When Jane Goodall walked into the building for this interview, faces lit up. Our security chief told me she does animal rescue work after hours because of Goodall. Our stage manager whispered into my ear, “She’s been my hero for decades.” And the nine-year-old daughter of our video editor hurried into the studio because she was writing a school report on Goodall (she got an A, by the way). Everyone was aware of who Jane Goodall is or what she has done to close the gap between the animal world and our own species.
Goodall herself evolved from a youthful enthusiast of animals—inspired by her father’s gift to her of a toy chimpanzee he named Jubilee—to the world’s most noted observer of chimpanzees and a global activist for all of life on earth. Through a chain of unintended consequences, the young Goodall met the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey in Kenya, was hired as his secretary, and then was sent into the forest as his primary researcher on chimps. Over many years in the Gombe Stream National Park, she came to know her subjects as individuals with distinct personalities, and with social and family lives shaped by their emotions, as are our own. Her landmark studies diminished the distance between human and nonhuman, and her television specials were so popular it became easy to think all of us had grown up with her and the chimps.
She and I were born a few weeks apart in 1934, and I am in awe at the pace she keeps, traveling more than three hundred days a year for the Jane Goodall Institute, challenging audiences to see themselves as caretakers of the natural world. Her Roots & Shoots program nurtures young people in more than 120 countries, teaching and encouraging them to improve and protect the environment. In a time of gloom and doom, as species disappear every day, development consumes more and more land, and global warming roils the climate, Jane Goodall insists that all is not yet lost.