Goodall still aims to save the world

The world-famous primatologist and activist will celebrate her 80th birthday in April.

Jane Goodall addresses the media at the University of Cape Town. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Jane Goodall introduces herself for the record. I ask her to specify her designation.

"Well my official title, hmmm... You could choose - it could be UN messenger of peace, PHD, it could be MBE, CBE - no - DBE now…"

I ask which one she prefers, to which she answers with a chuckle, "I don't care".

The exchange defines this extraordinary woman who takes her cause and not herself seriously.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the milestone of 80, which she will celebrate in April, presents a good time to reflect on her various achievements.

But Dr Goodall says she will leave that to others. For now the world-famous primatologist and activist is still on a mission to raise awareness about the natural world in an effort to help save it.

"I'm really concentrating on getting on with doing what I have to do and being 80 or 70 or 90, it's just one more year added to my life."

But she admits she is slowing down after many years of globetrotting, which started when she was 23 years old in 1960 with her first visit to Tanzania.

"I'm not travelling any more this year because I've been travelling 300 days a year ever since 1986!"

The travels from country to country are chiefly to give lectures to everyone from students and children, to large crowds. Recently she addressed 65,000 people at one of Al Gore's Live Earth concerts.

"I try to get to the people who wouldn't' necessarily choose to come to a lecture by Jane Goodall… If you can get out to people who like rock musicians and so forth, that gives you more opportunity to change attitudes and make people think," she explains.


Although Goodall is best known for her passion for primates, much of the work of the Jane Goodall Institute and her various charities focuses on humans.

The reason is she firmly believes the only hope for saving the natural world is by reaching the human heart, which in her view has become disconnected from our heads.

So as to drive the point home, she asks: "How is it that the most intellectual being to ever walk the planet is destroying its only home?"

Conservation cannot therefore, in her view, be separated from social development.

"I think only when local people living in an area get behind some kind of conservation effort can it possibly work.

"Fences? Yes, you can build fences, but that leads to huge resentment. But if you can get the people living there to benefit from the wildlife, to understand it, to go and see it, then I think you have a far better chance of saving wildlife into the future."

South Africa may do well to take heed, with a rhino poaching crisis spiralling out of control, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of such a huge problem. But Goodall does not see it as reason to despair.

"It's the same as elephant poaching… and that's the point. Some people give up because the problem is so huge.

"But on the other hand, there are countries fighting back. Kenya's actually doing a pretty good job - it now has zero tolerance. Poachers go to jail for year and years or they're fined sums of money they can't pay."

"Rangers by and large aren't supported well enough. If you're offered so much money to point out to poachers where the last rhino is, which is more than you get for your year's salary, you're going to probably opt out for the easy way, especially if no one's told you about rhinos and how amazing they can be."

Therefore the only hope, in her view, is nipping the problem in the bud - tackling demand through raising awareness and educating those on either end of the supply chain.

"We're working on the elephant problem in China where we've got 900 of our youth groups. They believe that the elephants shed their tusks like deer shed their antlers. Some of them believe that ivory comes only from elephants that have died a natural death - same thing with the rhino horn.

"We need to get into Thailand which is where the main market for rhino horn is and help the people understand that what they believe is wrong - that there isn't all this magic medicinal value in rhino horn. We just have to take every avenue we can."