When a young Jane Goodall entered the forests of Tanzania to study wild chimpanzees, neither she nor those supporting her work imagined the influence she would have. Today, Goodall—Ph.D., DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and United Nations Messenger of Peace—is recognized not only as a conservationist and animal activist, but as a source of hope that change is possible.

In this interview with Humane Society International president Jeffrey Flocken, Goodall discusses the power of storytelling, how humor helps spread her message and where she finds hope for the future.

Humane Society International president Jeffrey Flocken cares for koalas rescued during the 2020 Australian wildfires.
Humane Society International president Jeffrey Flocken cares for koalas rescued during the 2020 Australian wildfires.
Jo-Anna Robinson
AP Images for HSI

Jeff Flocken

Firstly, thank you for allowing me to interview you for All Animals magazine. We’ve known each other for over two decades, but I feel very honored to be able to ask you these questions on behalf of the passionate animal lovers who read this publication. I suspect if we were able to poll them all, every one of them—including myself—would say you are their ultimate hero.

In many ways, your career and life’s work have relied on the power of stories—your initial work at Gombe, for example, still resonates with people in part because you were able to capture such nuanced details of chimpanzee behavior and describe them vividly. What do you think is the role of storytelling in animal advocacy and creating empathy for nonhuman animals?

Jane Goodall

I believe that storytelling is the most successful way of helping people understand the true nature of animals. There are such extraordinary stories about the intelligence of animals, from apes and dolphins, rats and birds, and of course the octopus. Sometimes stories can be illustrated with photos or video to make them even more powerful.

Of course, if you already understand that animals, like us, have personalities, minds and emotions, you will be sickened by secretly filmed footage in a factory farm. But for those who still consider animals mere “things” to be exploited for our benefit, that footage may only be upsetting if they have first heard about Pigcasso, the sow rescued from slaughter who loves to paint and whose paintings sell for $5,000. Or Betsy, the pet pig who broke through the garden hedge, stood in the road until a car stopped, then led the driver through the garden to where her owner was lying on the floor unconscious. An ambulance was called, and the doctor said that but for Betsy she would have died.

When they first watch film of a cow chasing after a football, mooing in excitement, then hitting it back with her nose so that her owner can throw it again, they are more likely to feel empathy for the cow in a crowded dairy farm having her calf dragged away a few hours after birth, mother and child desperately calling to each other. I have so many, many stories of animals helping each other—and helping their human.

290 chimpanzees currently receive care at sanctuaries managed or supported by the Jane Goodall Institute

JF: Since the 1960s, you’ve been telling people that chimpanzees are “just like us” and shouldn’t be kept as pets, used for research, exploited for entertainment or otherwise made to suffer. We know this has had an impact—your influence helped end research on chimpanzees in the United States, a feat some thought impossible. How far, overall, do you think your message has spread? Who still needs to hear it?

JG: It is true that chimpanzees are no longer used for invasive research, and not only in America. And there is much greater awareness worldwide about animal sentience. But the people who still need to think differently are those who support factory farms, the cruel taming of wild elephant calves—which involves beating and breaking their spirit—the breeding of dogs in puppy mills, the imprisonment of Asian bears in cages so small they can’t turn around so that their bile can be extracted for traditional medicine, the hunting of wild animals for “sport,” the trafficking of wild animals … the list goes on. So often it is due to ignorance. And so long as there is a demand for a product, even if it is illegal, these practices will continue.

Dr. Jane Goodall and staff from Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center release orphaned chimpanzee Wounda on Tchindzoulou Sanctuary Island.
Dr. Jane Goodall and staff from Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center release orphaned chimpanzee Wounda on Tchindzoulou Sanctuary Island.
JGI/Brice Ngomo
Did you know?
Chimp digging int he dirt with a stick tool.

Before Dr. Goodall observed a chimpanzee using a bent twig to “fish” for termites in 1960, scientists believed that humans were the only species to make and use tools.

Two chimps hugging each other.

