“I never fell in love with a chimpanzee”

In the history main lesson in class 6 we learned a lot about the biographies of “important” men. Even then I asked myself: what do we actually know about the women? Then, two years later, I met a fascinating woman: Jane Goodall.

I was impressed by her connection with the animals and the strong will to work for a better world. Jane Goodall became famous in the 1960s through her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees in Tanzania. The native Englishwoman was born with a fascination for animals: even as a small child she invited earthworms into her bed to see how they could move without legs. Since the end of her research career she has worked for more than thirty years as an activist for humans, animals and the environment. One of her most important initiatives is the “Roots&Shoots” initiative. Through this programme Jane Goodall manages to engage with young people in particular.

Anna Luna Scheibe | Which group of people has the greatest influence on nature and society?

Jane Goodall | It is actually impossible to answer this question because there are different aspects to the effects which various groups have on the environment and people. Sportspeople, actors and singers can achieve a lot – as stars they can encourage many people to think more about what they do. If we could change American politicians in the Trump era that would undoubtedly make a great difference. The same applies, of course, to the major corporations. But we should also consider that we ourselves should play an active role: we simply shouldn’t buy the food or clothes they produce. Then these corporations also wouldn’t make such products. We elect politicians. Let us assume for a minute that politicians took measures which made food, clothes or transport slightly more expensive, everyone who elected them would turn away and not re-elect them. Here, too, we thus carry responsibility ourselves. And that is precisely what the “Roots&Shoots” programme is about.

ALS | And what contribution can young people make?

JG | Young people are making a contribution. For a long time already. Everywhere I go, I meet young people who have formed groups. “Roots&Shoots” is now active in 100 countries. It is about treating the environment with care, showing responsibility for animals, respecting other cultures and helping the disadvantaged. There are kindergarten members and students who are involved – and everyone in between.

Everywhere I go I hear about what young people are doing. As you know, people make a choice. And they choose what they are passionate about. And you think about what you want to change, roll up your sleeves and go out and do it. Now, at this very moment, there are people in various parts of the world who are active and changing the world. Young people influence their parents and grandparents. And sometimes the parents or grandparents occupy key positions in large companies. Or they are lawyers, teachers or politicians.

ALS | We can see how the habitats of humans and animals are disappearing at an ever faster rate. Do you think, as an activist, that enough is currently being done or is something else required to allow our planet to recover?

JG | In order for our planet to recover we all need to change our inner attitude. We are not doing enough. The land and living spaces are continuing to shrink. The natural habitats are growing smaller. That leads to conflict between humans and animals. The animals are desperate and invade human habitation in the search for food. Furthermore, poverty is on the rise. We need a really big change in our attitude – everywhere in the world. Mahatma Gandhi once said: this planet can produce enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.

We have descended into a materialistic society – at least in the West. But this attitude is spreading throughout the world. And where we measure success only by money, property and power, instead of paying attention to the quality of life and the contribution we make, we lose. Only the King of Bhutan has introduced a happiness index which is clearly working. When you get more and more money, you consider yourself to be successful. But your happiness index falls. The accumulation of money and power increases your status in the world as it is now, but it doesn’t make you happier. So why do we do it anyway?

There is another thing I wanted to say. It is very important for all of us to understand that our daily behaviour makes a difference. Meanwhile so many people are collecting waste, switching their lights off and no longer throwing plastic away. If it were only one person, what difference would it make? But if more and more people develop an awareness of this, then it is hundreds at first, then thousand, then millions, and then hopefully billions who all think about what they do each day. And then, when they make the right ethical decisions in what they do, buy, wear, eat, how they treat animals, how they treat people, we will slowly be heading towards a much better world.

ALS | Has it happened that a chimpanzee has fallen in love with you or vice versa?

JG | No, when we talk about being in love, that implies all kinds of different things. And no, no male chimpanzee has ever fallen in love with me. And I have not fallen in love with a male chimpanzee either. But David Greybeard lost his fear of me. Among all the chimpanzees I have come into contact with, I remember him with the greatest affection. We had quite a close relationship: he allowed me to tickle him and was not afraid of me. I was not afraid of him. But that is not the same as falling in love. Perhaps affection. I think I was fond of David Greybeard. But I am sure that he was not fond of me.

In meeting Jane Goodall, I was impressed by her active commitment to live her vision despite her advanced age: the 83-year-old incessantly travels the world and constantly transcends her limits. During the interview she seemed very tired and yet in the evening there was still a two-hour lecture with photos and book signings to come – nevertheless all 100 people who were in the queue got a picture and had one of her books signed. In the lecture she spoke in a vivid way about the importance of everyone thinking about how they act. Because we are the earth.

About the author: Anna Luna Scheibe is a pupil at the Cologne Chorweiler Free Waldorf School and conducted the interview on 9 December 2017 as part of her class 8 project.