From: Laura Sevier, Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published April 16, 2010 10:32 AM

Dr. Jane Goodall: 'I'm not going to fight for animal rights'

The renowned primatologist and conservationist on the need for scientific empathy, the impact of economic development, and why children give her hope for the future.


Laura Sevier: The list of endangered species around the world is growing. There is often a sense of hopelessness and doom and gloom surrounding conservation. In your latest book Hope for Animals and Their World you take a more hopeful approach by emphasising the positive. Is this designed to inspire conservationists around the world not to give up in the face of so much adversity?

Jane Goodall: It's to try and give hope to the young aspiring biologists so that they don't get persuaded to do something different - because everybody's telling them that what with climate change and everything we're certainly heading for ecological collapse.

I do think we are reaching a point of no return - but we haven't got there yet. And the point is, we can't predict the future. For all we know, half the human population on the planet might die of some terrible new disease. We just don't know.

LS: The United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. What needs to happen on a wide scale for wildlife to be protected? Or is it a case of species by species as you show in the book?

JG: Somehow we have to wake people up. What I'm concentrating on is youth. My youth programme, Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots (for young people of all ages from pre-school through college) is about giving people hope. I think it's criminal not to give children hope because they are born with hope and we have to nurture that.

Also children are brilliant at changing the behaviour of their parents. Of course it's also necessary to work with decision makers and legislators and teachers but it is working with children that gives me the greatest hope.

LS: What are the main obstacles conservationists face trying to save species from extinction?

JG: Bureaucracy is one of them. I have talked with many biologists who have a clear idea as to what should be done to save a species from extinction, but they have to go through trials and tests to get proof. And while they do this, precious individual animals are dying and the overall situation getting grimmer.

Another major obstacle is the constant battle with economic development. Yet another is the lack of understanding of the general public.

LS: How can we persuade people to care about 'creepy crawlies' or species considered to be dangerous such as wolves and crocodiles?

JG: Probably again through their children. I don't think there's a recipe you can spread out to say 'this is what you can do to change people's minds' because people are so different.

Often it is really hard. Overall, though, I've found that the best way for me to change people's attitude is by telling stories. If you can find a story to illustrate how a tiny seemingly insignificant bug can contribute to the health of an eco-system, then that gets through to people.

To read full interview, go to the Ecologist website

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