By Rachel Kaufman
When Jane Goodall speaks, you get this feeling like you could quit your job and move to the jungle to save animals, and it wouldn’t be that crazy.
No, when Jane speaks, you feel like you should.
And that you’d actually make a difference.
Why not, anyway? That’s what she did in 1960 as a 26-year-old, with no formal college training. (This July 17 marks the 50th anniversary of Goodall’s arrival in Africa and the beginning of her work studying the chimpanzees of Tanzania’s Gombe National Park.)
She spoke about how her interest in animals began: “I found the Dr. Doolittle books when I was eight. And you know, Dr. Doolittle really helped me get a good feeling for how the world worked in those days. You could go in a boat to Africa and rescue animals from circuses.”
How her work at Gombe started: “The British Empire was not prepared for this young, untrained girl to go to the forest and study these potentially dangerous animals, so eventually they said I must have a companion.” So her mother came along, and stayed for four months.
NGS stock photo of Jane Goodall by Mark Thiessen
Mostly, she spoke about optimism.
The Jane Goodall Institute, which she founded in 1977, is now working with the locals around Gombe to restore areas of deforestation. The JGI director of conservation science, Lilian Pintea, took the stage for a few minutes to explain how local villagers recently agreed on a plan to set aside a swath of land adjacent to Gombe “that protects chimps and people.”
Even Goodall’s most recent book, about some of the world’s most endangered species, isn’t titled something ominous like “Before It’s Too Late” or “Going, Going, Gone.” No, she chose for a title “Hope for Animals and Their World.”
Because when you’re a ten-year-old girl dreaming about Africa, even though you know that your parents won’t have the money to send you to college, you need hope. (Goodall later obtained her PhD from Cambridge–skipping the bachelor’s degree entirely.)
“If you don’t have hope, you don’t bother about much,” Goodall said at one point in her talk. “But there is hope,” she said. “Let’s create a critical mass of youth who understand that life is about more than just money.” Youth like her? “Together we can do it,” she said to a standing ovation. “We can save the world, and we will.”
Rachel Kaufman is a freelance writer and editor in Washington, D.C. Her interests span from science to the arts to business, and she’s currently immersing herself in the study of world cultures and geography.