Seeds of Hope

Seeds of Hope

11 January, 2016
Q&A with Dr. Jane Goodall
The celebrated animal welfare advocate talks to Ecozine

Dr Jane Goodall began her illustrious conservation career in the 1960s, in the jungle researching chimpanzees. Now she spends her time travelling the world to deliver important environmental messages – with a strong focus on the younger generation. 
Tell us about the early days in your conservation career, and how your role has developed since.
When I first began to study the chimpanzees of Gombe, I was not concerned with conservation. It was in 1986 that I suddenly realised, at a big chimpanzee conference, that chimpanzee numbers had drastically declined since I began in 1960 – because of habitat destruction, human encroachment, logging, and the commercial hunting of wild animals for food.
I knew I had to do something to help. I began spreading awareness, in the African range countries. Thus I began to learn more about the problems are faced by so many Africans – crippling poverty, lack of health facilities, and lack of education. Many (not all) of these problems are caused by the developed world. So I began my current life of being on the road 300 days or more per year giving lectures, attending conferences, and arranging meetings.
You are now a veritable icon in the conservation scene, and champion a number of important causes. But it all started with chimpanzees – do they still hold a special place in your heart?
When I think back to the early days at Gombe, I have such love for the characters I knew so well. I truly miss them. It’s hard to believe that 55 years has passed! We have learned so much from our studies at Gombe, and yet there is so much we still do not know.
What can the human race learn from chimpanzees?
Chimpanzees are so like us that they are critical in the fight to treat animals with respect – to realise that many species, like humans, have individual personalities, are much smarter than we used to think, and know emotions like happiness, despair and frustration. And all know pain.
If you had to choose one, which conservation issue do you think is most urgent at the moment?
The poaching – the slaughter – of elephants and rhinos, for their tusks and horns. The slaughter (and breeding) of tigers for body parts. Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and the increasing consumption of meat around the world. There are so many desperately important conservation issues, but these are some of the most urgent.
You were in Hong Kong not too long ago – what conservation issue do you think is particularly relevant in this region?
I have for many years been fascinated by Hong Kong’s pink dolphins. I have been out and seen them myself. And now, thanks to massive developments and pollution, your very special dolphins could become extinct. And extinction is forever.
Education is a key method in your approach; how important is this for conservation, and why?
It is desperately important to educate people to become better stewards of the planet than we have been. I believe it is particularly vital to work with young people since many, in all countries, tell me they have little hope for the future. And if they lose hope, there is indeed no hope. This is why I initiated our environmental and humanitarian programme for youth, Roots & Shoots, some 25 years ago.
Tell us about the Roots & Shoots programme.
Roots & Shoots began with 12 high school students in Tanzania in 1991. It is now in more than 130 countries, with over 100,000 active groups, and members from preschool through university.
Each group choses three projects: one to help the human community, one to help animals, and one to help the environment. There is a theme of learning to live in peace and harmony with each other – between nations, cultures, religions and so on – and between us and Mother Nature.
Once the projects are chosen, the students are empowered to roll up their sleeves and take action for positive change.
What has this programme achieved in Asia and Hong Kong specifically so far? What are the future plans for the programme in this region?
In Asia we are growing in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Greater China region. We have Roots & Shoots groups across mainland China, with centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. We also have many groups in Taiwan and growing numbers in Singapore and Hong Kong.
In Taiwan the Green Thumb projects encourage schools to grow indigenous plants in their gardens to support butterflies by providing corridors of suitable vegetation. In Hong Kong we have a group helping the Hainan Gibbons, of which there are only 25 left in the world. Hong Kong Roots & Shoots have also initiated awareness campaigns about the terrible trade in ivory and rhino horn, the slaughter of sharks for shark’s fin soup and the exploitation of tigers for their body parts.
Roots & Shoots will continue to grow in Asia. I hope readers of Ecozine will encourage our youth to become involved! It is our best hope for the future – a critical mass of young people who understand that each individual makes a difference. And that while we need money to live, things go wrong when we live for money. As Gandhi said “The earth can provide for human need, but not human greed”.
For more information about the Jane Goodall Society, in particular its programmes in Hong Kong and Asia, please contact: or +852 2293 2216. 

By: Ecozine Staff


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