well, I think the thing that’s changed most is the need for conservation of species! Because of course you know when I first went to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, there were animals everywhere. It was completely different from today. You’d drive through Nairobi, and you get just to the outskirts, [you’d find] the animals weren’t confined to Nairobi National Park, they were just wandering along, near the road. You’d see a giraffe. So that’s one major change, is the number of animals who’ve disappeared, thus emphasizing the need for conservation. And the habitat destruction. The human population growth. All of these things. Meaning that conservation has become something very important if we care about the future.

And then the conservation methods – I don’t know, I’d like to say they’ve changed. But there’s still what I consider too much of trying to conserve animals by… I don’t know, killing off lots of them to examine their stomach contents. To find what they feed [on] so that you can conserve them better, that sort of research. That was done on vultures I think.

Mongabay: What about mechanisms like protected areas versus working with communities or using technology?

Jane Goodall: I think technology can be absolutely fantastic. We use it a lot. There’s the use of drones to protect elephants and rhinos, [when] animals are seen to be congregating in certain areas, there’s a suspicion that the poachers will go to those areas, and so the rangers move in to be better able to protect the animals. So that’s a terrific use of some technology. And also GIS, GPS, mapping. But the first part of your question – I feel like conservation will never work unless you work with local communities.

Park rangers in Garama National Park. Photo by Thomas Nicolon for Mongabay

Mongabay: Could you speak a little bit about how JGI is using technology? I think what you’re doing with the rangers is really interesting.

Jane Goodall: Yes. The fact is that in Tanzania there’s only about 2,500 chimps maximum left now. And most of those are actually not in protected areas – the two protected areas are Gombe and Mahale national parks. But most of the chimps are in village/forest reserves. And so the TACARE program, which is improving the lives of the villagers in very holistic ways, working with them so that they become our partners in conservation – 52 villages we now work with around Gombe and down south towards the remaining forests where the remaining chimps are not protected. Each of these 52 villages provides one to two, depending on the size, forest monitors. And we do workshops that train them how to use smart phones. And they’re very proud. They go into their forest and they record like an illegally cut tree, or an animal trap, or a [bullet] cartridge. On the other hand they report sightings of different animals there. And they collectively chose what they would record. We didn’t tell them what to record, they chose it. And they’re very passionate about it. And that gets uploaded onto a platform, Global Forest Watch. So that everything is transparent and the village leaders can have no excuse not to know what’s going on in their forests. And JGI can download it. And the government can download it, too. So it’s making a huge difference.

Mongabay: So taking a broader look would you say that you’ve become more or less hopeful that we can reverse some of the trends that we are seeing?

Jane Goodall: Well, I’m absolutely sure we can reverse some of it. Not all of it. I can’t imagine we can reverse all of it. We’re still losing the battle overall with the chimps, in spite of everything that’s being done in all of these big plans, and the chimpanzee action plans for East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa. They’re great plans. But the bush meat trade is still going on. There’s still trade in live animals, particularly to Asia, chimpanzees. As well as other animals of course. And then disease. And still habitat destruction continues. So you know you have to be prepared to go on fighting, and fighting, and fighting. And I don’t know what the end is. If we give up, it would be the end.

Mongabay: Are there conservation issues that you feel are particularly overlooked right now?

Jane Goodall: Well, something like population numbers, family planning and such. That has been very deliberately not talked about. It’s beginning to get better now. But you know the size of the population is so absolutely crucial for conservation. It is. As populations grow, and populations of cattle grow, you have forests being absolutely decimated. And poverty is another one which I think is being more addressed these days. Because if you’re very poor, no matter what the laws are, you’re going to go and cut the last trees down because you’re desperate to grow food for your family. Or get some money from charcoal. But it’s not sustainable. It definitely is not sustainable. And you notice the animals disappearing. You know, I’ve been through forests in Congo which had been teeming with wildlife, and now there’s nothing left. And the same’s happening in South America, too.

Mongabay: Yeah in Indonesia you’ll go in the forest, that’s pretty remote, it’s maybe a day from a road. And there are no birds because they’ve all been collected for the bird trade.

Jane Goodall: Yes, that’s right indeed. And places where there’s no butterflies. And then some of the reptiles are vanishing for the same reason. The live animal trade is a disaster. And that means we need to work much harder on persuading people not to buy these exotic animals – parrots for example. They’re vanishing from so many places.

Mongabay: Did you see the new study that came out recently that documented the decline in insects across Europe?

Jane Goodall: Yes, I did. That’s mostly from farming.

Mongabay: Yeah, exactly. But that has knock-on effects for birds and species that need insects.

Jane Goodall: Yeah. The birds go too.

