Goodall, ever hopeful: We will save the chimp

Jane Goodall observes chimps at a sanctuary in Kenya in 1997.
Jane Goodall observes (from left) Tess, 5 or 6 years old, Sophie, 7, and Bahati, 3, eating at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Nanyuki, north of Nairobi in 1997.
Jean-Marc Bouju | AP 1997

Jane Goodall can list many ways humans continue to harm the environment and threaten the very existence of animal species.

Despite that, the 83-year old primatologist continues to err on the side of hopefulness.

"I have to say the chimps will not become extinct," she said in an interview with MPR News Friday at the University of Minnesota.

Part of her hopefulness for chimps and other species comes from social media.

"We can bring together the voices of people around the world who care about an issue like the poaching of rhinos, the poaching of elephants, or climate change,'' she said. "And as more and more people can be brought together around the issue, so the power of collective voice gets greater."

Goodall's groundbreaking research in the 1960s on chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in what is now Tanzania made her a pioneer.

Friday, she got a pioneer's welcome at Northrop Auditorium, when the sold-out crowd gave her a standing ovation as she walked on stage.

Goodall began her talk by giving a chimpanzee greeting call.

British primatologist Jane Goodall during a press conference in 2004.
British primatologist Jane Goodall speaks during a press conference at Budapest Zoo in 2004.
Attila Kisbenedek | AFP | Getty Images 2004

She went to recount her days growing up in England, always fascinated by animals, and of going to Africa.

Her mother's support played an important role. Goodall noted her mother, Margaret Myfanwe Joseph, never got angry at young Goodall's curiosity, even when she brought a handful of earthworms into her bed one night.

Research and activist

Goodall's research revealed chimps' social structures and intelligence, including the breakthrough finding that chimps use tools.

Dr. Jane Goodall arrives for a National Geographic event in January.
Dr. Jane Goodall arrives for the National Geographic 'An Evening Of Exploration' at Natural History Museum on January 31, 2018 in London.
Ian Gavan | Getty Images for National Geographic

But it was a conference in Chicago that changed her life's mission, she said.

"I went to that conference as a scientist, and I left as an activist," she said. "And since that trip in October 1986, I haven't been in one place more than three weeks consecutively."

Now, she said she spends 300 days a year on the road, speaking all over the world to raise awareness of saving environments and ecosystems.

Goodall only makes two brief visits to Tanzania a year, but the research she started continues uninterrupted.

"How can we have unlimited economic development on a planet with finite resources?" she added. "I think it's really difficult for people to realize that. We have to find other ways of doing things, otherwise, we'll completely destroy the environment. We're moving in that direction very fast.

"Politicians in many different countries are undermining conservation efforts, turning back legislation that was put in place to protect the environment," Goodall said. "That's certainly true in this country. It's true in the UK, as well."

Focus on children

Goodall is often seen carrying stuffed animals, usually primates.

One of them, Mr. H, has been to 63 countries. It's named for the magician who gave it to her, Gary Horn. Horn, who's blind, thought he was giving her a stuffed chimpanzee, but it has a tail, a telltale sign it's a monkey. Chimps don't have tails. And neither do humans, Goodall quipped.

The toy gives a clue how much time Goodall spends speaking to children, mostly through the program Roots & Shoots she started in the 1990s.

Children, she said, are a reason to be hopeful.

"If they understand the problems we face and empower them to take action and listen to their voices, they become very determined and filled with ideas," said Goodall. "And they're taking action. They're rolling up their sleeves and cleaning streams and picking up litter and taking part in campaigns against climate change.

"They're changing the way their parents and grandparents think. This is a force for change."

This was at least the fourth visit to Northrop for Goodall since the 1980s. The University of Minnesota and Goodall have a long history. Dr. Anne Pusey worked as a student with Goodall in Tanzania in the 1970s and ran the Jane Goodall Institute's Center for Primate Studies at the U from the mid-1990s until 2009. When Pusey moved to Duke University, she took the institute with her.

"In her talks and her writing, she's brilliant the way she makes people care so much about the chimps by just describing them in an objective way," Pusey noted in a 2010 Star Tribune article.

Several University of Minnesota students still are connected to Goodall's work through professor Michael Wilson, who has also worked in Gombe National Park.

Ahead of her 84th birthday, Goodall noted that it's a time for her to speed up, not slow down.

"I don't know how much time I have, but I have a message to take around the planet. The days are getting less and it's more important that I reach those people,'' she said.

"I wouldn't do it if it didn't make a difference. But I can't tell you how many people who've said, 'You've given me hope - I'll play my part. I'll do my bit.'"

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