Jane Goodall on the Future of Primatology

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Fifty years ago, a young Jane Goodall first walked into the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Things have changed dramatically. She talks about the changing political, environmental and ecological landscape in which she has dedicated her life's work of studying the social and familial interactions of wild chimpanzees. She says that what used to be a densely forested area is now "an island of forest surrounded by cultivated fields and people struggling to survive."

A global leader in animal welfare activism, Jane Goodall is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute. She now spends time working with young people to inspire them to work toward a better world. 


John Hockenberry weighs in:

Jane Goodall first came to my attention in elementary school. She was on something of an adventurer, it seemed to me, a woman scientist who went to Africa to be close to some Chimpanzees. Goodall was a serious scientist, surely, but she seemed also to be something of an eccentric British lady indulging her fantasy to live in Tanzania and have monkeys as pets. As I grew older, Goodall seemed less involved with the environmental movement and more concerned with some vanishing emotional connection to the British Empire’s mission to occasionally do “good works,” when it wasn’t controlling colonial peoples. Jane Goodall has been working in Tanzania for 50 years as of this week. With the disaster unfolding in the Gulf, her devotion to a single cause —even a single population of a single species— seems closer to the center of what’s needed in environmental policy than anything going on at advocacy groups like Greenpeace or the WWF.

Goodall writes, with the benefit of 50 years of hindsight, that humanity’s relationship with the natural world has to change if there is any chance of saving the environment. The lesson of the Gulf disaster is teaching something that Goodall knew a half century ago. Our relationship with a single animal is more meaningful than our broader dependence on natural resources. If we can understand our relationship with a single, oil-soaked pelican then we may have a chance to save the gulf. If we can’t connect ourselves to those animals, we might as well hang it up. Thanks Jane.