Dr. Goodall observed chimpanzees “adopting” orphaned youths and comforting each other after another chimp died, suggesting that they experience compassion.

Jane sitting next to a chimp

Chimpanzees and humans share 98.6% of our genetic material, making them our closest relatives.

JF: You’ve worked with young people through the groundbreaking global Roots and Shoots program and other advocacy and education initiatives. You also were kind enough to spend an afternoon with my young daughter and our exchange student telling them about your life, and the need for them to create change in their own communities (which inspired my daughter to start a Roots and Shoots chapter at her elementary school). Why have you chosen to invest so much energy in young people?

JG: It has been my experience that most children have a natural love for animals unless they have been brought up to see them as mere things. Once young people understand the problem—understand that animals have personalities and emotions like us—and once they are empowered to take action, they start to create change. They influence their parents, grandparents, teachers, friends.

At a recent gathering of R&S in Tanzania, one 11-year-old boy said that now that he understood animals could feel pain, he would never hurt one as long as he lived. There are active R&S groups in almost 70 countries, and they are helping many different kinds of animals, refusing to eat meat from factory-farmed animals, volunteering in dog and cat shelters, making bird nesting boxes and insect “hotels,” peacefully protesting shark fin soup or the wearing of fur, and so on.

Jane Goodall meets with children after a U.N. International Day of Peace event in 2006.
Jane Goodall meets with children after a U.N. International Day of Peace event in 2006.
Mark Maglio

JF: Over time, your advocacy has broadened to include many animals—including those raised for food. Can you explain to the readers why it is important to think about how we treat all animals?

JG: It is important once you realize that every animal is an individual, with his or her own personality, mind and emotions. They all feel joy, frustration, depression, fear and, of course, pain.

A young Jane Goodall overlooks the jungle.
JGI/Jane Goodall

JF: After so many years doing this work, you are truly a household name and nearly synonymous with animal welfare. You’re casually mentioned in movies, books, comic strips and more, and there is a new television show called Jane inspired by your life. You’re even a Barbie. Did you ever expect to become an icon?

JG: Of course not! I was a shy little girl, born with a love of animals. I was 10 when I decided I would go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them. Everyone laughed at me—Africa was little known and far away, we had very little money, and I was “just a girl” and girls did not do that sort of thing. All but my mother, who said I would have to work hard, take advantage of every opportunity, and then, if I did not give up, hopefully I’d find a way. Which I did!

I just wanted to stay in the forest in Tanzania and go on learning about chimpanzees and feel part of the ecosystem. I only left when I realized that forests were being destroyed and chimpanzee numbers dropping—and I knew I had to try to help.

I am still the person I have always been. At first I hated it when I was referred to as an icon, treated as a VIP. I cope by realizing there are two Janes. And this Jane, talking to you now, must make use of the iconic Jane to raise money for all the things the Jane Goodall Institutes—27 around the world—are trying to do to make a difference. 

130 communities participate in programs led by the Jane Goodall Institute

JF: Activism and advocacy don’t always have to be serious—you often carry stuffed animals on your talks to help illustrate your points. What other ways can we make the message of compassion one that people can relate to?

JG: I think having a sense of humor is really important. When talking about similarities in chimpanzee and human behavior, I describe two males facing each other, hair erect, swaggering from foot to foot, looking as big and dangerous as they possibly can—and say how this reminds me of certain politicians. It always raises a laugh, especially when I add, “I’m mentioning no names.” People relax and are more receptive to stories about animal sentience.

Dr. Goddall speaking to a rapt audience in Vancouver, Canada.
Dr. Goodall spends much of her time on the road. Above, she speaks to a rapt audience in Vancouver, Canada.
Catalin Mitrache

At the start of a serious meeting, or during a talk, I ask the most important man to join me, and demonstrate to everyone how a female chimpanzee greets a dominant male while telling him what he must do—look big and intimidating while I approach submissively, take his hand so that he pats my head and then, emboldened, embrace him and make pant grunts in his neck. Sometimes I ask everyone present to stand and greet their neighbors in the same way. This reduces tensions in the most important meetings!

