- Celebrated conservationist and Mongabay advisor Jane Goodall spoke with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler for the podcast just before departing for her latest speaking tour (she travels 300 days a year raising conservation awareness). Here we supply the full transcript.
- This wide-ranging conversation begins with reaction to the science community’s recent acceptance of her six decade contention that animals are individuals with personalities, and moves on to discuss trends in conservation, and she then provides an update on the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI)’s global projects.
- She also challenges trophy hunting as an effective tool for funding conservation (“It’s rubbish,” she says), shares her positive view of China’s quickly growing environmental movement, talks about the key role of technology in conservation, and discusses a range of good news, which she states is always so important to share.
- Amazingly, Dr. Goodall reports that JGI’s youth program Roots & Shoots now has perhaps as many as 150,000 chapters worldwide, making it probably the largest conservation movement in the world, with many millions having been part of the program. An effort is now underway to document them all.
This week’s podcast featured a discussion between Mongabay’s founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler and Jane Goodall, the world’s most recognizable conservationist and one of this media outlet’s esteemed advisory board members (listen to excerpts of it here). Rhett and Jane check in regularly, but given the recent research vindicating her long (six decade) contention that animals – from the chimps she studied to the everyday animals we are all surrounded by – are individuals with personalities, just like humans, we decided to record and share the conversation. Listen here or read the transcript below:
In this context they discuss the idea that trophy hunting is an important component of funding the conservation of species like lions and rhinos (Dr. Goodall calls that “rubbish” for multiple reasons, including the loss of accumulated wisdom and experience held by elder animals). Also discussed is China’s increasing environmental awareness; the importance of conservation groups working with communities on multiple levels like health and education, and not just the environment; the recent disasters like in Puerto Rico and northern California; news that the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI)’s youth program Roots and Shoots now has perhaps 150,000 chapters worldwide; and an update on JGI’s network of village-level volunteers, which in combination with tech tools like remote sensing, is able to provide the latest observations of what’s happening all over the world, as in the examples she shares from Tanzania and Burundi. The two spoke just before Dr. Goodall set off on her latest speaking tour: at 83 she travels 300 days a year to inspire the next generation of conservationists.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JANE GOODALL
Rhett Butler for Mongabay: So you’re off to Japan next?
Jane Goodall: Yes.
Mongabay: And then home again?
Jane Goodall: No, then it’s Los Angeles, New York, DC, Argentina, five European countries, and Malaysia.
Mongabay: Wow, so when do you get home again?
Jane Goodall: The 20th of December.
Mongabay: Wow, okay. I don’t know how you do it, it’s truly amazing.
Jane Goodall: I haven’t done it yet.
Mongabay: (LAUGHS) That’s true! So when you were working in Gombe you attributed personalities to chimps, which at the time was pretty controversial. But then last month a study came out that basically vindicated all your research, finding that chimps in the wild had personalities that were very similar to chimps in captivity. So I’m just curious, is that a little bit frustrating that it takes so long to confirm something that was obvious to you after you’d spent time in the wild with these chimps?
Jane Goodall: Quite honestly I think almost everybody recognized that animals have personalities whether they were in the wild or whether they weren’t. And it was just science saying, ‘Well we can’t prove it, therefore it’s better we don’t accept it.’ And it was the same with emotions. It was the same with ‘mind.’ All of those things were absolutely taboo. I went to Cambridge in 1961 and I wasn’t supposed to have given the chimpanzees names, even. That was supposed [to] compromise the validity of the research, ‘It would be better if they have numbers.’ And I find this is not actually a logical way of thinking. It would have been far better for the scientists to say, ‘Well yes, we absolutely agree. Of course animals have personalities. But we don’t know how to study it, so we can’t talk about it’ – but they didn’t say that. They just said ‘No, they don’t have personalities, because only humans have personalities.’
Mongabay: And so when we’re talking about individual animals versus individual species, [your] research and a growing body of research confirmed that individual animals have individual personalities. So how does that play into issues like trophy hunting for you?
Jane Goodall: Well for me it plays into it in many, many different ways. First of all, in conservation. So if you’re conserving a species, that’s very different from conserving the individuals within a species, in order to conserve the species. And with trophy hunting – I mean any hunting – every single individual animal has a life that’s playing an important role in its society, I’m sure. Especially with trophy hunting, because the hunters go after the lions with the biggest manes, the elephants with the biggest tusks. And of course they are very important in that particular society. That’s why they’ve evolved that way. And so by picking out always the animals with the most magnificent appearance you’re bound to be changing the nature of the future, aren’t you I think?
