Interview with Jane Goodall

Interview with Jane Goodall

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Jane Goodall with YP junior reporters (from left) Pearl Chan, Hetty Lee and Hollie Chung
Jane Goodall with YP junior reporters (from left) Pearl Chan, Hetty Lee and Hollie Chung
Photos: Tim Bowman
Young Post Junior Reporters: You lived with the chimpanzees for more than 45 years, what are your strongest memories?

Jane Goodall: We had our 50th anniversary this year. [Jane started her chimpanzee research in Gombe National Park in 1960] The memories, I have so many. There is the memory of when the old female clung onto me like a babe because she’d been scared. It meant I was gaining her trust. When I first saw a chimpanzee using a tool. It was very exciting because, back then, it was still believed that only humans could make tools.

One of the worst memories was finding out that chimpanzees can be just as brutal and aggressive as we can, and that they had something very like war. Now we know that they’re just as nasty, and sadly that makes them look even more like us.

YP: What was your life like back then?

JG: I was in Gombe National Park for months and months and months. It was not like living with human tribes. I was living in a tent near the chimpanzees, waking up with sunrise and taking notes. I loved it.

YP: How similar are chimps to humans?

JG: Chimps are really like us. Their DNA differs from humans by only just one per cent, their brain is made like ours, and their immune system is so similar that we can catch the same diseases. You can have a blood transfer from a chimp if you have the same blood group; that’s how like us they are.

But for me, the most fascinating similarity they have is the relationship between mothers and sisters, the emotions they have: sadness, joy, fear, despair and grief. They can die of grief.

YP: In 2005, 70 primatologists met at Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, to propose a multimillion US dollar action plan to control firearm distribution and logging. But wouldn’t Rwanda, for example, which is home to critically endangered gorillas, benefit more by using this money instead to help citizens recover both socially and economically after the 1994 genocide? What do you think the priority of these African governments should be?

JG: The priorities have to be shared. When I flew over Gambia and the surrounded area in 1994, I looked down from my plane and I saw a little tiny area of forests which was Gombe National Park. When I arrived in 1960 you could see that same lush forest all the way around [local people and refugees cut down the trees for firewood and building poles and to clear the land for their crops]. There’s obviously people who lack support so the answer seems to be a program called TACARE [created in1994 by the Jane Goodall Institute] which fights and improves the lives of the villagers not by telling them what to do, but by going to the villages and asking the people what they feel could make their lives better.

That programme began with 12 villages immediately around Gombe and gradually as we learned the best way to do things, the programme grew and other NGOs joined. There are programmes to improve farming methods, there are programmes to restore activity and re-use the soil. There are programmes for women to start their own development projects, scholarships to go to school because usually it’s the boys who have the chance to do that. We found really good coffee was grown in the high slopes outside the national park, so we helped the farmers to improve the way they grow the beans and got super products.

As a result of that, we now have 32 villages that have joined. They have allowed land and forest to rejuvenate. It’s all the way around the national park and we’ve now expanded [our programme] way down in the south to help people protect their forests before they destroy them and reach the level of poverty some regions had reached.

So the answer to all this is that everything is inter-connected, and that it’s very arrogant of us to think that humans are so much more important than anything else.

If you do join our TACARE programme you improve the lives of everybody. Everybody benefits: chimps, humans, chimp children as well as human children.

YP: What would you recommend to students who want to work with animals?

JG: Well, first of all to join Roots & Shoots absolutely! I am really serious. I’ll give you an example. We brought together eight or nine different Roots & Shoots groups and they were asking questions. One 15-year old girl said: “I really, really want to work with animals but my mother tells me it’s not a good thing for me to do and I don’t know what do.” She started to cry. She said: “My mother said there is nobody else as stupid as me to want to work with animals”. I smiled and I said: “Let’s see how many of you in this little group are interested in animals and working with animals.” Eighteen hands went up. So I said: “Ok after I’m gone, you get together and discuss among yourselves what you can do to help.”

