Jane Goodall interview: ‘The most important thing is sharing good news’

by Mongabay.com on 17 November 2017

• 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.

“…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.” Jane Goodall

• 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.

Featured image: In her early days at Gombe, Jane Goodall spent many hours sitting on a high peak with binoculars or a telescope, searching the forest below for chimpanzees.

• 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:


Jane Goodall on being proven right that animals have personalities, and more

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.


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. [Read More Here…]

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