Mongabay: I think what’s been interesting is we have gone from looking at an entire species to looking at populations. And now that we understand that the individuals within these populations [are] important, taking out an individual may have a critical role within its own community. So when you lose that animal it changes the structure of the whole community.
Jane Goodall: Yeah, I’m sure it does. Like I remember when somebody paid a huge amount of money to go and shoot a very old male rhino. You must remember that? It was a huge controversy. And everyone said, well he doesn’t play any important role in the genetic survival of his species. He’s too old. But on the other hand people are finding out that rhinos have more of a complex social life than anybody ever thought. And they’ve been seen congregating – even black rhinos. So nobody really understands the social system – probably never will know, because it’s been so disrupted by us.
Mongabay: And so when some folks claim that hunting – trophy hunting – is an indispensable way to fund conservation, do you have an opinion on that argument?
Jane Goodall: Yeah, I think it’s rubbish. First of all nobody’s ever proved that the money from trophy hunting actually does go back to conserve the species. And there’s this recent exposé, really, of the group in Oxford that had been working with those lions, where Cecil was shot by the dentist. And the outpouring of anger because Cecil was shot – he was a collared lion, he had a name. In fact on the one hand every single lion – just because he doesn’t have a name – is just as much of a personality as Cecil. It’s just that nobody’s bothered to study him. And when people became so outraged because Cecil was killed, then they began giving money to this research group at Oxford. I can’t remember the amount but it was quite a large amount of money. And that wasn’t used to help conserve those particular lions because the group continued to sit on the fence and not to defend even their own lions being killed, the ones that they tagged, as long as they got their collar back. And I just find it ethically very, very disturbing.
It’s something people have to try and face up to, and it’s very difficult. Take domestic animals, for one, I was reading the other day about a woman who wrote a book called The Secret Life of Cows. And she loved her cows, and she talks about their personalities. And she talks about one white calf that was born, and a second white calf was born. And the second one was an object of wonder to the one who had been born just about a month before, they were totally inseparable. They slept together, they never left each others side, they were firm friends. But when they were two she happily drove them off to the abattoir. And I find it – I don’t know how you sort this out in your mind ethically. I couldn’t.
Mongabay: So do you feel that there’s growing awareness generally about animals in terms of them being individuals?
Jane Goodall: Absolutely, I mean I’ve noticed every lecture – when I talk of or say something about [this] kind of thing, there’s applause from at least half the audience, standing up for individual animals and their lives. Their lives matter to them.
Mongabay: You’ve been in the conservation field for quite a long time. What would you say has changed the most since you started your career?
Jane Goodall: Well, I think the thing that’s changed most is the need for conservation of species! Because of course you know when I first went to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, there were animals everywhere. It was completely different from today. You’d drive through Nairobi, and you get just to the outskirts, [you’d find] the animals weren’t confined to Nairobi National Park, they were just wandering along, near the road. You’d see a giraffe. So that’s one major change, is the number of animals who’ve disappeared, thus emphasizing the need for conservation. And the habitat destruction. The human population growth. All of these things. Meaning that conservation has become something very important if we care about the future.
And then the conservation methods – I don’t know, I’d like to say they’ve changed. But there’s still what I consider too much of trying to conserve animals by… I don’t know, killing off lots of them to examine their stomach contents. To find what they feed [on] so that you can conserve them better, that sort of research. That was done on vultures I think.
Mongabay: What about mechanisms like protected areas versus working with communities or using technology?
Jane Goodall: I think technology can be absolutely fantastic. We use it a lot. There’s the use of drones to protect elephants and rhinos, [when] animals are seen to be congregating in certain areas, there’s a suspicion that the poachers will go to those areas, and so the rangers move in to be better able to protect the animals. So that’s a terrific use of some technology. And also GIS, GPS, mapping. But the first part of your question – I feel like conservation will never work unless you work with local communities.
Mongabay: Could you speak a little bit about how JGI is using technology? I think what you’re doing with the rangers is really interesting.
