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an interview with


Jane Goodall



author of

On This Earth and My Life with the Chimpanzees

Jane Goodall was interviewed by Joe Menell at the State of the World Forum, hosted by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and produced by the Gorbachev Foundation/USA in San Francisco.

Jane Goodall founded the Jo Menell: What have you learned from the African cultures, their attitude to the wildlife and their balance with nature? Have they developed an ecological awareness?

Jane Goodall: Well, I think they had it, and you still find traces of it, particularly if you go out among the Marsai. But the people I know best are living in the difficult situation where there isn't enough food to go around and they've destroyed the environment. So, sadly it's gone. There isn't an environment to respect and most of them are frightened of the bush and the forest. However, the people that we've been employing for years to help with our research are local people from the villages and they are just fantastic at following the chimps and writing about their behavior and using video cameras. They care about the chimps and they have a wonderful way of understanding and describing their behavior. We don't have poaching because the chimps are not only their work; they love them.

Jo Menell: What is your hope for mankind?

Jane Goodall: I believe the only hope for mankind lies in the hands of our young people today. It was because of realizing the extent to which the environment is in danger, particularly in Africa where the chimpanzees are, that led me to found a new program for young people which actually has programs for pre-school and goes all the way up to university. And this program is called Roots and Shoots, which is symbolic. Roots creep quietly under the ground, make a firm foundation. Shoots seem new and small but to reach the light they can break open brick walls. And the brick wall can be seen as all the problems that beset our poor old Earth today: pollution, the hole in the ozone layer, the threat of global warming, the famine, the overpopulation, the crime, the violence, the warfare, the cruelty. Yet hundreds and thousands of roots and shoots around the world, working together with understanding, have a chance of changing the world.

—from the documentary "On the Edge--a wake-up call."

Jo Menell: When you have animals living in a wild natural habitat and you have increasing human population growing up around there, there is inevitably a terrible conflict. How do we give the animals enough room to roam and let the humans chop down enough trees if that's what they have to do to supply carbon for wood?

Jane Goodall: Well, there's a mix of things that one can do trying to work closely with the people. First of all, there's a need for understanding so that anything you suggest can be perceived as their initiative. Then they will buy into the program and develop it. Agro forestry is one. You can grow trees for firewood and you can grow trees for shade and building poles and things like this. And secondly, there is are imaginative rural development programs, particularly those giving women better education and a better understanding of the problems. There's a need for voluntary population stabilization. Without the support of local people, you might as well give up because you can make all the noise you like, you can demarcate a national park, but if the people outside want to go creeping into a forest you really can't stop them. They've got to get a benefit. Eco-tourism is one of they ways that we're trying to develop.

Jo Menell: Awfully hard getting to somebody who might get a few bucks from that but knows that if he kills a crocodile and sells the skin or gets a rhino horn he can make much more money.

Jane Goodall: You have to look at both sides of the market. On the one hand, we have the wants and needs and concerns of the people living there. On the other hand, we have the middleman and the consumers who are buying the products. It's not Africa that is destroying the African rainforest, it's selling concessions to timber companies that are not African, they are from the developed world--Japan, America, Germany, Britain. Roots and Shoots is developing in different parts of the world because we do know today that we're all linked together.

All the problems inter-mesh and kids understand this very well. The Internet and modern forms of electronic communication are helping, but there are rural areas in Africa and other parts of the developing world where they don't even have electricity, let alone the Internet. So we develop communication by the good old method of writing and sharing thoughts, sharing photographs, sharing videos. Wealthy schools in the West raise money to send over cameras so the people in Africa can share their culture. It's a give/give situation.

Jo Menell: Selling the timber to that Japanese company for cash helps the the GNP of that country. Until those kids are old enough to vote out that government and create a new consciousness, what can you do now?

Jane Goodall: We have to stop the consumer buying and get moratoriums on importing tropical hardwood. We can try to make the politicians understand that something like eco-tourism, developed properly, can actually bring in more money and it will still be there in five years. Sometimes that's impossible and they don't want to understand because they want to put money in their Swiss bank accounts. In many parts of Africa it's terribly corrupt. It is going to be far more appealing to the young people because the politician won't be there in five years if he wants to feather his nest. It works in some places and it doesn't work in others. It depends on the people.

Jo Menell: How can you tell the cocaine farmer growing coke on the slopes of Bolivia not to do that when the demand is in the United States?

Jane Goodall: I don't have the answers to all these things. I've been doing what I can do as one person. Our organization, the Jane Goodall Institute has very little resources. All I can do is tackle the various projects that I come up against. Strife and political unrest bring some of our programs to an end, but yet we've planted seeds in the kids and some of the programs still go on even though we're not there. You find a little piece of the problem that you can get your hands around where you know the people involved. Your solution is going to depend on the situation locally, the personalities of the people.

Jo Menell: Is there an example of a micro-solution you can tell me?

