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Dr. Jane Goodall reflects on her legacy and the future of the environment

Conservationist, anthropologist, researcher and champion of chimpanzees – many words have been used to describe Dr. Jane Goodall over her remarkable life and career.

Now, more than 60 years after she began her groundbreaking research, being a messenger of hope just may be her most important role yet.

Goodall was in Halifax last week for a sold-out engagement. In an interview with CTV Atlantic, she spoke about empowering younger generations and leaving a lasting legacy.


After watching the 2017 National Geographic documentary “Jane,” Goodall found herself in a wave of nostalgia.

“It took me right back,” said Goodall. “Since that film, I’ve thought about it more often. I know those chimpanzees almost like part of the family.”

It’s been over six decades since Goodall began her journey researching chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Mwamgongo, Tanzania.

In the years since, Goodall says the number of chimpanzees in the area have decreased from about 150 to around 90.

She attributes the drop in population to the growing practice of tree-cutting in the park.

“They were being cut down by people struggling to survive,” said Goodall. “Too many people for the land to support, too poor to buy food elsewhere, so cutting down the trees to make land to grow more food or to make money from timber.”

Goodall and her team went on to start a program that helped improve the lives of locals while finding ways of making a living without destroying the environment.

“They’ve come to understand that saving the forest isn’t just for wildlife. It’s their own future. So they’ve become our partners in conservation.”

As a result of the program, trees are beginning to grow back and wildlife is starting to return. She says there are now more than 100 chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park.


One of Goodall’s most famous moments came in 2013, when a video of a chimpanzee embracing the researcher went viral online.

The chimp, named Wounda, had been rescued by the Jane Goodall Institute. When the team prepared to set Wounda free in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the chimp gave Goodall a goodbye she will never forget.

“It was very strange, particularly because I met her that day for the very first time.”

As the team transported Wounda on a boat to a nearby island, Goodall says she spoke to the animal and tried to reassure her that everything would be alright.

“She was surrounded by people she knew but she must have wondered what on Earth is happening,” recalled Goodall.

When the team opened the cage, Wounda immediately turned to a woman named Rebecca, a veterinarian who served as the manager of the sanctuary.

After climbing on the cage and looking around, Wounda did a double take before reaching her arms around Goodall.

“It wasn’t the quick, normal chimp hug,” said Goodall. “It was very gentle. She looked around at the strange new world. It was one of the most amazing things that have ever happened to me.”

Goodall believes that humans can form deep connections with animals, even just in a short period of time.

“[There’s] some kind of communication that goes on with animals, if we admit to it,” she said.


As the climate crisis progresses, the urgency with which the world must respond has only continued to grow.

That’s why, even at 89, Goodall continues to travel the world 300 days a year, to remind audiences the planet is worth fighting for.

“After people come to my lecture, they so often come up to me and say, ‘I’d given up, but now I promise I’ll do my bit,’” said Goodall.

The overarching theme of Goodall’s lectures is simple --- hope.

“Without hope, we fall into apathy and do nothing and then we’re doomed,” she said. “We know what we need to do, we have the tools to do it. Do we have the will?”

Goodall encourages people to do something every day to do their part to help the environment, whether it’s just turning lights off or moving toward a plant-based diet.

“There’s a terrible effect on the environment of feeding all these billions of animals in factory farms, which are, in addition, horrendously cruel,” she said.


In 1974, Goodall faced one of the most trying times in her life.

A student came to her early one morning to inform Goodall that four others had been kidnapped by Congolese rebels.

As a result, people stopped giving money to the park and “all the money for Gambe dried up.”

In order to save the park and preserve her research, Goodall travelled across the United States essentially begging for funds to help keep the project afloat.

“That was a very grim time because I knew Gambe had to go on,” said Goodall. “I could’ve given up and collapsed, and that would’ve been the end of Gambe.”

Now, the park has collected more than 60 years of chimpanzee research, giving a generational perspective to the mysterious animal.

“We’re studying different generations and we can see is this behaviour really handed down from mother and father to child, or is it due to some traumatic event in childhood?”

Goodall says her work would not be possible without the centuries of Indigenous stewardship to protect the land for future generations.

“Indigenous people have been the custodians, the guardians of the land for hundreds of years,” said Goodall. “They have this wisdom of making decisions based on how it will affect children and their children.”

Rather than destroying their environment, Goodall says Indigenous people “learned to live in harmony with it.” She hopes settlers will begin listening to Indigenous voices to learn how they can treat the land better.

She pointed to the harms of modern industrial farming, with herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizer killing the soil, harming diversity, and making humans sick.

“We need to move to regenerative farming and permaculture, small family farms, and it’s happening.” Top Stories

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