But that’s not what you asked. To work with animals, you have to work really hard, to get the right kind of degree if you want to study as a scientist, or if you want to just work with them, keep your ears open to opportunities to first volunteer and then maybe get a job. But never give up.

YP: What did your parents say when you told them you were going to Africa to live with chimpanzees?

JG: Well, my father was out of the picture by then. My parents divorced so I never really knew much about him, so it was my mother and her mother who were the big influences in my life. I was 10 and a half years old when I decided I would go live with animals and write books about them. Everybody laughed at me because we didn’t have any money then. We couldn’t even afford a bicycle. Africa was the dark continent, far away, and as far as I knew with rumours of being dangerous with even cannibals. So everybody laughed at me because the most important thing was that I was the wrong sex. Back then girls didn’t do that sort of thing.

But my mother has never, never been anything but supportive and she basically said if you really want something and work hard and you take advantage of opportunities and you never, never give up, you’ll find a way. So I had nothing but support. That’s why it’s so important for young women to get this message.

YP: When times get tough, did you ever want to give up?

JG: I never wanted to give up. I thought I might have to. Especially at the beginning when chimpanzees had never seen a white person before.They gave one look at me and ran away! They were scared, but eventually I got their trust.

I only had money for six months, but eventually it was ok, we got the money to carry on.

A very bad time was when one of my students was kidnapped in the middle of the night. The kidnappers were holding him to ransom. That was a very terrible time.

YP: Do you think chimps enjoy the company of humans?

JG: Sometimes they do. But they shouldn’t prefer human company. Some chimps like humans and some don’t. It depends on the experience they’ve had. Sometimes Fiffy [one of the chimps she lived with at Gombe National Park] would come and just sit down beside me.

YP: How did you go from helping chimpanzees to helping all these different kinds of people, including teens?

JG: It happened when I realised at a conference that forests and chimpanzees were vanishing very fast. I had my PhD by the time I went to this conference and I was planning to continue the wonderful life I was had, out with the chimps, writing books, analysing the data. It was fabulous. But I left this four-day conference as an activist and started travelling around Africa to talk about chimps conservation.

Then I realised that so many African problems were directly caused by colonialism and the continued exploitation by foreigners and big corporations. So I started travelling throughout Europe and then the US and Asia.

The more I travelled, the more I met young people your age [12-18], who seemed to have not much hope for the future. Some of them were depressed, some of them angry... So I began talking to them and it led to the Roots & Shoots programme.

I have grand children and I think how we carve the world for our children is very important. I feel anger, shame and, above all, the need to do something. And in 1991, I started the programme.

YP: What do you think of the way livestock are treated today?

JG: I am utterly shocked and appalled by intensive farming. If we look at what’s happening around the world, we find that there’s all kinds of interconnected problems, when people want more and more meat, more and more cheap meat. If we’re thinking of cattle, huge areas of forests are been cut down to create grazing and to grow crops. We find enormous waste in changing vegetable protein into animal protein. It uses a lot of water and it destroys the environment. The amount of meat that you get from one young cow could feed one family for about three weeks, whereas the grain that you fed to that cow could feed a whole village for about a year.

In addition to that, you need to give antibiotics to keep alive animals that live in tiny areas and that can’t eat and live properly. Not when they are sick, but just to keep them alive. That means antibiotics are getting into the food chain and bacteria are building up resistances. Already some people have died from a cut on the finger because there wasn’t a powerful enough antibiotic to cure the infection. So that’s a danger. Then to get animals to grow quickly, they give them hormones. That’s affecting us.

And then if you happen to spend time with farm animals, like cows and pigs, you would know that they are so intelligent and such amazing beings, and then to think of what we do to them...

So it’s been said that heavy meat eating is a crime against the future. And if we want to eat meat we should make sure it’s from animals that have lived in a pretty decent way. That means that it will cost a lot more, but then we value it. At the moment we don’t. I have seen people that have a big chunk of meat on their plate they don’t eat at all and throw it away. That’s animal suffering they’ve just thrown away.

And finally, they emit methane gas and heavily contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.

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