Jane Goodall: Our most exciting project is funded by the European Community. The entire team is Tanzanian and they speak all the local languages. This is a very ambitious project. It's taking an area along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Gombi National Park, where I was with the chimps for 35 years. When I arrived in that place in 1960 you could go for 300 miles along Lake Tanganyika and it was forest coming down to the crystal clear water from the peaks of the mountains, miles upon miles with a few little clearings for fishing villages. If you go back today, the ten-mile shoreline of Gombi National Park looks the same but to the north and to the south, the trees have gone. It's not just some trees, virtually all trees except where it's really steep. A few shade trees have been planted, but it's so bad that in some areas where the slopes are very steep and they're trying to grow crops, soil erosion is dreadful. You fly over it in the wet season and way out into the lake, the water is red from the washed down soil. We've got barren rocky deserts on some of those hillsides. The women have to dig for roots to get firewood to cook their food.

So our program is re-forestation, agro-forestry, women's projects, and very strong conservation education working with children. This is working because all of the local villages were brought into it. They were shown videos of what happens with soil erosion. The elders said, "We don't need to plant trees, we've never planted trees." Then gradually they all start nodding. There are bits of humor in the film and we take some drummers along to make them happy.

By the end they're saying, "We want to plant trees, will you give us some trees?"

"No."

"You won't give us any trees? Why do you come?"

"We'll give you some seeds and you're going to grow the trees and we'll show you how to grow them."

Now there are 16 villages along the lakeshore with nurseries. The institute's program is sending a little team into the villages and it's in all of the primary schools. That's an area which was almost without hope and suddenly there's hope just from working in a small way with a few village leaders and local politicians.

Jo Menell: That's a great tale. Looking at primates, the chimpanzees, and looking at man, what happened to us? Where did our greed, our violence, and our senseless killing come from? Why did we drift so far from our primate ancestry?

Jane Goodall: Actually, I don't think that we have departed very much. We find behavior in chimpanzees that is clearly a precursor of violence, a precursor of cruelty, a precursor of war. We equally find behavior that is a precursor of love, compassion and altruism. The chimps can be nasty and mean like us but we've developed a sophisticated spoken language and a much more developed intellect. Only humans are capable of deliberate cruelty because we are capable of truly understanding the effect of our deed on the victim. Whether it's physical abuse and torture or whether it's mental abuse, we understand what we're doing in a way that a chimpanzee can't grasp. So to answer your question, how have we departed? What makes us so different is language and the sophisticated development of the intellect.

Jo Menell: Are chimps greedy? Do they steal from each other or invade each others territory to get more stuff than they need?

Jane Goodall: They certainly will take armfuls of food that are larger than they can actually consume. They have eyes that are greedier than their stomachs. They are very territorial and groups of males go out into a neighboring territory where there are fewer males and try to steal females and take over any food patches they come to. So we actually do see all the roots of our own violence, but we don't have to follow our biological greedy selfish instincts. We usually do, but I truly believe we have the ability, if only we will use it right, to leave those things behind--which is what the State of the World Forum is all about. How can we do that? Nobody knows, of course.

Jo Menell: Which brings us to consumerism. We are, beyond any other species, consumers to the point of self-destruction. You can't stop people from shopping. Do you think there is such a thing as sustainable consumerism?

Jane Goodall: If we just eliminated the waste we would drop our consumption by about half. So in other words we have to learn not to buy more than we need, not to take more than we need, to reduce the size of helpings, to get rid of the wrappings, to go back to living, not depriving people, but just making them think about the value of each little morsel of food.

Jo Menell: Are women in these countries insisting on not having so many children?

Jane Goodall: In Tanzania, the women in the villages around the Gombi National Park are now going into town and finding the Tanzanian doctor and asking for help with family planning. And now, six years ago, we could only do that in the company of their husband. Now they're coming on their own. You just sort of see it going into a village where the women have had a chance to become educated. They blossom and the numbers of children drop as they have more education about caring for the infant so that ones they have survive.

—from the documentary "On the Edge--a wake-up call."

Jo Menell: What was an event in your life while growing up that you think caused you to take this course?

Jane Goodall: I had an experience that was my earliest memory. I only knew half the story and my mother happened to tell the other half and I put them together. Before I could speak, I was in my nursery and a dragonfly came through the window and I had a nanny who told me that the whole tail was a sting. She got the thing out of the window. Soon after that she took me down to a shop and she left me outside in my pram with our bull terrier dog attached to the handle when a dragonfly appeared and started zooming around. A kind man came along, he saw I was screaming, because you know, it's all a sting, and so he rolled up his newspaper, hit it and crushed it with his heel. The part I remember is looking down from my pram and seeing the head crushed, the wings shimmering and it was dead and I became hysterical. They didn't understand I was frightened of it but I didn't want it dead. It was guilt. I had to be tranquilized.

