Before becoming the world’s foremost chimpanzee expert and global conservation activist, Jane Goodall was an animal-loving little girl with a dream most people laughed at.
After reading a book about Tarzan when she was 10, Goodall decided she wanted to “grow up, go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them.”
While most people saw it as an impossible dream, especially for a girl – “girls don’t do that kind of stuff”, she said – her mother was supportive and encouraged her to find a way . So when a school friend invited Goodall to visit her family in Kenya, she jumped at the chance by taking a boat trip that took almost a month from England to Africa. . She was 23 years old.
Now 88, Goodall talks about her life on the latest episode of “Amazing Wildlife,” a San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance podcast that explores different animal species in half-hour segments. This week’s episode, available Friday, features a conversation between San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance CEO Paul Baribault and Goodall, who first met about 10 years ago.
Hosted by zoo employees Rick Schwartz and Ebone Monet, the podcasts are a production of iHeartRadio and the zoo’s parent organization, and can be downloaded from the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts or other podcast platforms. Since its launch last November, “Amazing Wildlife” has been downloaded more than 250,000 times, according to iHeartRadio.
In their interview, Baribault takes Goodall on how she came to travel to Africa and study chimpanzees, and how she later became an activist. Introducing Goodall, who was in the UK for the recording, Baribault speaks of his admiration for the conservation leader.
“Jane has been a huge inspiration to me, my family and someone I’ve had the incredible honor of being able to call a close friend for over a decade,” he says in the podcast. In 2021, Baribault became president of the Jane Goodall Institute, an organization founded in 1977 that is involved in community-centered conservation, research, advocacy, and youth empowerment.
On her first visit to Kenya in 1957, Goodall says, she met famed paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, who ran a natural history museum there. He became her mentor and helped her start studying chimpanzees in the wild in Gombe, Tanzania. Because authorities feared she was alone there, her “incredible mother” stayed with her at the camp for the first four months, she told Baribault.
Leakey chose her for the chimpanzee research, she says, because she hadn’t yet gone to college and he wanted “a mind clear of the very reductionist thinking” of scientists. But after two years, he encouraged her to pursue a doctorate in ethology, the scientific study of animal behavior, at the University of Cambridge.
Leakey wanted her work to be taken seriously by other scientists, she says in the podcast, so she would no longer be seen as a “(National) Geographic cover girl.”
Goodall’s observations of chimpanzee intelligence, social dynamics and their use of tools – she noticed that they stuck blades of stiff grass into termite holes to extract termites – were groundbreaking and changed the way understanding of the world of animal intelligence and emotions.
After studying chimpanzees for decades, Goodall’s life took a major turn after he attended a 1986 conference in Chicago where speakers spoke about the problem of deforestation. She remembers being shocked to learn how the chimpanzee population was sinking and the forest habitat was being destroyed.
“I went to that conference as a scientist and left as an activist. I just knew I had to do something,” she tells Baribault in the podcast.
Goodall says she is inspired by the work people around the world are doing to try to save the planet from destruction, as well as her institute’s “roots and shoots” program that helps young people become actors in the world. change. Protecting the planet, she says, must become more important than short-term benefits. Goodall launched her own podcast in December 2020 called “Jane Goodall Hopecast”.
“We have to try to slow climate change, we have to slow biodiversity loss, we have to reduce poverty because the poor will destroy the environment just to live,” she says. “We need to understand that the health of the planet and the animals of the planet and the humans of the planet are all interdependent – and if one part of that equation is sick, it’s going to harm everything else.”