TORONTO (CUP) — Jane Goodall is an iconic primatologist and environmental activist.
Beginning in 1960, she began living with and intensely studying chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her findings were revolutionary; she uncovered multiple human similarities, discovered their use of tools and witnessed their violent behaviour. After 52 years, her time with chimps has become deeply intertwined with her life. She’s written numerous books on her work and observations and been given countless awards for her contributions.
Today, at age 78, she no longer lives in the wild, but instead spends 300 days a year travelling and talking to audiences around the world. The core of her message is a call to action: we need to protect animals or else extinction looms. On Sept. 25, Goodall spoke to a capacity crowd at the Royal Ontario Museum. Ryersonian reporter Ryan Kohls sat down with Goodall for a brief chat before her talk.
Ryersonian: There is a lot of talk these days about Africa’s economic boom. Do you sense that this development will negatively impact wildlife?
Jane Goodall: Oh, it definitely will and is, and also it’s widening the gap between the successful business people and the people who have nothing. The poverty is increasing.
R: Have you seen any signs of this or heard any stories
JG: There are so many stories. For example, the last one I heard was in Malawi, where people are moving further and further into lion country and the lions are getting more used to people. There have been a couple of cases where lions have killed people, so now lions are automatically shot.
Where people are moving into chimpanzee forests and cutting down the trees, the same thing is happening. Chimpanzees are moving into the villages and being killed. So, it’s happening everywhere.
R: You just launched a coffee line exclusively at Loblaws [Canada’s largest food retailer]. This is your attempt to bridge that gap between human needs and wildlife needs. How can a coffee from Jane Goodall do that?
JG: Well, it’s a lovely story actually. It became very obvious to me when I flew over the whole area of the Gombe National Park that the people were struggling to survive. There were more of them than the land could support; all of the trees had gone. It was a desolate scene. How could we even begin to protect the chimps in this little oasis of fertile soil? So, we started this take-care program, very holistic, improving the lives of people with food, reforestation and watersheds. But, they chose. It was listening to them and what they wanted, and we tried to fulfill those needs to start with.
And then, we found there was really good coffee in the slopes around Gombe, but the farmers couldn’t get it to market very well. We persuaded coffee roasters to come over, and they said it’s fabulous coffee. Now, the farmers get a higher price. They get assistance with learning how to use one area to produce two or three or even four times the yield. They’ve all got management plans for the village. They can’t suddenly take over all the land for coffee. That’s not allowed. Of course, it’s shade-grown coffee; that’s what everyone wants. This is good for the soil, plus they can’t really afford fertilizers anyway. The trees are coming back, and the particular coffee in Canada that you get sends two dollars to our Africa program that is dealing with children’s education and so forth. This particular program has one aspect of it where the shade-grown coffee isn’t habituated or burned so that every place you used to grow coffee, the village puts aside that much land of forest untouched.
R: Your decision to partner with Loblaws seemed a bit odd at first. Many believe supermarkets are responsible for our unhealthy food system. Do you see this as your way to work within the system to change the system?
JG: Yes, because if you don’t work with people it will never change. After all, the amount of space given to organic food has hugely increased, and that’s because people demand it. So, it’s a mixture of educating the public and helping them understand that yes, it might cost a bit more, but then you’ll waste less and you’ll treat it with more respect. We don’t value our food enough, or clothing, and don’t think about how it got there and things like that. At the same time, the store is gradually realizing what people want, and they change the way they are marketing things and buy more of what people want. It’s all integrated, like everything else on this planet.
R: Several African economies are dependent on wildlife tourism (Rwanda, Kenya, etc.). Where do you draw the line between this being a beneficial practice and one that negatively impacts the lives of these animals?
JG: It very often hurts the environment. In the Ngorongoro Crater [in Tanzania], for example, it’s not as it used to be at all. So, you have to find this balance, and of course for a government that’s always trying to make more money, and for local people who are trying to profit, if eight people going to see the gorillas makes this much money, then it leads to, “Let’s bring 16.” That’s the danger. It has to be very strict with awareness and education amongst the Africans, not the white people going in and saying we’re going to stop the local people from making money from tourism. It’s got to start within Africa. That’s why our “Roots and Shoots” [conservation and education] program is so important.
R: When you went to Tanzania in 1960, Africa was referred to as the “dark continent.” When you travel in 2012, do you sense that people are better educated now?
JG: I think it’s totally changed. When I went it was full of mystery, and we didn’t know much about it. When I first went out there, there were animals everywhere. It wasn’t just the national parks. I landed in Nairobi, and driving up to the white highlands there were animals on the road. There were aardvarks. The first night I was there, I was told in the morning, “Come see a big leopard.” There were also still the signs of apartheid, and that’s something that has changed that was horrible. It was dark in so many ways: the slave trade and apartheid were linked. So, we now know so much more.
R: A large part of your success is due to your unwavering determination. Do you credit that quality as the recipe for your accomplishments?
JG: It was having an amazing mother, so that when everybody laughed at me for wanting to go to Africa and live with animals, my mother always said, “If you really want something and never give up, you’ll always find a way.” When I finally got there — and Louis Leakey offered me this incredible opportunity to study chimpanzees — I was a young girl with no degree, straight from England, and they wouldn’t allow me to be alone. So, who do you think volunteered to come with me? It was that amazing mother. So, it was in the family. It wasn’t just my mother. The whole family was supportive and helped me to make me who I am.
R: You place a lot of faith and hope in future generations to protect the environment. What makes you so hopeful that they will not make the same mistakes?
JG: I think we’ve made so many mistakes, and so many young people see that and are completely horrified. There’s also so much more information available now. The Roots and Shoots program became so important to me because I met so many young people who’d lost hope for the future; thoughtful high school students, people working their first jobs, university students. One of the reasons is you feel helpless when you learn the big problems and you do nothing. Roots and Shoots is to give young people hope. They choose their projects, roll up their sleeves and get out there, and they take action. If you take action about a problem you think is important and you see success and then realize young people in 131 countries are
doing the same thing, that’s much more hopeful.