A Conversation With Jane Goodall, the World’s Most Influential Animal Activist

Goodall: “We have a choice as to which kind of difference we’re going to make.”

Jane Goodall, the world's most influential animal activist, interacts with two-year old chimpanzee Sule at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. (Photo: Daniel Munoz)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

In 1960, Jane Goodall traveled to Tanzania’s Gombe National Park to study chimpanzees with nothing more than “a second-hand pair of binoculars, a pen, pencil and a notebook.”

She spent years in the forest learning about the animals, but it wasn’t until a revelation in the early 1990s that Dr. Jane began to advocate all over the world not only for chimps, but also for all living things.

This weekend in Los Angeles, a conversation with Jane Goodall was hosted by her wildlife cameraman Bill Wallauer, a man she calls “more chimp than human.” As part of the event, students, teachers and advocates who share Jane’s vision and committment to making a difference were presented with the 2011 Jane Goodall Global Leadership Awards. One of the award recipients was musician Dave Matthews.

As Matthews accepted his award for Responsible Activism in Media and Entertainment, he shared how much he looks up to Goodall. “She gives me hope,” he said.

During the conversation with Wallauer and Mathews, Goodall spoke about her work with the Jane Goodall Institute, Roots & Shoots and the moment she knew she was going to dedicate her life to raising awareness about the plight of chimps and the dire poverty in Africa.

In the early 1990s, Goodall flew in a small plane around the outskirts of Gombe National Park. She said, “I knew there was deforestation out of the park, but I had no idea it was almost total. It was a shock. It was bare, bare, bare hills.”

The numbers of chimpanzees were decreasing, forests were being demolished, and she said at that time she realized the severity of the “poverty and ethnic violence” in Africa.

“How could we protect these famous chimpanzees when the people were living in these terrible situations?” she said.

As she traveled around the world, she met young people who had lost hope. They felt as if the older generations had compromised their future and there was nothing they could do about it.

These young people inspired her to start Roots & Shoots, an organization that connects hundreds of thousands of youth in more than 120 countries so they can take action to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.

“We really have harmed their future,” Goodall told the audience, “but it’s not true that we can’t do anything about it.”

This is why the 77-year-old activist said she continues to travel and relentlessly spread her message of peace and conservation 300 days a year. She plans to continue to do so because it is her job, she said, “to try and bring hope.”

Click here to find ways to get involved with the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots.

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