An Interview With Dr. Jane Goodall: Personal Tales of Costa Rica

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    Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-renowned scientist, is coming to Costa Rica this month to spread her message of empowering individuals to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of all.

    Her presentation isn’t until March 23 at the Osa Field Institute, but TCRN had a chance to catch up with the good doctor to get a peek of what’s to come, as well as getting the scoop on her past experiences while in Costa Rica.

    Q: Most people know you for your ground-breaking work with chimpanzees. I’m sure there are many, but in hindsight, what was your most memorable personal experience during that time

    [dropcap]A:[/dropcap] The day I first saw a chimpanzee using and making tools to fish for termites. But this was a scientific breakthrough. On a more personal level: I was following David Greybeard, in the very early days, and thought I had lost him as he moved through a tangle of vegetation. But found him sitting, looking back – almost as though waiting for me. Perhaps he was. I sat near him. Saw a ripe palm oil nut lying on the ground. Held it towards him on palm of my hand. He turned his head away. I leaned towards him, holding my hand closer. He turned and looked directly into my eyes, took it from my hand and dropped the nut. Then very gently squeezed my hand, a sign of reassurance. It was communication between two species using a shared method of communication that predates our development of spoken language.

    Q: These days, you travel extensively to promote many different environmental causes. Can you tell us a little more about that?

    [dropcap]A:[/dropcap] I left Gombe, whilst maintaining a research team that still collects data – Gombe research is in its 55th year – because in 1986, at a conference on chimpanzee behaviour at a session on conservation, it was horrifyingly apparent that chimpanzee numbers were declining across Africa due to habitat destruction, hunting for the live animal trade, and the beginning of the bushmeat trade (the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. I began travelling in Africa, talking about the plight of the chimpanzees, bringing people together to organize greater awareness, learning at the same time the problems faced by the millions of Africans living in poverty.

    Realizing that in part this was the result of colonialism taking Africa’s natural resources (including people – the slave trade) and leaving the people poorer. And that something similar goes on today with the onslaught of some of the multi-national corporations. So I began giving talks in Europe and North America, adding Asia, Latin America and most recently the UAE. Learning about the insults we are perpetrating – pollution, reckless burning of fossil fuels, destruction of rainforests, creating dead zones in the ocean, factory farming animals, agribusiness with its vast monocultures, GM crops and so on. And the resulting climate change. Add to the list all the pervasive corruption, the power of the mighty pharmaceutical, arms and xxx industries. Then there is crippling poverty on one hand, and unsustainable lifestyles on the other. And, overshadowing the rest, the ever growing human population. More and more to add to my lectures!

    Q: Of these, which do you believe is the most critical and urgent cause?

    [dropcap]A:[/dropcap] It is hardly possible to single out one aspect – everything is interrelated. The most important thing is to change attitudes. We need societies in which people realize that whilst we need money to live, things go wrong when we live for money, in and of itself. Great to be able to acquire a great deal of wealth, IF IT IS USED FOR GOOD ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CAUSES.

    And the best way to change attitudes is by working with young people. After all, it is their future. And they so often are able to influence attitudes of their parents. This is why I started Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program for young people, from kindergarten through university. Its message: every individual matters and has a role to play. Every individual makes an impact on the world every day. It started with 12 high school students in Tanaznia in 1991. It is now in more than 130 countries, with around 100,000 groups. Each group chooses three projects to make the world a better place: (1) for humans (2) for other animals (3) for the environment. The young people choose their own projects that are relevant to the place where they live, their age, their position in society and so on.

    Q: What past experiences in Costa Rica have you had (personal or for speaking events)?

    [dropcap]A:[/dropcap] I first went to Costa Rica in September of 2002. It was at the invitation of Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco. He had seen me at the the Rio Plus 10 conference that we did in Johannesburg in August 2002. President Pacheco invited us to Costa Rica to celebrate the Costa Rica’s amending of their constitution to include rights for animals and the environment. We celebrated as President Pacheco announced the amendment in the outdoor park in San Jose and then were invited to lunch with him at the Palace the following day.

    On other subsequent trips, we were invited to dine at Oscar Arias’ home – once when he was out of office and the last time when he was President of Costa Rica. That first dinner involved the former ministers of education, environment and others. The conversation soared all evening – particularly when it came to discussions of the creation of a wildlife corridor across Central America.

    On others occasions that we were there, we met with the founder of InBio Parque and started the first Roots & Shoots programs in Central America. We visited numerous parks and rainforests including Braulio Carrillo and others. We also were able to take a boat up through the Sarapiqui River to observe howler monkeys, cayman, and coati mundi. We noted that so many people whom we met with were environmentally conscious. And not forgetting the countless school rooms visited at the American school or my wonderful memories of walking in a rainforest.

    Q: In your opinion, what are the best and worst environmental developments that you see in Costa Rica?

    [dropcap]A:[/dropcap]Costa Rica’s eco-tourism is a large part of its economy and has had an overall effect of creating a great awareness of ecology amongst the Costa Ricans. Lets not forget how the rainforests were saved as well. I have strong memories apart from the tiny red and blue spotted frog with the lethal attitude and the very poisonous small snakes that infested the forest we walked through. There was tray after tray of amazing coloured insects, butterflies and bugs that we were shown in InBio by Dr. Rodrigo Gomez and colleagues. The blues upon blues and the bright shining golds and greens. Part of the amazing wildlife of Costa Rica. Also driving through the rainforest and the enormous leaves of plants and the high tree walk and seeing a sloth! And houses with no addresses and black beans for breakfast.

    For more information on Dr. Goodall’s upcoming presentations or to donate to the Jane Goodall Institute’s cause, go to

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