Jane Goodall greeted the audience at her town hall meeting by bellowing the same series of whoops, yelps, and calls her beloved chimpanzees unleash in the forest. The world-famous primatologist and anthropologist also is a United Nations Messenger of Peace, and aside from preserving chimps and the planet on which we all live, bringing peace and harmony to all creatures is her foremost goal.
“We all come into life with ways we can contribute, we can change the world,” she told the audience September 18 at American University’s Woods-Brown Amphitheatre. The event was held to celebrate the thirtieth International Day of Peace on September 21. “Peace and stability can only last if improving the environment is one of the things you do to shore up the peace process. [You can say] I won’t be defeated, but you must be prepared to look at what you’re doing and say perhaps I should be doing it in a different way.”
Under a canopy of trees on a beautiful late summer afternoon, Washington’s NBC-4 TV’s Wendy Rieger, SOC/BA ’80, led a discussion that touched on Goodall’s remarkable life, her foundation and nonprofit organization, and her vision for peace.
“Many of us grew up watching your Jane Goodall specials—you’re Jane of the Jungle to us,” Rieger said. “You travel 300 days a year, why do you do it?”
“A sense of urgency,” replied Goodall, 77. “We all know that we’ve harmed the planet, we know about the bad things we’ve done to the environment, the sense of social injustice. The way you get the energy to do it is day-by-day. Anyone can get through one day.”
Goodall set off to Africa from her native England in 1957, at the age of 23. She had no college degree, but harbored a lifelong intense fascination with animals. While working as a secretary in Nairobi, Kenya, she called legendary archeologist Louis Leakey, who was impressed by her passion and attitude. She worked as his secretary before he arranged for her to study at Cambridge University, where she earned a PhD. In 1960 Goodall went to Tanzania, where she began nearly a half-century study of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park.
After a full year of observing the primates, one finally approached her.
“The first time there was contact was with the female Flo,” said Goodall, who has been criticized for naming the chimps she studies. “She had so much trust by then, she allowed her infant, Flint, to reach out and touch me. That was the most amazing moment.”
Goodall quickly came to understand that chimpanzees had personalities and could use tools, conclusions that flew in the face of science at that time.
“We are part of the animal kingdom,” she said of humans. “We are not separated from it.”
The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation works to protect the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park whom she has made famous. The institute also has introduced new farming techniques, micro-lending programs, family planning, and HIV/AIDS education to people in Tanzania and other parts of Africa.
In 1991 Goodall started Roots and Shoots, a humanitarian and environmental program for young people, with just 12 students in Tanzania. Today, groups in 126 countries commit to service projects that help people, other animals, and the environment. Before her town hall meeting, Goodall met with Roots and Shoots participants from the Washington area, including two AU students, at SIS.
“I don’t think there’s a next Jane Goodall,” she said in response to one of the afternoon’s final questions. “But I think of all the wonderful young people in our Roots and Shoots Program. They’re all carrying the torch already.”
“Jane Goodall’s Town Hall Meeting: A Conversation on Peace,” was cohosted by AU’s School of International Service Global Environmental Politics Program, the United Nations Association of Washington, D.C., and WTOP radio.