Public Media Arts Hub

Jane Goodall on animal-human interconnectedness amid the pandemic


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: On this 50th Earth Day, one like no other, we want to mark this moment with Jane Goodall, one of the world's most renowned scientists and environmentalists.

A new "National Geographic" documentary explores her life and work, teaching generations how interconnected we are with the natural world.

Jeffrey Brown spoke with Goodall, who was at her home in Bournemouth, England, about the pandemic and her life's work.

It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: For decades, Jane Goodall has traveled the world as a nonstop advocate for the conservation of animals and the Earth.

Now, like the rest of us, she's confined to her home. But, she says:

Jane Goodall: I have never worked harder in my life, because, you know, it's the 60th anniversary of the research at Gombe. We were going to be celebrating all the year.

We were just in a perfect situation for good fund-raising, and then, boom, everything stopped. So I'm trying to keep up the momentum.

Jeffrey Brown: Her work now is virtual, and, as always, even at 86, virtually nonstop.

As we see in the film, it all began in 1960, when a young British woman without a college degree went to what is now Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to live with and study chimpanzees in a new way.

Jane Goodall: It's absolutely so vivid. And, of course, it was a time when the chimpanzees were like part of my family.

And the striking thing was how like us they actually are. When I got to Cambridge, because Louis Leakey said I had to get a degree, I was told I'd done everything wrong. I shouldn't have given the chimps names. They should have had numbers. I couldn't talk about personality, mind or emotion. Those were unique to us, I was told.

But I had been taught by my dog Rusty...

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Jane Goodall: ... who sits near me, Rusty, he was a very, very special dog. And there's never been another dog quite like him.

Jeffrey Brown: Look at look. Look at Rusty and look at a young Jane Goodall.

Jane Goodall: Look at us side by side.


Jane Goodall: But Rusty was a special dog. All dogs are special, really, but he was extra special.

And of course animals have personalities, minds and emotions. And now science has been forced to accept we're not, after all, the only beings with those attributes.

Jeffrey Brown: Changing minds and practices hasn't always been easy, but she's gotten results.

Goodall campaigned against using chimpanzees and other animals for medical research. She's also been a leading voice against animal trafficking and other abuses. And she sees a disregard for nature and disrespect for animals behind today's global pandemic.

While the exact origins of COVID-19 are being examined and debated, evidence points to China's so-called wet markets, where live animals and meat are sold. This is a virus that jumped from animals to humans.

Jane Goodall: We are all interconnected. And if we don't get that lesson from this pandemic, then maybe we never will.

Jeffrey Brown: How does that force the lesson on us?

Jane Goodall: Well, it should force a lesson on us because it's our interactions with animals and the environment, all of it, that has led to the virus being able to leap over from some kind of animal into us, as has happened before.

And I just hope that, when this is over, we're wiser. And I hope that the Chinese ban on the wet markets will, A, be made permanent, and, B, extend to the use of wild animals for medicine like pangolin scales, bear bile, and so on.

Jeffrey Brown: Is that the most important thing you think needs to happen now to prevent future pandemics?

Jane Goodall: I think it's extremely important. But we also need to fight the animal trafficking, because that, too, brings animals together in close contact, where they are being sold in markets, for example.

Jeffrey Brown: There's been so much attention, first in China, then Europe and, of course, here in the U.S. And I wonder about your fears for what's happening in Africa.

Jane Goodall: I'm extremely worried about Africa, because so many countries, you know, they haven't got well-developed health care systems.

And people who make their money by living day by day by day, like the street vendors and people like that, if they can't ply their trade -- and they can't -- I don't know what's going to happen. There will be anger. There'll be riots. There will probably be violence.

And so some countries are saying, all right, let's carry on with business as usual. And then, of course, the virus will spread. It's a pretty grim picture. And I don't think anybody really has got a grip on it.

Jeffrey Brown: Where is there hope? Jane Goodall and her institute began creating their own version of it in Tanzania in 1991 through a conservation education program for young people.

Called Roots & Shoots, it's now in 65 countries around the world and has served several generations.

I wonder if you're thinking about your own mortality and what you will leave behind and who will pick up afterwards.

Jane Goodall: Well, I'm -- being 86, I'm -- obviously, the time I have left is slowly shrinking, which means I have to work ever harder.

People go, you need to slow down. But I have to go quicker. The main message that I have is that every single one of us, every single day, we make some impact on the planet. And we have a choice as to what impact we make. What we buy, what we wear, where did it come from?

And if enough of us make ethical choices and start thinking in a new way, then business will have to change because of consumer pressure, and governments will just have to obey the will of the people, because enough of us willing it.

So, each one of us is part of this growing -- it's my greatest reason to hope.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Jane Goodall, thank you for talking to us.

Jane Goodall: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Judy Woodruff: What an extraordinary woman, and what an extraordinary life of contributions.

Thank you, Jane Goodall and Jeff Brown.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.