Gremlin carries her son Grendel in Gombe National Park

Mongabay: When we met a couple weeks ago in San Francisco you mentioned a few positive signs out of China.

Jane Goodall: I think so. Everybody says, ‘Oh well you know there’s all this live animal trade and it’s all going to China, and the ivory’s going to China, and the pangolins’ scales are going to China, and other Asian countries.’ And if you really step back and look at it, China isn’t doing any worse than America or Europe. It’s just they’re rather good at what they do, and I think it was very impressive that the president announced that all ivory trading would be banned by the end of this year. A lot of people say it won’t make any difference and the illegal trade will continue. But you know one of the advantages of it being a dictatorship is if the president really means it, it’ll really happen. Because the punishments will be swift and complete – if he really means it – I think he probably does. And China’s way ahead with clean, green energy. Way ahead. And they’re building the most extraordinary, enormous wetland for migrating birds on what used to be a gigantic landfill. And it’s the most amazing exercise that you can imagine. And I keep reading about all the different things China is doing to try and clean up the air. They’ve changed. They’ve completely changed. Because when I first went in the mid 90’s they weren’t even talking about the environment. And then came those massive floods due to the – I can’t remember exactly where it was but there was a lot of deforestation. A lot of erosion. Lots of flooding. A lot of damage done. So suddenly it becomes okay to start talking about protecting the environment. People woke up. And the change since those days has been absolutely tremendous. I’ve seen it. And the attitude towards animals as well. In fact I was just looking at a lovely sequence of some people doing rescue work after the recent earthquake. And spending a lot of time rescuing a little dog that was trapped in the rubble.

Mongabay: You mentioned The Ivory Game and the impact that [film] has had in raising awareness in certain communities. It sounds like both in China but also among Chinese people outside of China.

Jane Goodall: Yes. Absolutely. The young Chinese man goes undercover in the movie and pretends that he’s a buyer, [he] goes into this ivory dealer – or a dealer who deals in all kinds of wildlife, and is almost caught, a very dramatic scene in the movie. And he actually told me that when he was a little boy he used to go past the meat markets, and there were all these wild animals still alive ready to be sold for food. And he felt so sorry for them. And he promised to help them when he grew up. So he became a journalist. And then he said that he basically risked his life in this film because he wants to be the voice of the millions and millions who feel about animals and nature just as we do. He’s now started his own not for profit. And he takes Chinese business leaders out to Africa and shows them the effect of bad conservation practices of the Chinese logging companies, mining companies, in Africa, so that they change their ways. And I remember several years ago thinking about all these Chinese laborers who are shipped out to build roads, who are treated very badly. And how very often they take a little piece of ivory back with them. And nobody talks to them, nobody tells them this isn’t a good thing to do. Nobody speaks to them about conservation. And so we’re working together with him and our Roots and Shoots programs to educate the Chinese workers, to tell them what’s happening. And it’s quite extraordinary when you do that, how people change.

Dr. Jane Goodall with a group of Roots & Shoots members in Salzburg, Austria

Mongabay: So how significant do you think it is for figures like celebrities within China, but also people like Leonardo DiCaprio, to get the average person interested in, and engaged with, these environmental and conservation issues?

Jane Goodall: I think it’s very important. And I think a lot of those movies that are made are waking people up. Definitely. It’s much more difficult in the developing countries because they don’t have the same access to movies as we do. We have to step up, you know, the reduction in demand for something like rhino horn. And explain to people that rhino horn actually is just like fingernails. And it actually isn’t medicinally good for you at all. And now of course South Africa has really hit that a big blow by allowing the farming of rhinos and the cutting off of the horns for legal sale. Which means, a.) that illegal sales can go on much more easily, and b.), it’s basically kind of saying, ‘Well we think it’s fine. Rhino horn? Yes, sure, maybe it is medicinally good. So, here you are, we’ll breed it for you, farm it for you.’ I’m shocked, to be honest, that conservationists feel that way.

Mongabay: Do you think engaging people on the personalities of individual animals is a good way to get them interested in these issues?

Jane Goodall: Yes it’s certainly one way, for sure. I got involved a little bit with the waldrapp (northern bald ibis). They were taught to follow an ultralight [to migrate]. And they had to cross the Alps. And they went from Austria to southern Italy to breed. And the first one who actually came back all on her own, and left again, and raised two chicks, they named her after me. And she was shot by a hunter. And that was absolutely in the news, everywhere, all over Italy and Austria. People were shocked and horrified and I’m sure it made more difference that she had a name.