So when my mother was telling the story she said, "It was so funny that Jane was so frightened of the dragonfly," and the whole thing flooded back as clear as though I saw it yesterday. Maybe now I go around and fight for the welfare of chimps in zoos and labs and try to care for the orphans whose mothers have been shot by hunters for food or for sale and it's all just trying to assuage that guilt.

Jo Menell: Amazing story.

Jane Goodall: Then of course I was always watching animals, writing about them. Then I fell in love with Tarzan--not the movies and Johnny Weissmuller--the books. My mother took me as a great treat to a Johnny Wiessmuller film and I started to cry. She said, "What's the matter?" I said, "That's not Tarzan." I had my own image.

That was when I began dreaming of Africa, when I was 8 or 9. It was the end of the second World War. We had no money in my family and it was another world. We thought of Africa in those days as poisoned arrows and missionaries boiled in pots by cannibals and drums in the night.

Mom used to say, "Jane, if you really want something, if you work hard enough, if you take advantage of every opportunity, and if you never give up, you will find a way." I didn't go to University because we couldn't afford it and I couldn't get a scholarship because I couldn't learn Latin or Greek or any of the languages I had to have. I got a secretarial job in London working on documentary films. Then came a letter inviting me to Kenya. I still couldn't afford it, so I gave up the job, lived at home and worked as a waitress, collected up the wages and the tips until I had enough money for a return fare to Africa by boat, and that was it. I met Louis Leaky and that led directly to Gombi.

Jo Menell: What's the best way of reaching the people who can't afford to go on eco-tourist trips to Gombi?

Jane Goodall: I've been reaching out with lectures and personal contact. Even if it's in a room of 4,000 people, I always wait at the end to sign books because you need closure with the person. I'm only one person and I can only be in one place at one time. Documentary films reach out to larger numbers of people through television. I have done a lot of books. The Roots and Shoots program is directly teaching youngsters, even in the cities.

Jo Menell: Do you think zoos are sending the wrong message to kids and people who don't appreciate nature because the animals are behind bars?

Jane Goodall: It's a double edged sword. There are zoos and zoos. Some zoos with the little old fashioned square cement floor and steel bars should be closed down yesterday. Newer zoos try to give the animals an appropriate amount of space and social companionship and stimulation. In some ways they're important for a child. A child can see a wonderful nature film of the vanishing elephants in Africa but then they see dinosaurs in the next film and in a child's mind there isn't any difference. Then they see some weird science fiction and then they see people shooting each other. It's a strange world a child picks up from television. If they go to a zoo they can actually have eye contact, they can smell, they can get close to the wonder and the awe that can only come from direct experience.

Jo Menell: Is sex education and the horror of AIDS something you try to address down there in your contact with people?

Jane Goodall: We're addressing the problem of family planning and talking about the degradation of the environment that has resulted from having seven children per woman with this huge population explosion. AIDS education is part of most education programs.

In the old days it was very important to have a big family because that was your insurance for old age. And you had large numbers of children, you had large numbers of cattle and as your children grew up they went into further and further areas and developed them and brought you the money to have a lovely old age. But today the land is already divided into postage stamps; you can't divide it any more. The kids go off into the city and they usually can't get jobs, they sometimes turn to stealing, crime, drug use is creeping up, and so when the old people should sitting back and enjoying the results of their life's work, suddenly they're surrounded by their grown-up children holding their hands out saying, "Help!"

—from the documentary "On the Edge--a wake-up call."

Jo Menell: What have we learned from the chimps?

Jane Goodall: The tremendous importance of early learning, early experience, what kind of family you're in. There are good and bad chimp mothers, just as there are in human society. If you have a good mother who's attentive and affectionate and can impose some discipline, you have a much better start in life. You are likely to become an adult who is able to develop relaxed friendly relations with other members of your community. Whereas if you mother is rather harsh, rather nervous, not very sure of herself, then her children will tend to grow up to be very tense and not relaxed with the other chimps. They're likely to be attacked by the males and they won't do as well.

If that same criteria applies to humans, which I believe it does, then we ought to be paying so much attention to early development. If the mother is working, then how can we step in to provide the child with what the child needs to be a healthy adult, and that includes interaction with the natural world.

From my years with the chimps, I have learned to be a little humble about our own position in the animal kingdom, because although we're unique, we're not as different as we used to think. Evolution includes the evolution of mind as well as the evolution of structure. If we develop a new respect for sentient non-human beings, with whom we share the planet, that will lead to ethical problems because you start to think about the ways we abuse animals, sometimes without even thinking about it. How many people who eat meat actually think about the conditions in which those animals were raised? Vaguely, people know about factory farming, but they don't actually know what happens. The reason I stopped eating meat wasn't because of killing an animal to live, because we've done that all through our history. It was the way that the animals are treated. The chimps serve as a kind of bridge between the human and the non-human being, which leads to a new respect for other living beings.

I think respect is at the heart of what we must do to save the environment.


Interview with Jane Goodall © Concensus Designs, Inc. For permission to reprint portions of this interview, please contact East Beach® Productions.


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