Dr. Jane Goodall: “As an individual
you can make a difference”
by Ardeth Baxter
She’s come a long way from the adventurous secretary who first arrived in Gombe in 1960 to study wild chimpanzees to the distinguished ethologist and indefatigable champion of animals, the environment and world peace. But her ponytail endures, as does her energy and passion for her work.
Dr. Jane Goodall visited Albuquerque recently on a promotional tour for her IMAX film “Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees,” currently showing at the Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque’s Old Town. In a busy day that included a press conference, a talk to over 200 students and a public lecture, she talked about her life and the various projects of the Jane Goodall Institute.
They include the Congo Basin Project, established to conserve the habitat of chimps and other wildlife in the Congo Basin and protect them from the bushmeat trade, the commercial hunting of animals for food. ChimpanZoo is a JGI program initiated to improve conditions for captive chimps. Tacare, or Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education Project, works with African villagers and medical authorities to restore forests and practice sustainable agriculture as well as provide primary health care. Another program involves establishing sanctuaries in Africa for orphaned baby chimps whose mothers have been killed for their meat.
Dr. Goodall also discussed environmental problems and ethical issues, including the unsustainable lifestyles of developed countries, global warming, pollution, contaminated food, and the exploitation of animals. She suggested small but significant actions we can each take to make a difference, including walking or bicycling when possible, conserving water and electricity, not doing business with companies that use child slave labor, and rejecting genetically modified food, products tested on animals and factory farmed meat. She reminded her audience that cows and pigs have feelings too. Pigs are as intelligent as dogs, yet we treat them like objects in our factory farming industry.
Dr. Goodall stressed the role of youth and the Internet in changing the future of our planet. She is particularly proud of the work of Roots and Shoots, which began on her front porch in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1991 with 16 students concerned about animals and the environment. The organization’s name symbolizes the children who can break through the brick walls of human-engendered planetary problems. Roots and Shoots has expanded to over 4,500 groups and 35,000 members in 70 countries, including mainland China, and all 50 states. Originally intended for children and young adults from preschool to university age, now even senior citizens, zoos and prison inmates have formed their own groups.
Roots & Shoots’ goals are to foster respect and compassion for all living things, promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for the environment, animals and the human community. Since September 11, 2001, it has added a global peace initiative, based on nonviolence, with people like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela serving as role models.
As Dr. Goodall explained, “It’s about breaking down the barriers. We love to build barriers. We build barriers between people of different religions, different cultures and different countries. We sure build barriers between animals and humans. Chimpanzees really teach us that there isn’t a sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom. And if you just admit to yourself that we’re not the only creatures on this planet who have personalities and minds and feelings, you have a new respect for all the other amazing beings with whom we share this planet. You can get pretty concerned if you start thinking about ways we use and abuse so many of these creatures.”
Roots and Shoots groups in New Mexico have helped raise money and collected toys and other items to enrich the lives of the chimps at the former Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo, now the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care (see Sanctuary! for the story of the CCCC.) There are currently some 25 Roots and Shoots groups in New Mexico. Other groups have created structures to protect the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle (India), begun a campaign to improve living conditions for their local zoo animals (Nigeria), educated their community on pet issues (Oakland, CA), and volunteered at their local animal shelter (the Netherlands). Roots and Shoots projects are as creative and diverse as the minds of its members and the needs of their particular communities.
Regarding the daunting anti-environmental and pro-war agendas of the Bush administration, Dr. Goodall stated, “We must be ready for peace when it comes. We mustn’t allow the environment to be destroyed for the war effort. I found that so many people in this country believe that to care about the environment makes them not patriotic. And it’s absolutely wrong. It means that the evil forces will triumph if we allow this precious planet of ours to continue to deteriorate.”
She holds out hope for our beleaguered planet, citing the potential of the human brain, the resilience of nature, and the indomitable human spirit as positive factors. But as a realist, Dr. Goodall believes there is much work to do. In response to our question about her vision of the future, she responded: “As far as the natural world is concerned around the globe, we really are at a crossroads. It’s like this is the call to action. Right now. And we’ve got to get to the tipping point, we’ve got to get to that critical mass, where there’s enough people who care passionately about the environment, the planet, and the future. With apathy, we won’t do anything.”
For information on how to start a Roots and Shoots group and the other JGI projects, like the Chimpanzee Collaboratory to establish legal personhood for chimps, visit www.janegoodall.org.
Ardeth Baxter is an animal guardian and animal rights (and peace) advocate. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content
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