Mongabay: It’s kind of like Cecil…

Jane Goodall: Exactly, yes. It’s exactly the same. And I gather from reading this article about the Oxford group that Cecil’s son was also shot. And also that although the trophy hunting is supposed to hunt post-reproductive [lions], that they’re saying that lions of – what was it, six, eight? I can’t remember. But obviously not post-reproductive. And yet they’re not saying anything about it. And that the numbers they quoted in this article about the number of lions existing in Zimbabwe, and the number that were shot by trophy hunters, was totally, totally not sustainable.

Lions in Kruger Park, South Africa. Photo by Rhett Butler for Mongabay

Mongabay: You mentioned your program Roots and Shoots, that encourages youths to become leaders for a better future for people, animals, and the environment, it would be great to hear an update.

Jane Goodall: Well it’s in 100 countries. And I think one of the most exciting impacts that I know about is in China. Going back to China again! Because of the number of people who have come up to me and said, ‘Well of course we care about the environment. We did your Roots and Shoots program in primary school.’ So we not only have about 150,000 active groups worldwide, from kindergarten through university, and some adults too, by the way, but in addition we’ve got what I call the alumni. Those are the people who have been through the program. And Tanzania – just this last time I was in Tanzania – there were four Tanzanians: one was in government, one was a cab driver, one was a customs official, and one was a government photographer. So they were all quite separate. They’d all been through Roots and Shoots. The photographer said that’s why he was photographing, because he wanted to photograph wildlife. And the others just said, ‘Well, we make sure that our children belong to Roots and Shoots. And we do understand about the environment and the need to conserve trees and things like that, and to plant trees.’ So it definitely has an impact.

Mongabay: Just to confirm, you said 150,000 groups?

Jane Goodall: Yes. Something like that.

Mongabay: That’s incredible. That must be one of the biggest movements in the environmental or conservation space in the world, I would think.

Jane Goodall: I think it must be, when you add it all up together, yes. I mean just in little England there’s 1,700 groups. And Burundi, in spite of all the problems it’s going through with its terrible government and all the ethnic violence, and the killings, and the violence, they’ve got Roots and Shoots in every single province. And they’ve done it with basically no money. That’s what’s so impressive in these countries. They get the idea, somebody says this is really good, and they become totally passionate. So a primary school kid goes to a secondary school where there isn’t any Roots and Shoots, and they start it. And they don’t require money. They just do it. And they clean up the beaches, and they plant trees, and take part in campaigns, and fly giant peace doves on the International Day of Peace, and all these things. And I find it very inspiring. And so it’s all over Tanzania. And it’s growing fast in South Africa. It’s absolutely everywhere in Burundi. We’ve got some really good groups growing in the DRC, and Congo, Brazzaville, and Senegal, and just all over the place.

Mongabay: So Roots and Shoots has probably been inspiring multiple generations of conservationists, I would think.

Jane Goodall: I think it definitely is. Conservationists and humanitarians, and people who have the right values, you know – respect for life.

Dr. Jane Goodall speaking in Los Angeles, CA 2006.

Mongabay: So on that young conservationist front, do you have any advice that you’d give to young conservationists that are just getting started in their careers?

Jane Goodall: Well, I’d warn them that it’s going to be tough. That there’s a lot of competition getting into good jobs in conservation. That they’ve really got to be passionate about it if they want to get involved. Because it’s not easy. But they shouldn’t give up.

Mongabay: Do you have any particular advice for young women who are starting conservation? Because it feels like historically conservation biology has been more of a male-dominated field, but it’s changing now.

Jane Goodall: I think it’s definitely changing. And certainly the people I meet and talk with, there are so many women. And they’ll say, ‘Oh I read about you when I was at school, and I determined that I could do it, too. And you taught me, you did, so I can do it.’ And that’s what got them into conservation. Men, too, by the way.

Mongabay: Is there anything that you would like to see more reporting on, here or elsewhere?

Jane Goodall: I think Mongabay does a super job. I really do. And now you’re growing all over the world. I really do, I think you do an absolutely super job.

Mongabay: That’s much appreciated.

Jane Goodall: A very recent thing, I heard just yesterday from Burundi from this extraordinary young man. He was a child soldier in the genocide of Burundi. And he put together a group of four people. I think there were four women who had been raped during that time. And another child soldier. So they’d all suffered a lot. And they worked their way through the suffering by working with children, and starting Roots and Shoots. This young man also started TACARE-like programs. tk Very, very little money. And [in this email] he says, “Roots and Shoots in Burundi, since 2006, we now have 29,736 members from seven provinces. We have 76 clubs from different schools, where chimps and other species live. Since the crisis of Burundi touched the wildlife a lot, we decided to…” It’s half French and half English, anyway, they’re protecting trees, they’re planting trees all over the place, quite a few trees. And they’ve got all kinds of ways of living in harmony with nature, and it’s so impressive that they’ve done this all on their…they did it, I didn’t even know they were doing it. Because he learned about Roots and Shoots when he escaped [in] Tanzania.

