Tireless conservationist Jane Goodall started the Longest-running wild primate study in 1960 – a project ongoing to this day. Here, she tells us how it all began in a remote pocket of Tanzania, and how it has grown into one of the world’s leading environmental organizations.More about Wild Things
Gombe in Tanzania, where you first started, is now a national park. What was it like when you first arrived?
I arrived with my mother, because at the time  the authorities wouldn’t let me work there on my own. Looking at the steep mountains and forested valleys, I wondered how I would ever find the chimps. But after we set up camp, I climbed a slope and sat looking out over Lake Tanganyika. Once I heard my first baboon bark, I was so excited!
Was there a turning point when you gained the chimps’ trust and they accepted you?
For at least three months, the chimps ran off whenever I managed to find them. But one day I saw a group of about seven grooming and playing. I approached them carefully, but miscalculated distances and emerged from the vegetation much closer to them than I meant to. I thought they’d run, but to my amazement they looked up at me and just carried on. I was accepted. It was the proudest moment of my life.
Why was the Jane Goodall Institute set up in 1977?
Some wonderful friends of mine established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to ensure continued reliable funding for the research at Gombe. There are now dozens of branches around the world that raise money to help Gombe, as well as our other Africa programmes. Their work includes improving the lives of people living in and around chimp habitat, and caring for orphaned chimps.
How has the work of the JGI evolved since the organization was founded?
We still continue research on the Gombe chimpanzees. But we also developed a programme called TACARE to help the local people – a holistic programme that includes suitable farming operations that don’t destroy the soil, restoring fertility to overused farmland, shade-grown coffee, better health facilities and better educational facilities working with local Tanzanian authorities, appropriate water-management programmes, Microcredit programmes based on Mohammed Yunus’ Grameen Bank (he took me to meet the women whose lives he changed in Bangladesh), and we provide family-planning information.
We also provide as many scholarships as possible to keep girls in school after puberty.
All around the world, as women’s education improves, family size tends to get smaller. We have now developed programmes similar to TACARE in six other African countries around chimp habitats – Uganda, Burundi, DRC, Republic of Congo and Senegal. And we are starting one in Mali and hoping to do the same in Cameroon and Gabon.
Can you tell us about the mission of JGI’s Roots & Shoots programme?
It’s hard work to secure funding for conservation and for operating JGI’s conservation programmes. And what is the use if new generations are not better stewards than we have been? Our R&S programme began when 12 high-school students from eight schools in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, came to talk to me about all that they saw wrong: poaching in the national parks, illegal dynamite fishing destroying the coral reefs, bad treatment of street dogs – on and on. We arranged a meeting for their friends, and R&S was born. From the start, its main message was that every individual matters, has a role to play, and can make a difference every day. And we get to choose what sort of difference that shall be.
Also, because I so well understood that everything is interconnected, we decided that each group would – themselves – choose three projects. One to help people, one to help animals (wild and domestic) and one to help the environment we all share. There are now R&S programmes in 100 countries for children in kindergarten, students in university and all in between. There are even some programmes for adults, including prisoners and retirees.
You have received countless honours and awards for your research and conservation work – are there any you’re particularly proud of?
When I was made a UN Messenger of Peace and when I received a DBE (Dame of the British Empire), which is equivalent to a knighthood… Though I don’t like to use the word Dame as it makes me think of a man dressed as a woman in pantomimes! The Mendel Medal was special as it was from East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, as was receiving an Hon PhD from Uppsala University in Sweden, during the amazingly historic celebration of its 500th year. Others would probably be the Kyoto Prize, the Legion of Honour, the Medal of Tanzania and Cosmos Prize to name a few.
There have been many films made about you. How does 2017’s Jane compare to what has come before?
Jane takes me right back to those early days in a way no other documentary has done. It is less “doctored” to fit a theme. The scenes unroll as they happened. There are snatches of my private life never before seen. It is a journey into the past – vivid, real. And hearing myself talk about my own feelings, and not a commentator – well, that too makes the experience of watching, for me, quite different.