JF: You were 26 when you traveled to what is now Tanzania to study chimpanzees. What advice would you give to your younger self before embarking on that journey?

Dr. Goodall being named a United Nations Messenger of Peace by Kofi Annan.
In 2004, Dr. Goodall was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace—the organization’s highest honor—by Kofi Annan, then secretary-general.
UN Department of Information

JG: I would not give her any advice other than what my mother had always taught me. It was she who brought me up to know the importance of listening to the views of others, but having the courage of your convictions if, at the end, you still feel you are right. To respect others and be honest. The importance of patience and having an open mind were born into me—at 4 years of age I hid in a henhouse for four hours waiting for a hen to come in so I could see where the egg came out. I succeeded! Of course one makes mistakes—but one learns from them. I can’t think of any advice I would have given myself.

JF: What is the most important thing that ordinary people, young and old, can do to protect chimpanzees and other animals?

JG: Learn about the issues. Find what it is that you really care about so you can devote real energy to a cause. Different people can help in different ways. Some can give money to animal welfare or conservation programs, some can volunteer in a sanctuary. Some can “adopt” a chimpanzee or other wild animal in a sanctuary, which will pay for care for a year, and the person gets a certificate, photo and report about that particular animal. Some can adopt a stray dog or cat. Some can write letters to local politicians about plans to destroy natural habitat to drill for oil or build a road. Some can refuse to buy products that harmed animals—like meat, eggs or milk from factory-farmed animals. Some can join organizations that are fighting various practices, like the culling of badgers in the UK, the hunting of wolves in North America, and so on. Or support a rewilding project, giving the land back to nature.

JF: Is there a question you’re rarely asked but have always wanted to answer?

JG: No, I always manage to work answers to such questions into my remarks!!!

JF: Thank you for this opportunity to ask you these questions, Jane. You continue to personally be my biggest inspiration in my own work to protect and save animals every day, and I am just one of the many millions you have inspired with your message of hope and love for animals. On behalf of all the readers of All Animals, thank you.


Portrait of Dr. Jane Goodall
Andrew Zuckerman

Jane Goodall

My four most important reasons for hope

1. The passion, determination and energy of young people, once they know the problems and are empowered to take action.

2. The human brain. We know other animals are way, way more intelligent than science used to admit—but no animal could invent telescopes that let us understand some of the secrets of the universe or computers that enable people to talk via Zoom from all around the world. And finally we are beginning to use our brains to solve some of the problems we have created: renewable energy, ways of capturing tons of CO² from the atmosphere and so on. Politicians and corporations are starting to put the issue of climate change to the top of the agenda. And more people are thinking about their own  environmental footprint and trying to live more sustainably.

3. The resilience of nature. Given a chance, and perhaps some help, places we have utterly destroyed can once again support wildlife. When I started my research in Gombe Stream National Park in 1960, it was part of a great forest that stretched across equatorial Africa. By the mid-1980s, I was horrified to see, from a small plane, that it was a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills. Too many people for the land to support, too poor to buy food elsewhere, cutting down the trees to get space to grow more food, or make money from charcoal or timber.

It hit me then that only by helping the people find ways of making a living without destroying their environment  could we save chimps, forests or anything else. JGI began our method of community-led conservation, Tacare, in 1994. It is very holistic. People understand protecting and restoring the forest is not just for wildlife but their own future. It now operates in over 100 villages throughout chimp range in Tanzania—and there are no more bare hills. There are so many stories like this; I wish the media reported these as well as the doom and gloom. People need hope, for without it they become apathetic and do nothing. And this can lead to disaster.

4. The indomitable spirit that forces people to tackle seemingly hopeless problems. And so often they succeed. We all have that spirit—we must nurture it and set it to work to make our world a better place for people, animals and the environment.

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