When she went to Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park in 1960 to research chimpanzees in the wild, Jane Goodall shook up the scientific establishment.
She found chimps make and use tools, like human beings, they’re not vegetarians and they clearly have individual personalities.
Now, Goodall, 77, travels 300 days a year to raise money and awareness for animal rights and environmental causes. She will be appearing in a live broadcast to theaters nationwide tomorrow at 8 p.m. New York time with Charlize Theron and Dave Matthews.
Also screening will be “Jane’s Journey,” a new film about her extraordinary life, featuring never-before-seen 8mm footage from her early African years and appearances by Angelina Jolie and Pierce Brosnan.
For information and tickets: http://www.fathomevents.com.
We spoke in her New York hotel suite after Goodall’s visit to the United Nations, where she is a Messenger of Peace.
Lundborg: How did the film come about?
Goodall: The filmmaker came to a school where I was talking and was absolutely amazed at how intently the children listened to everything I said.
He said he had to find out who I was to make them pay attention like that.
Chimps Up Close
Lundborg: Your discoveries about chimps were revolutionary. Was it that no one had taken a close look before?
Goodall: Nobody had been out in the wild. Louis Leakey, who sent me, was way ahead of his time, thinking that by understanding our closest relatives’ behavior, it would help him to better guess how early humans might have behaved.
Lundborg: Your first chimp relationship was with a big male you named Greybeard. What was the breakthrough moment?
Goodall: He let me approach him. I held out a nut and he didn’t want it. He just looked away, so I put my hand closer.
That’s when he looked directly into my eyes, took it, dropped it and gave me a chimp reassurance. It was quite clear he didn’t want it, but he understood my motive. It was extraordinary communication.
Lundborg: You also found two passionate and jealous husbands in the bush. Did you ever think of a third?
Band of Brothers
Goodall: No, I need to be independent, not tied. I never had a brother, and I thought it was such a nice relation -- no sex in it -- so I chose a circle of brothers.
They’re all about ten years younger than me, they’re from different countries, and I’d trust all of them with my life.
Lundborg: Looking back, what surprises you most about Jane’s journey?
Goodall: That the little girl growing up in England is doing what I do now.
Every stage of my life set the scene for the next, and at each point all I had to do was say “yes” and not think too much about the consequences.
Lundborg: You went into a conference in 1986 a scientist, and came out an activist. What happened?
Goodall: We had a session on conservation and it was absolutely shocking to see the chimp habitat going, chimps losing a hand or a foot in wire snares, the beginning of the bushmeat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals for food.
I came out knowing I just had to do something.
Lundborg: People make fun of celebrities and their causes. What role can stars like Angelina Jolie really play?
Goodall: When celebrities talk openly about something they care about, star-struck young people might also become more interested. It broadens perspectives and enables more people to get involved.
Lundborg: One of your programs, Roots & Shoots, is now in more than 120 countries. What makes it so popular?
Goodall: It’s completely holistic and each group chooses three projects where you just roll up your sleeves and get out there.
We’re running short of money, but I will not let that program die.
Lundborg: How do you rekindle hope in such a troubled world?
Goodall: It’s the question I’m most asked, since everywhere I go, there’s gloom and doom. Climate change and human population growth are the most crucial issues.
We have to get more involved, that’s the key. Hope comes from the fact that there’s more awareness. People are better educated, and there are many ways to spread information much more quickly and widely.
Lundborg: What gives you hope?
Goodall: There are all these amazing people tackling the problems, and they won’t give up. Some of them risk their lives and lose their lives. I’ve seen animal species rescued from the brink of extinction, ecosystems restored.
Everywhere there are examples of what human beings can do if they care. And more and more young people now seem to have a wisdom greater than their years.
Each of us really has to think about the consequences of our actions and decisions; each of us can make a difference.
For more information, go to http://www.janegoodall.org.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)