Wendee Nicole traveled to Uganda — as part of the Mongabay.org Special Reporting Initiative — where she went out in the field with Jane Goodall Institute scientists and tracked chimps at Budongo Forest Reserve. She caught up with Dr. Jane Goodall before her milestone 80th birthday celebration to talk about her legacy and the conservation initiatives she continues to lead.
Click through to the next slide to hear what Jane had to say.
Q: You are on the road 300 days a year. You’re turning 80. Do you plan to slow down?
Jane: The longer I live, the closer I get to when I’ll die, whenever that is, and there’s so much left to do. How much longer I can do it depends on my body, but as long as I can do it, I’ll do it. After that, if my mind is working, I’ll write more books!
Q: So, you like traveling?
A: No I hate it. It’s like a nightmare. I absolutely dread it; it’s place-to-place, suitcases, security. … But I have to get from A to B.
Q: So you do it because you believe in the importance of the work and getting the message out while you can?
A: Yep. People tell me it’s changed them and they’re now prepared to do their bit. I think my main job is to give people hope. Because if we lose hope, then nobody does anything.
Q: In your book Reason for Hope, you talk about a spiritual experience that you had in the forests of Gombe Stream National Park, not long after your second husband Derek died from cancer. You wrote that this experience would be with you for the rest of your life, a source of strength when times were tough. And you also wrote about the non-conflict between science and faith. Has that moment remained a particular source of strength for you?
A: It’s not something I think about all the time, but it changed me at the time and made me feel pretty confident about life after life. The thing is, as you get older, you realize the time will come when you’ll die. The way I look at it now, either when I die, there will be nothing and in which case it won’t matter, or it will be the start of a new adventure. I get asked [about faith] a lot, and I usually say something like, out in the forest I have a sense of this great spiritual power that’s bigger than me from which I can get strength.
Q: In your book Through A Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, the descriptions of the chimp behavior are so detailed – you were following them through the forests as they ran around and even waged war. How did you capture all the precise details of the chimp interactions? How could you get that close?
A: Remember I began in 1960, and the chimps totally trusted me, and I could get extremely close. Yes indeed, I observed everything. Unless I say, so it’s my own observation. There were other students, and we all combined to write character profiles and detailed observations.
We took detailed observation in the field, every single minute. You had a check sheet and you marked if they were eating or grooming or playing and then there was long space at the end to make comments. It was a mixture of timed sampling and also just free writing of what they were doing.
Q: I spent some time in Uganda recently and the Jane Goodall Institute-Uganda staff showed me the Sustainable Livelihoods Project out in the field, where they are reforesting a corridor to expand chimp habitat and improving people’s livelihoods at the same time. It was amazing! Can you speak more to this program?
A: You know the original program was in Tanzania. That’s where we started this community-based conservation in 1993. This was before most other conservation groups were thinking about that sort of program. It’s a very holistic program. We’re in 52 villages around Gombe. We’re restoring the forest so the chimpanzees have three times more forest than they had ten years ago.
The villagers put land aside as a buffer zone all around Gombe National Park and that’s only because we’ve been working with them closely. South of Gombe, there still is forest with chimps; so there, we’re using the same method but in that case, to protect the forest before it’s destroyed.
Q: What more did you like about this approach?
A: I think the thing I like best in Tanzania is the micro-credit, where groups of women can take out tiny loans. There’s over 90% payback. And we also have scholarships to keep girls in schools. Also, we give out hygiene packs with sanitary towels and panties for teenage girls, so they aren’t so ashamed of going to school when their period starts. We’ve also introduced hygienic latrines with a bit of privacy.
Q: In Uganda and Rwanda, the Batwa forest “pygmy” people were evicted from their forest home when parks were formed to save mountain gorillas, chimps and other wildlife, and they became “conservation refugees.” But the research of Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom showed that when you turn a forest into a national park, it sometimes counter-intuitively causes illegal wildlife poaching and firewood harvest in parks to increase. On the other hand, allowing locals to be involved in decision-making and conservation – as the Jane Goodall Institute approach – works better. Can you speak more to these efforts?
A: We’re very passionate in Uganda and Burundi in working with the Batwa. We hope to introduce the forest monitoring program to the Batwa people in Kigoma [Tanzania, bordering Burundi]. Wonderful Mr. Mtiti who runs the TACARE program has agreed to do workshops for Batwa … so they can learn to use Android tablets to monitor the state of the forest. We’re also hoping to teach the Batwa to be tourist guides, because I think tourists should go into the forest with the “forest people.” Think of sitting around a fire at night and hearing their stories! This will help them get back into the forest for the work that they love and keep their culture.