Dr. Jane Goodall is the world-renowned and inspiring humanitarian, conservationist, scientist, and foremost authority on chimpanzees. She is best known for her landmark study on the behavior of wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania, celebrating 55 years of continuing research this year.

Born in London in 1934, Goodall was hired by renowned anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey, and sent to Gombe, Tanzania at 26 to conduct the first long-term behavior study of wild chimpanzees. She finished her PhD in ethology in 1965, and then went on to help build the Gombe Stream Research Center. In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a nonprofit that advances the power of individuals to improve the environment for all living things. JGI has also become a leader in innovative conservation approaches that better the lives of local people. In addition, the Institute’s global youth program, Roots & Shoots, inspires young people of all ages to become environmental and humanitarian leaders, doing their part in making the world a better place.

She serves as a National Geographic explorer-in-residence and United Nations Messenger of Peace. For her efforts to observe and preserve all species, Dr. Goodall has received honors and accolades from governments, nonprofits, and universities. She is a Dame of the British Empire, and the recipient of medals from UNESCO and the French Legion of Honor.

She now spends her time traveling the world nearly 300 days each year, educating people about the importance of taking care of our planet and all animals.

I thought I already knew a lot about Dr. Goodall until I sat down to research her background for this interview. She’s not only a trailblazer but a role model who inspires millions of people around the world. I hope you enjoy getting to know her and the important work she is passionate about as much as I have.

Describe your perfect day of being well.

Waking up fresh. Having enough energy to get through all commitments. Accomplishing a lot. And going to sleep feeling I did as much as I possibly could to make this a better world.

What’s your favorite health food/meal?

Some fresh, organic, cooked vegetables. Mashed potatoes, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli—all favorites. I don’t eat food to be healthy, per se. I eat vegetables because a) I love them and b) our heavy meat eating is destroying the planet and causing almost unbelievable suffering for the billions of animals—including birds—sacrificed for our gluttony in factory farms. But I cannot deny that I’ve felt healthier since I stopped eating meat about 50 years ago.

What time is your alarm set for?

It depends on what was happening when I went to bed, if there is a deadline for some piece of writing. I have no set alarm time because I have no regular days or nights.

You are most well known for your outstanding work with primates. What was it like to spend so much time alone with wild chimpanzees in the forests of Tanzania?

They were the very best days of my life: every day up at dawn, out in the forest, finding out new things about the chimpanzees, sleeping in my tent to the sound of the stream and rustling leaves. Or perhaps pelting rain, strong winds.

What is the most surprising discovery through your work with the primates?

The most significant were tool using and tool making, as it was thought that only humans used and made tools, and it caused National Geographic to support the research. Most surprising for me was the fact that chimpanzees, like us, have a dark side, and are capable of brutality and even primitive warfare. Also, the strength of supportive and affectionate mother-child bonds throughout life (50–60 years), the fact that males may adopt and care for unrelated orphans, and that they share so many communication postures and gestures with us.

Are chimpanzees heading towards extinction due to deforestation and commercial hunting, and if so, what can be done to reverse it?

Yes, numbers decline each year. An estimated 300,000 are spread over 21 nations, many in small isolated groups that cannot survive owing to inbreeding, unless we create leafy corridors so they can link separated chimpanzee groups. In some areas, deforestation is a major threat. In other areas, it is the bushmeat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. And there are alarming signs of an increase in killing mothers to capture infants for pets and entertainment. The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and other concerned organizations work on educating the general public, both in Africa and overseas. JGI has major programs to alleviate poverty; once the villagers around conservation areas realize we are there to help them, once they understand the connection between caring for the forest and their own benefit, they become our partners in conservation. We have our youth program, Roots & Shoots, in all villages with the chimpanzee habitats where we work. In the developed world, we encourage people to recycle cell phones so that the mineral coltan can be extracted. This will mean less needs to be mined in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where all animals are killed for food by the desperate miners who are there illegally.

Your work has evolved to include the Jane Goodall Institute, which you founded in 1977. What is the purpose of the Institute?

We work to understand and protect chimpanzees and their habitats. We do this through innovative, holistic, community-based conservation approaches that tie protection of natural habitats to the well-being of the communities that surround them. We also work toward truly long-term protection by working to inspire young people to take ownership of making the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment through our Roots & Shoots program.

You have spoken out against genetically modified foods, and the company Monsanto in particular. Can you explain why it’s important that we raise awareness of this important issue and what can each of us do to keep genetically modified foods off our and our children’s plates?

