Interview: Jane Goodall

  • Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. (Photo courtesy of The Jane Goodall Institute)

It’s been 50 years since Jane Goodall first began her research of the behaviors of chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. These days, Goodall spends most of her time traveling, meeting with young people to encourage them to think about how their actions affect the people, animals and the environment of this planet. We caught up with her in Chicago this past weekend. She says people see the problems of the world as just too big to tackle.


Jane Goodall: You know people are always asking me ‘what can I do?’, and I think one of the main problems is that people just feel so helpless when they look at what’s happening. And so I always say to people, if we could just spend a few minutes each day thinking about the consequences of the that choices we make… they can be small choices like What do we buy? What do we eat? What do we wear? And we ask questions like where did it come from? How was it made? Did it damage the environment? Did it involve child labor in some distant place? Did it involve cruelty to animals? If we start thinking in those terms, we do start making behavior changes, and they may seem small, but multiplied by a couple of billion, you start to see the major kind of change that we desperately need if we’re going to see a planet that’s reasonably hospitable to our great-grandchildren.

Graham: You’ve been working with young people, tell me a little bit about your project ‘Root’s and Shoots’…what’s the goal there?

Goodall: Roots and Shoots began with twelve high school students in 1991, and it’s now in 120 countries and growing, and we’ve got about 15,000 active groups. The main message: every single one of us makes a difference every single day. and every group is choosing three different kinds of projects to make the world a better place for people, for animals, for the environment. And now we span all ages from pre-school and kindergarten right the way through college and university, and actually more and more adults are forming groups because they, too, want to help to make this a better world.

Graham: I know you have a home in London, but I also assume that Tanzania is much your home. How often do you get to go back there?

Goodall: I get to Gombe itself in Tanzania, where the Chimpanzees are, twice a year, but only briefly. Just time to immerse myself in the forest and sort of get a recharge of my spiritual batteries, so to speak.

Graham: I’m wondering if any of the chimpanzee community still recognizes you when you visit Gombe?

Goodall:The older ones do, the offspring of those whom I knew so, so well in the early days.

Graham: And they recognize you when you go back?

Goodall: Yes, absolutely, they certainly do, I’m appearing twice a year.

Graham: How does that make you feel?

Goodall: Well I have that emotional feeling with Fifi, and to some extent with Goblin, Frodo is just such a horrible, and objectionable bully that I can’t really feel anything but a slight dislike for Frodo. His older brother Freud, I always enjoy meeting him out in the forest, and it takes me back a bit to those early days when I lived among them, more or less, and you know, that was the time when I had these close relationships, and it was just such a very special time in my life.

Graham: Thank you very much, I’m sure you are aware of how much people appreciate the work you’ve done, and what you’ve done to raise awareness among us in the West and around the world about the plight of great apes and chimpanzees. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Goodall: thanks very much, Lester, and it was nice talking to you.

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