Jane Goodall’s name will forever be synonymous with the incredible work she’s done for chimpanzees and the environment. It wasn’t quick and easy activism, however, as she’s had to work years in dangerous surroundings, both because of a region’s political climate as well the unpredictable nature of an animal habitat. She founded the Roots & Shoots program to help raise awareness about wildlife and their habitats, educating the public on the preservation of biodiversity through saving the environment and animal species. And it all started with a toy.
As a child, Jane Goodall had a favourite toy. Not a doll, or a teddy bear, but a scraggly and pale-faced chimpanzee plush named Jubilee. This toy instilled in her such a love for the animal that it would inspire her to learn more about them. In 1960, she moved to Tanzania to study a chimpanzee community in Gombe Stream National Park. She took a new approach to her studies, giving each chimp a proper name rather than a designated number. Her findings showed that the similarities between chimp and man extend beyond shared genes; chimps possess unique and individual personalities, which, at the time of Goodall’s discovery, was seen as a radical suggestion. Her most ground-breaking ideas debunked two long-established thoughts: that chimps were strictly vegetarians, and that humans were the only species capable of constructing and using tools.
In 1977, Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute to help protect primates by supporting animal sanctuaries and aiding in law enforcement efforts to curb hunting practices in certain regions of the world. The institute’s aims soon broadened to include funding of community-focused health projects, improvements to water supplies, and programs for keeping girls in school. This led to the opening of the Jane Goodall Environment Middle School and the Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies in Oregon and Connecticut, respectively.
Goodall’s work is more important today than it’s ever been, as estimates show that humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970. While the initial reaction to this news is an overwhelming sadness at not being able to see these animals again, the ecological implications are far more dangerous to consider. To contextualize this number in terms of the world’s human inhabitants, it would be equivalent to losing the populations of North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand).
Goodall talked about this dire situation during a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A session: “The most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet is destroying it’s only home. And I believe there’s a disconnect between a clever brain and the human heart and compassion.” It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as Goodall also offered hope by explaining that humanity has several resources to turn things around, including the human brain: “We have this extraordinary weapon. We are finally beginning to… create clean green energy and find a new way of interacting with the environment and live in harmony with the other creatures.”
Jane Goodall’s legacy is more relevant than ever. The Roots & Shoots program includes several campaigns that are unfortunately neglected by many. However, her efforts to reach out to children is the first step in instilling that care for the environment and wildlife – just like her childhood chimpanzee toy, Jubilee, did for her.
Alex Correa | Staff Writer