It is not only Monsanto, but DuPont, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, BASF, and Bayer. The science, I am told by experts, is faulty. No substantive testing has been done to determine the effects of eating GM foods; very disturbing results were obtained with laboratory rats that were fed GM corn for two years. Many new GM foods are not tested at all. The pollen of these plants gets out into the environment so that organic crops become contaminated. Both pesticides and herbicides used on these crops have led to “super bugs” and “super weeds,” and farmers are now advised to use cocktails of chemicals, which many people suspect are very harmful to people and other animals. Farmers are made reliant on Monsanto seeds.  A book coming out in March, Altered Genes and Twisted Truth by Steven Drucker, was researched for nine years and is the most definitive exposé ever published.

You are passionate about educating us to the dangers of cutting down forests, which creates imbalances that encourage volatile climates around the world. What events have you seen firsthand that have contributed to climate change?

During my time in Africa, by 1990, all the trees around the tiny Gombe National Park in Tanzania had been cut down by villagers desperate to grow food or make money from charcoal. We realized that we could only hope to save the chimpanzees if we could alleviate the desperate poverty of the people living around them. JGI’s TACARE program has been so successful that the villagers agreed to form a buffer around the park for conservation. Fifteen years later, the chimpanzees had three times more forest, thanks to the regenerative power of the land.

In many of your talks, you’ve mentioned the interconnectedness of all things, and how every individual has a role to play as well as a responsibility to care for our planet. Can you explain what you mean and how we can each make a difference?

For years, I have been saying that every individual matters. Now this is truer than ever, and social media helps make our voices count. In this new way, we can involve thousands—millions—of people. This is how we can stand up to the giant multinationals. We have to realize that each day we make some kind of impact, and we have a choice as to what type of impact we will make. We need to think about the consequences of the small choices we make each day: what we eat, what we wear. Where was it made? Did it involve child slave labor? Cruelty to animals? Harm to the environment? These millions or billions of small choices lead to a more sustainable world. It seems to me that only when the head and heart work in harmony can human beings attain their true potential. And that potential is huge.

What’s the one vice you will never give up?

If drinking a whisky each evening is a vice, I wouldn’t want to give it up; it relaxes me and makes me think of my mother. We (my mum and I) would have a “tot” together. But for many reasons, I would give it up if it were important.

Where are you when you’re at your happiest?

At home, where I grew up, or in Gombe, my spiritual home, alone in the forest. Or somewhere else in nature, either alone or with really good friends.

How do you live your Vie (life/passion)?

I work as hard as I can each day. I am passionate to grow our youth program, Roots & Shoots, encouraging young people from kindergarten to university to choose three projects to make the world a better place: one for people, one for other animals, one for the environment. My job is to give people hope, for without hope, there is no hope. I try to use the gifts I was given—healthy body, reasonable brain and the ability to communicate through writing or talks—to inspire others to do their part.

Who or what inspires you?

I have my reasons for hope. First, the human brain. We have put people on the moon, come up with so many incredible technologies, and people everywhere are making wiser and more reasonable choices to make our world a better place. My second reason for hope is the indomitable human spirit. There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow. My third reason for hope is the resilience of nature. Areas we have completely destroyed can be brought back to life. I have visited Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb that ended World War II. Scientists had predicted that nothing could grow there for at least 30 years. But, amazingly, greenery grew very quickly. One sapling actually managed to survive the bombing, and today it is a large tree, with great cracks and fissures, all black inside, but that tree still produces leaves. My fourth reason for hope is the determination of young people. We have students involved in Roots & Shoots all over the world, all making positive change to help people, animals, and the environment we all share. My fifth and newest reason for hope is social media. We have a new way to make our individual voices heard. By acting together in this new way, we can involve thousands and millions of people, making our voices heard together. That is what is going to change the world.

What do you want to be remembered for?

First, for starting our global youth program, Roots & Shoots, which is in more than 130 countries, making the world better for all living things. Second, for showing the world that we are not the only beings on this planet with minds capable of complex thought, different personalities and above all emotions. Science believed, or at least taught, that there was a sharp line dividing us from all the other animals. I had never been to college; I was at Cambridge University to get a PhD, but I refused to agree with the professors. I had learned they were wrong from my childhood teacher: my dog Rusty! He taught me that animals do have personalities, minds, and emotions. In the end, the professors came to realize that perhaps they were wrong. That was the beginning of people thinking differently, not only about chimpanzees, but other animals, too, especially those with complex brains and social behavior.

What words of wisdom do you have to offer?

I have many words of wisdom. First was my grandmother’s favorite quote, “As thy days so shall thy strength be”; and my mum always told me, “If you really want something, you will have to work hard; take advantage of opportunity, and above all, never give up.”

For more information on Dr. Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute, please visit www.janegoodall.org.

Photo Credit The Jane Goodall Institute