Not Slowing Down

While many of her contemporaries have retired from the working world's frenetic pace, 70-year-old Jane Goodall is as energetic as ever, traveling 300 days of the year to promote environmental issues and raise awareness about the Gombe chimpanzees of Tanzania. It was her time in Gombe that led to global fame; her work proved that chimps could catch human diseases, could express a wide range of emotions and were able to use tools in a variety of capacities. Goodall, when not on the road, splits her time between her hometown of Bournemouth, England, and Tanzania. She sits on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute and is directly involved with her youth program, Roots & Shoots, promoting early education on environmental issues in 87 countries. At the Wildscreen international film festival in Bristol, England, this week, Goodall is promoting her latest endeavor, the IMAX documentary "Wild Chimpanzees" and taking part in a debate about the future of conservation. Goodall spoke by phone with NEWSWEEK's Ginanne Brownell about her future plans. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Do you plan on ever slowing down?

Jane Goodall: I can't. I just looked at the schedule for next year and it is worse. I try not to think about it. [Laughs.]

So what's on the agenda for 2005?

I will be visiting projects in Africa, giving lectures across Asia, including North Korea, and also doing fund-raising for the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania.

Has your age made a difference in what you are involved in now?

Since 1986 I have not done research myself. But my job is to make sure the research team is a good team and we have funding for it. As far as my age, quite honestly, when I started traveling there was no way I could have kept up the pace that I am used to now. I would get sick, lose my voice, yet I am ever so much tougher now. I sometimes get tired, but I always did. So in ways I am much younger, whereas people who travel with me, they are exhausted after a week on the road. I seem to go around exhausting teams on the ground. [Laughs.]

Do you miss working with the animals on a day-to-day basis?

I often think about them, I see videos of them. I don't know the current generation as I did the others. They are often in my mind, but I could not go back and live in the forest again because I would know that I was doing the wrong thing. I had all those amazing years of living my dream--how many people get to do that? Not so many, and now comes trying to use that knowledge and understanding and gifts I have been given to do my best for the future.

Your Roots & Shoots program is aimed at young people. Are you inspired by their interest in the environment?

Oh, yes. So far there are 7,500 groups across the globe with an average group being between 30 to 40 people. As I travel around and meet these kids, their eyes shine as they tell me what they have done. You often hear people saying children can change the world, well these children are changing the world literally as we speak. They are cleaning creeks, removing [invasive] exotic plants from places like wetlands and prairies. So I get filled with hope.

You have said the bush-meat trade is driving apes to the point of extinction. Is enough being done to stop this practice?

In certain parts they are certainly being driven to extinction. It is a vast and horrific problem. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), 11,600 tons of illegal bush meat came into Britain in 2003 and is only 1 percent of the total being sold. And another report found that in 2003 1 to 5 million metric tons of bush meat was harvested in the Congo Basin. It is really hard to believe. Lots of money is being made and the economy in countries like Gabon is hugely boosted by [it].

Are locals interested in helping to stop the trade?

The women have realized that this is totally unsustainable. They are the ones selling the meat in the markets, and they realize how much less there is now. The local hunters--not the commercial ones, but the locals--say, "We used to go out and shoot something in a day to eat and now we have to travel three days [to find animals]." So the problem arose from subsistence hunting, and then slaughter came with logging companies making the roads, opening up the forests.

Are there positive steps being taken to preserve the ecosystem in Africa?

President El Hadj Omar Bongo of Gabon got very moved by African explorer Mike Fay's film footage. He got tears in his eyes and he said, "We have got to preserve this for our heritage." So he has created 13 brand-new national parks in some of the biggest unlogged forests in the Congo Basin. And some of those were previous concessions to oil companies--which is great news. So we are hoping that by praising him other presidents in those countries will follow suit. Of course creating a park is one thing; maintaining it is another.

Clothing company Benetton recently launched a campaign using close-up photographs of gorilla and chimp faces to raise awareness of these animals, many orphaned by the hunt for bush meat. Do these campaigns make a difference?

If they can use their huge amounts of advertising money that they normally spend on a silly girl wearing a cardigan, then to me it is a good thing to put these photographs in front of people to highlight an issue. I am very hopeful that these portraits, when you see them large, which they will be on billboards around the globe, people will look into those eyes and know they are looking into eyes of thinking, feeling beings and become that much more sensitive to the issues.

How much of a role does politics play in the natural environment?

It's huge. For example, in Gombe National Park, which is tiny, there used to be unbroken forests for miles stretching up to Burundi and way past the Tanzanian border in the south. Today outside the park, the trees are gone. That was why our TACARE [Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education project] began, because how can you even try and save the chimps when people are struggling to survive? The reason for this deforestation was this huge influx of refugees from Burundi and then over the lake from Congo during wars. These people are starving, they have nothing. They are cutting down trees to make shelter and fire, they are killing anything they can to eat in order to survive. Many animals were killed by refugees and the armies.

Are Central African leaders concerned about these issues?

We have to help them, we have to somehow make conserving forests profitable. These are by and large poor countries. So a politician is going to say, "We are going to sell off our forests in order to bring money in." They have to bring money in so they can develop so people are not starving. You have got to find an alternative method of making money for the hunter, alternative protein for the people that live there, and you have got to help the politician realize that though he may not get as much money this year for conserving a piece of forest, in the long run it will be better because if you cut the trees down, [that's permanent].

How seriously is the Western world taking on environmental issues? Are we getting anywhere?

Headway has been made. There are more people aware than there were before. It is going to be very hard for politicians to turn their backs on climate change. More and more people are signing the Kyoto Protocol. Politicians will not make the right environmental decisions from the top--like being tougher about the cars on the road--they won't do that till they know that more than 50 percent of their constituency [is] going to back them. It is their job to get re-elected, so it does come back to the individuals, to you and me. The Native Americans used to make decisions based on how it would affect seven generations ahead. How many of these politicians who vote against environmental protection, are they thinking of their children? Their grandchildren? It seems on face value they are either stupid or they do not care about their children.

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