World-renowned conservationist Jane Goodall told supporters of the International Crane Foundation on Saturday that the root of the conservation crisis is humanity’s never-ending pursuit of money, particularly in wealthy developed countries.
Speaking at the foundation’s 40th-anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, Goodall lamented “the tragedy of so many people living simply for money and not understanding that what makes you feel happy in life is not more and more money; it’s learning to live in harmony with each other and with the natural world.”
In a nearly 30-minute speech, she called out multi-national corporations and large nations for their seemingly insatiable appetites for natural resources. “Today it’s China’s rapacious need for raw materials for her booming economy that’s sending her all over the world to take timber, to take minerals, and now, to cut down forests to grow palm oil,” Goodall said.
“When I look at a young child and think how we’ve harmed this planet since I was that age, I feel a desperation, an anger, and a shame,” she said. “Is it too late?”
Despite the long list of problems facing wildlife and the environment, the 79-year-old primatologist, author, and UN Messenger of Peace said she has four reasons for hope.
The first is young people. In 1991, she founded Roots and Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute that gets children and young adults involved in projects that help people, animals, and the environment.
“Its main message: Every single one of us makes a difference every single day, and we have a choice about what kind of difference we make,” Goodall said. “What gives me the most hope traveling around the world is, everywhere, there are young people with shining eyes wanting to tell Dr. Jane what they’ve been doing.”
Roots and Shoots reaches children and adults in 132 countries who “share the philosophy that we can’t live for money,” she said. “If we’re good at making money, great, but let’s use the money to help the world be a better place.”
Her second reason for hope: our “amazing brain.” “If we are the most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet, and surely we are, then how come we’re destroying our only home? I feel we’ve lost the wisdom that some of the indigenous people have. They would make a decision only after asking, ‘How will this decision affect our people generations ahead?’ It almost seems that there’s been a disconnect between this clever brain and the human heart. It’s my true hope and belief that the young people of today will put the heart and head back together again.”
Third, Goodall said, is that habitats that have been destroyed can be restored and that species on the brink of extinction can be saved.
And fourth, the “indomitable human spirit” gives her hope. She singled out George Archibald, co-founder of the crane foundation, and acclaimed wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen for their efforts to educate people about the value of conservation. Archibald later spoke and answered questions with Goodall, and Mangelsen’s photographs of cranes were displayed and auctioned at the event.
From London to Africa
Goodall recalled her childhood in London and credited her mother with giving her a scientist’s curiosity and for never disavowing her dreams of living in Africa and studying animals.
“My mother said, ‘If you really want something and you work hard and you take advantage of opportunity and never give up, you will find a way. That was my childhood. That’s the amazing mother I had who helped me to do what I do today and be who I am today.”
She told the story of going to Africa to study with Louis Leakey and how he chose her to study “the animal most like us, the chimpanzee.”
“This one never-to-be-forgotten day, I was going through the undergrowth, and I saw this dark shape crouched over a termite mound. I saw a hand reach out and pick pieces of grass and push them down into the termite mound, wait for a moment, pull out the grass, and eat off the termites that were clinging to it.
“And I saw him take a leafy twig and strip off the leaves, which is the beginning of tool-making. And at that time, it was thought that man and only man — we were called ‘man’ back then. Women, sorry, but that’s what we were called: ‘man the tool maker.’ So that when I told Louis Leakey what I’d seen, he said, ‘Ah, now we must redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as humans.’”
Critical role of photographers
The woman who was the subject of one of history’s most iconic photographs — a young Goodall reaching out to touch a baby chimpanzee — praised the role of photographers in bringing images of wildlife to the public.
“For all of those of us who care about conservation, who care about the wild places and the wild beings that live there, what a lot that photographers and cinematographers have done to help us protect those places and those beings!”
She cited the photographs and films of chimpanzees that her first husband, Hugo Van Lawick, made in the 1960s and ’70s for National Geographic. “Those first films took the chimpanzees into the hearts of Americans and gradually other people around the world.”
‘An ancient wild call’
Cranes clearly hold a special place in Goodall’s heart.
She recalled a trip several years ago to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, where she flew with Joe Duff of Operation Migration in “his funny little ultralight,” leading young Whooping Cranes on a training flight.
“It was utterly fascinating to be leading the cranes, teaching them to follow” the trike, she said.
For each of the last 12 years, Goodall has traveled with Mangelsen to Nebraska’s Platte River to see the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes.
“It’s something I value every year,” she said. “It renews my spirit, this wildness. It’s an ancient wild call, seeing the ribbon of the river, and gradually the silver of the water in the evening gets filled in with gray feathers as the birds fly in.”
The truth is that we could lose cranes and lots of other wildlife, Goodall said, “if we carry on with business as usual. It’s an urgency now. We all have to get involved if we truly care about this amazing natural world.” — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor
Note: In addition to attending the anniversary event with Jane Goodall, I interviewed George Archibald and actress, birder, and conservationist Jane Alexander. Watch for a story about what they had to say later this week. —MM