Jane Goodall: Yes. The fact is that in Tanzania there’s only about 2,500 chimps maximum left now. And most of those are actually not in protected areas – the two protected areas are Gombe and Mahale national parks. But most of the chimps are in village/forest reserves. And so the TACARE program, which is improving the lives of the villagers in very holistic ways, working with them so that they become our partners in conservation – 52 villages we now work with around Gombe and down south towards the remaining forests where the remaining chimps are not protected. Each of these 52 villages provides one to two, depending on the size, forest monitors. And we do workshops that train them how to use smart phones. And they’re very proud. They go into their forest and they record like an illegally cut tree, or an animal trap, or a [bullet] cartridge. On the other hand they report sightings of different animals there. And they collectively chose what they would record. We didn’t tell them what to record, they chose it. And they’re very passionate about it. And that gets uploaded onto a platform, Global Forest Watch. So that everything is transparent and the village leaders can have no excuse not to know what’s going on in their forests. And JGI can download it. And the government can download it, too. So it’s making a huge difference.
Mongabay: So taking a broader look would you say that you’ve become more or less hopeful that we can reverse some of the trends that we are seeing?
Jane Goodall: Well, I’m absolutely sure we can reverse some of it. Not all of it. I can’t imagine we can reverse all of it. We’re still losing the battle overall with the chimps, in spite of everything that’s being done in all of these big plans, and the chimpanzee action plans for East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa. They’re great plans. But the bush meat trade is still going on. There’s still trade in live animals, particularly to Asia, chimpanzees. As well as other animals of course. And then disease. And still habitat destruction continues. So you know you have to be prepared to go on fighting, and fighting, and fighting. And I don’t know what the end is. If we give up, it would be the end.
Mongabay: Are there conservation issues that you feel are particularly overlooked right now?
Jane Goodall: Well, something like population numbers, family planning and such. That has been very deliberately not talked about. It’s beginning to get better now. But you know the size of the population is so absolutely crucial for conservation. It is. As populations grow, and populations of cattle grow, you have forests being absolutely decimated. And poverty is another one which I think is being more addressed these days. Because if you’re very poor, no matter what the laws are, you’re going to go and cut the last trees down because you’re desperate to grow food for your family. Or get some money from charcoal. But it’s not sustainable. It definitely is not sustainable. And you notice the animals disappearing. You know, I’ve been through forests in Congo which had been teeming with wildlife, and now there’s nothing left. And the same’s happening in South America, too.
Mongabay: Yeah in Indonesia you’ll go in the forest, that’s pretty remote, it’s maybe a day from a road. And there are no birds because they’ve all been collected for the bird trade.
Jane Goodall: Yes, that’s right indeed. And places where there’s no butterflies. And then some of the reptiles are vanishing for the same reason. The live animal trade is a disaster. And that means we need to work much harder on persuading people not to buy these exotic animals – parrots for example. They’re vanishing from so many places.
Mongabay: Did you see the new study that came out recently that documented the decline in insects across Europe?
Jane Goodall: Yes, I did. That’s mostly from farming.
Mongabay: Yeah, exactly. But that has knock-on effects for birds and species that need insects.
Jane Goodall: Yeah. The birds go too.
Mongabay: When we met a couple weeks ago in San Francisco you mentioned a few positive signs out of China.
Jane Goodall: I think so. Everybody says, ‘Oh well you know there’s all this live animal trade and it’s all going to China, and the ivory’s going to China, and the pangolins’ scales are going to China, and other Asian countries.’ And if you really step back and look at it, China isn’t doing any worse than America or Europe. It’s just they’re rather good at what they do, and I think it was very impressive that the president announced that all ivory trading would be banned by the end of this year. A lot of people say it won’t make any difference and the illegal trade will continue. But you know one of the advantages of it being a dictatorship is if the president really means it, it’ll really happen. Because the punishments will be swift and complete – if he really means it – I think he probably does. And China’s way ahead with clean, green energy. Way ahead. And they’re building the most extraordinary, enormous wetland for migrating birds on what used to be a gigantic landfill. And it’s the most amazing exercise that you can imagine. And I keep reading about all the different things China is doing to try and clean up the air. They’ve changed. They’ve completely changed. Because when I first went in the mid 90’s they weren’t even talking about the environment. And then came those massive floods due to the – I can’t remember exactly where it was but there was a lot of deforestation. A lot of erosion. Lots of flooding. A lot of damage done. So suddenly it becomes okay to start talking about protecting the environment. People woke up. And the change since those days has been absolutely tremendous. I’ve seen it. And the attitude towards animals as well. In fact I was just looking at a lovely sequence of some people doing rescue work after the recent earthquake. And spending a lot of time rescuing a little dog that was trapped in the rubble.