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How the pandemic has renewed Jane Goodall’s hopes for conservation

Iconic conservationist, scientist and activist Dr Jane Goodall, DBE may be grounded, but the pandemic has given her renewed hope that we can work together to make the world a much better place, writes Joanna Tovia.

When Jane Goodall’s father gave her a toy chimpanzee as tall as she was, he could never have imagined the extraordinary life that was about to unfold for his daughter and the impact she would have on the planet for generations to come.

Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace, has dedicated the past 60 years to protecting the chimpanzees with whom she lived and worked in the early decades of her career.

Jane Goodall
Goodall was one of the first in her field to support the notion that chimpanzees had emotions © The Jane Goodall Institute

“I was born a fighter,” Dr Goodall explains. “I believe in the power of hope – I believe hope spurs us into action and I do believe in the indomitable human spirit.”

Unable to afford university, Dr Goodall worked as a waitress when she finished high school to save enough money for a boat fare to Africa. Once there, she convinced paleoanthropologist Dr Louis S B Leakey to hire her as an assistant. Her groundbreaking chimpanzee research in Tanzania soon became so well known that she was accepted as a PhD candidate at Cambridge University without any previous studies.

Little was known about chimpanzees when she first began studying them in the forests of Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in western Tanzania. She discovered that chimpanzees, not just humans, made tools with which to hunt; that they weren’t vegetarians afterall; and that chimpanzees lived according to a complex social system.

Jane Goodall
A young Jane Goodall during the early days of her career © The Jane Goodall Institute

But the ethologist was criticised in the scientific community for her unorthodox field research (naming the chimpanzees she studied instead of numbering them, for example), and for promoting the then-radical notion that chimpanzees have emotions, minds and personalities. Undeterred, Dr Goodall continued her research, ultimately redefining our understanding of the relationship between humans and animals.

“People are beginning to realise we need a different relationship with the natural world.”

Dr Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 to support further research in Gombe and the protection of chimpanzees in their habitats. But a 1986 conference proved a turning point for her. There to present a paper on the behaviour of chimpanzees, Dr Goodall was so shocked to learn about the rate of deforestation occurring in Africa that she was moved to scale up her conservation efforts.

“I went to that conference as a scientist planning to carry on with that wonderful life and I left as an activist,” she says.

It's time to establish a sustainable way of living with nature
It's time to establish a sustainable way of living with nature © The Jane Goodall Institute

Dr Goodall has since become a global force for conservation, and the programs she has established will benefit the planet and its inhabitants long after she leaves it. Her Roots & Shoots program, now active in 60 countries, empowers young people to make a difference in their local communities and inspires them to become an informed generation of conservation leaders.

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) works to restore critical chimpanzee habitat, improve the health and education of women, and cultivate local livelihoods in harmony with nature. JGI’s sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres give chimpanzees a safe haven in the face of the illegal wildlife trade, poaching and relentless habitat destruction.

Her conservation work and contribution to science has been recognised with a slew of honorary degrees and awards, notably the French Legion of Honor and the UNESCO Gold Medal Award. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2004.

Goodall has shared her life's work with the younger generation
Goodall has shared her life's work with the younger generation © The Jane Goodall Institution

A brighter future

Dr Goodall usually spends 300 days of the year on the road sharing stories of her life and messages of hope. The global pandemic hasn’t slowed her down – it just means she’s now doing that work from home.

“I’ve never been so busy,” she says. Working from her childhood home in the coastal town of Bournemouth, England, Dr Goodall’s speaking engagements are now carried out via video conferencing rather than in packed auditoriums. The 86-year-old has also just launched a podcast (The Jane Goodall Hopecast), and she’s co-authoring a new book, The Book of Hope.

Jane Goodall
Dr Goodall has become a global force for fighting issues such as deforestation © The Jane Goodall Institute

“We’ve got this little window of time, which is closing, and we need to find ways where we can start to make a better world for people, for animals, for the environment, and this isn’t going to happen unless we all get together,” Dr Goodall urges. “That’s one silver lining of this awful pandemic – people are beginning to realise we need a different relationship with the natural world, a more sustainable way of living with nature.

“Many will have experienced cleaner air, starry skies, have had time to enjoy gardens and public spaces or even learn to grow plants and gardens in these COVID times,” she says. “Hopefully the appreciation of our natural world will stay with us to help us to take greater care of our environment and all its inhabitants, and to have a greater understanding of each other.”

This article originally appeared in volume 38 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

Lead image: Dr Goodall is known for her research with chimpanzees © JGI