Mongabay: That is remarkable…and Burundi so needs its forests restored, so programs like this are so important.

Jane Goodall: Yes. It does – it seems that at the very high part of the rift in Tanzania, our village monitors are having a lot of bad luck, because people aren’t up there very much, it’s very difficult to get to. So apparently what they think [is] the chimps are moving from Tanzania into Burundi, where we’re protecting forests better (LAUGHS).

Roots & Shoots members celebrate the 2015 Day of Peace by flying a giant Peace Dove and planting trees at the JGI Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Congo.

Mongabay: That’s good news. Are there others things you’d like to talk about?

Jane Goodall: Well going back to our TACARE program, our village monitors – for the first time since the early 90’s forests are coming back around Gombe. The trees are coming back. And two years ago we had – no the beginning of last year, where am I? Where are we?… We’re now in November…the end of last year, two females appeared in Gombe and we knew the genetics of everybody by collecting fecal samples. So these were two completely new females from outside bringing much needed genetic diversity to the few chimps left in Gombe. So it was very good news.

Mongabay: Yeah, that is great news.

Jane Goodall: It shows that our corridors are beginning to work. But you know it needs constant vigilance, because of this wretched human population growth. And poverty. And cattle…

Mongabay: Cattle are the bane of our existence everywhere.

Jane Goodall: Cattle are absolutely a huge problem in Tanzania. All coming from Somalia. People are very afraid of the Somalis that come with them because they’re quite war-like. And so they’re allowed to go into Tanzanian forests, and Kenyan forests. And of course, climate change isn’t helping. A lot of these cattle herders are having to leave their old pasture lands because of drought. So the problems are huge. We have to fight harder. That’s why I love what Mongabay’s doing because it’s sharing information – one of the things that’s so important is sharing the good news. Because if there isn’t any good news, people will give up altogether. And there’s a lot of good news. There’s so many stories about people bringing back animals from the brink of extinction. And people restoring places that we’ve destroyed. Roots and Shoots is working in Tanzania with a huge cement factory and the quarries that they make – it’s an offshoot of Heidelberg Cement in Germany – it’s called Twiga. They are restoring [land], they’re putting the soil back, and our Roots and Shoots kids are planting trees, and the animals have come back. And I went there just recently and saw a lot of different birds, and butterflies, and lizards that weren’t there, nothing was there ten years ago. Nothing at all, just bare dust. So those good stories I think are really good things to publish. Yeah and Heidelberg, by the way, they have a competition. I think it’s every year, for the best restoration of quarries.

Mongabay: I guess if there were one thing that gives you hope what would that be?

Jane Goodall: It would be the Roots and Shoots kids. Because they are so full of energy, and determination, and they haven’t yet been filled with despair. And if enough of them have the right attitude, and the right philosophy, and the right respect for life, and understand about size of families and that sort of thing…you know, that’s the hope for the future isn’t it?

Mongabay: So you have 100 countries, 150,000 groups, and do you know how many people are participating in those groups?

Jane Goodall: No, we don’t. We’re not even sure of the number of groups. Because there are so many groups that we keep learning about that we didn’t even know existed.

Mongabay: So it’s really gone viral.

Jane Goodall: It’s gone very viral. It’s probably safer to say 100,000 groups. Nobody really knows. We’re desperately trying to find out. And as for the number of participants it’s almost impossible to figure out because they’re changing all the time. I mean constantly changing, you know, as kids grow up and leave. So I don’t know, but we are working with Esri and making a map. And eventually it will chart every single group and what they’re doing. Tapestry of Hope, it’s called.

Mongabay: Well that will be quite a project, given how many people are involved.

Jane Goodall: I know. Well it’s been started, but you know – I think we need more money than we have to do it. But Esri’s plugging on with it and our people are contributing. I don’t ever see it being finished, personally, but even so it gives you a pretty good idea. And from my point of view, it’s enough just to show where the groups are and not worry about what they’re all doing. I just don’t think we can ever do that.

Villager uses a tablet to record forest health.

Mongabay: What would be the best way for people to help you with what you’re trying to achieve?

Jane Goodall: Well I think the best way is to spread the news and get more people involved in Roots and Shoots. And more partnerships. Because you know we partner with 4-H and other youth groups that are doing more or less the same thing, but none of them are doing animals, people, and environment. We’re the only one doing all three. And that comes from my passion about the interconnectedness of life that I developed in the rainforest. You know we were told when we began our TACARE program, ‘Well you can’t do it all, you’ve got to choose. You can’t do women’s projects, and food, and health, and education. You’ve got to choose.’ And we, being me and George Strunden, we said, ‘But there’s no point in just doing education if you don’t do health. So you educate people who get sick and die. What’s the point of that?’ And anyway, we managed eventually to get the money to do it the way we wanted to do it, starting small and getting bigger. So in Roots and Shoots, let’s say you have 10 people – it’s very often a whole school, but let’s say it’s 10. And you might have five of them passionate about animals. You might have two who care about people. And the others who care about the environment. So they don’t all have to do the same thing.

But they all have to get together and hear about what each other is doing so that they get this understanding that they’re part of a complex ecosystem, and a complex society, and one thing won’t work unless it’s in harmony with everything else. So if we join up with an environmental group, if they want to join Roots and Shoots, they will gather in some who care about animal welfare, and some who care about helping poor children, or raising money for earthquake victims, hurricane victims.

As for poor old Puerto Rico, mentioning hurricanes, you know they’ve got nothing left. How would it be to wake up and find that everything’s gone? The trees have gone. The forests have gone. It’s dreadful. And there was Trump throwing out paper towels. I mean honestly. Yeah, we have friends in Puerto Rico. And we have Roots and Shoots who are rushing around helping everybody, helping distribute food. Oh yes, and I tell you, please tell anybody you know who has anything to do with seeds. What we’re trying to do is to collect up seeds of vegetables and then get them to JGI. And then JGI will send them out to our contact in Puerto Rico and they’re going to give lessons to people in how to grow vegetables in their gardens. This is a splendid project. It’s a splendid idea. And thank the man who started it and his wife, they helped start Roots and Shoots in America way back in 1994. And his wife is from Puerto Rico and so he always told her, when I retire we’ll go and live in your country again. And of course, they just got their house built and everything, and along came these two ghastly hurricanes. They lost the house.

Mongabay: That’s really a tragedy. And unfortunately there’s just more and more of these things. I mean here in California, when you were here we had the fires.

Jane Goodall: Oh, the fires, oh they were so awful. And think how many millions of animals must have died if you include the insects. Millions.

Mongabay: Yeah, and it’s not getting better.

Jane Goodall: No. And the man who provided all the sound for the movie, Jane, all the Gombe sound. He came out to Gombe. Have you heard of him, Bernie Krause?

Mongabay: I have, yes.

Jane Goodall: Well did you know he lost everything except the shirt on his back and his wife? And his wife had just had knee surgery. And suddenly the wind changed and he said this fire came – you couldn’t imagine. One moment everything’s fine, and the next minute there’s this huge wall of flame. And they couldn’t even get their cats. They just had to run, and he had to half carry her. And they had to drive through the fire. And so they have nothing except the clothes they were wearing. Everything was burned. All his precious equipment. And he said, luckily the sounds were backed up. But he lost his guitar, his house, everything.

Chimpanzees Bahati and her baby Baroza at Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

Mongabay: Any other projects you’d like to call out?

Jane Goodall: I suppose you could mention the MasterClass, do you know about that?

Mongabay: I don’t think so.

Jane Goodall: I was interviewed for two days. They wanted me for three. But we managed actually to do it in one and a half. And they interview you on everything, and then they divide it up into classes. And people buy it online and take it online. And I was completely staggered at their professionalism. They’ve done this with about six other people so far. The lighting, the setting, the quality of the sounds. I’ve only seen the trailer of it, but people are already buying it, 29 classes. And it’s not just about the chimps. It’s also about how you give a good lecture and that sort of thing as well. And a lot about conservation. It’s about Roots and Shoots, it’s about individual animals, and all of these things. The effect on the environment of meat-eating. That’s something that conservation doesn’t think about enough, although it’s beginning to. Not just the cruelty, but the effect on the environment as well.

Mongabay: I really appreciate all the time you gave me, it’s always wonderful chatting with you.

Jane Goodall: It was good chatting with you too. My brain isn’t working at its best right now, I’ve been sleep deprived for days, and days, and days.

Mongabay: Well you sound great, you’re doing really well with the lack of sleep. I hope you’re able to get some rest soon before you go to Japan.


This conversation was edited for length and clarity, and originally appeared on this week’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, listen to Jane and Rhett speak here. Next week’s featured guest is bestselling author Margaret Atwood.

Banner image of Dr. Goodall with orphan chimpanzee Uruhara at the Sweetwaters Sanctuary in Kenya by Michael Neugebauer.