Dr Jane Goodall speaks of conservation issues and solutions, involving youths through Roots & Shoots. Gaia Discovery's Mallika Naguran had the privilege of meeting the legendary activist.
SINGAPORE, 15 August 2017. Conservation has many forms but some are effective, some not, according to Dr. Jane Goodall. She should know. The 83-year-old primatologist has spent nearly 60 years championing the cause of wildlife and habitat protection around the world with successful approaches.
Because of her activism and passion for the environment, she made the following possible: more than 1490,000 acres of habitat protected, 5,000 plus chimpanzees and gorillas live in the habitats that the non-profit Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) protects, and 130 communities supported worldwide.
All of these happened with just one person following her heart.
Goodall’s legacy first began with her personalised chimpanzee research in Tanzania in 1960 and her subsequent discovery that chimps make and use tools. This shook the foundations of primatology at that time. It also redefined the relationship between humans and animals.
Goodall was in Singapore in August 2017 to celebrate JGI’s 40th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the Singapore chapter of JGI. A series of talks were held, the first for the public at Mediacorp on 6 August with Desmond Lee, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for National Development and Home Affairs, delivering the opening remarks and participating in the discussion panel.
Roots & Shoots in Singapore
What began as advocacy of saving chimpanzees in Tanzania in the 1960s has today become a worldwide movement for nature conservation, with a focus on doing something positive and concrete, and very much localized.
“I decided that everyone has an impact in what we do and live,” said Goodall, who learnt the interconnectedness of life in the rainforest.
This led to the formation of Roots & Shoots in 1991 first with Tanzanian students. It has since caught the imagination of youths worldwide with its simple objective: “to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.”
The concept of living in harmony with nature is at the heart of the programme involving 150,000 youths worldwide. Young people, from kindergarten to university, participate and get support from JGI by way of resources, even “curriculum, if the country wants it” according to Goodall.
“Roots & Shoots is about action, making things happen and seeing the difference you’ve made,” she said.
“In China, the awareness (of nature conservation) is growing with the help of Roots & Shoots. Now Roots & Shoots is in 100 countries, with the latest being Malawi just two weeks ago,” she beamed.
This approach of being pro-people and pro-planet with consideration for economic prosperity has earned Jane Goodall the title of United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002.
In 2016, JGI celebrated the 25th anniversary of Roots & Shoots. Some of the deeds involve planting trees, saving abandoned animals, helping the homeless, protecting clean water, promoting biodiversity and others.
In Tanzania, numerous Roots & Shoots groups have planted thousands of tree seedlings that seek to not just restore degraded land but also provide the communities with much needed wood for fuel and construction.
Youths wrote and published a book on energy in Cambridge, Massachusetts to educate their peers on their energy use and impacts.
In Singapore, Roots & Shoots programmes have taken off as well under the guidance of JGI (Singapore). The Raffles Girls’ School Monkey Business team worked on improving peoples’ understanding of the native long-tailed macaques while the National University of Singapore’s Roots & Shoots United kicked off the primate campaign ‘Close to Man, Closer to Extinction’ to conserve the banded leaf monkey, which is critically endangered in its native home, Singapore.
On a more social note, the Singapore American School has conducted sensorial walks on trails in Pulau Ubin for the visually impaired.
Anyone burdened with a social or environmental problem can start a group to implement solutions through Roots & Shoots, that’s how it works.
Goodall and Ocean Conservation
The oceans need protection too. Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue has become a JGI partner through the Tapestry of Hope on 7 December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties in Paris.
Dr. Earle’s global network of Hope Spots show marine protected areas around the world. Viewers can click on the geographical pinpoints of the online map to “read stories that spread the message of hope” in the work of Roots & Shoots members across 100 countries.
Goodall’s Conservation Partners
Jane Goodall’s tireless efforts in conservation stemmed from her curiosity and hunger for knowledge, beginning with the Gombe Stream Research Center. Today it is home to “one of the longest running wild mammal studies in the history of the world, and the longest and most in depth study of wild chimpanzees.”
Since then, there has been a number of achievements. The founding of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Sanctuary in 1991 has led to more than 150 injured or homeless chimps being cared for.
In 1994 , the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education (TACARE) helped tackle poverty and support sustainable livelihoods in the surrounding villages. This helped to arrest the degradation of natural resources, particularly in the remaining indigenous forest.
In 2005, JGI established the first formal conservation action plan that is focused on the landscape surrounding Gombe Stream National Park. It took on a multi-stakeholder approach to protect the wider ecosystem and regenerate degraded habitats while improving the lives of the communities.
While Goodall did not have direct involvement in this action plan, she praised their efforts. “In Uganda, chimpanzees forage the crops simply because most of their forests have been cut down so how are they supposed to live? Some of them forage at night, and chimpanzees never leave their nests at night, but in Uganda they do. It shows how chimpanzees adapt (for survival) just like humans.”
But this often leads to conflict.
Human and Animal Conflict
In Singapore, the residents of Bukit Timah regard the long-tailed macaques as nuisance, and the solution of culling has been called for.
In the agricultural plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia, foraging orangutans are caught and tortured, even killed.
This comes as no surprise to Goodall. “There is human conflict with animals everywhere. The big problem is that we are taking over their homes.” She made reference to the conflicts of humans with elephants and apes in Africa as well as foxes and badgers in the UK.
“We have taken over the natural world,” she said.
“Culling is murder,” she pronounced. Instead of killing, Goodall recommends solutions that benefit both animals and people instead, starting with discussions and “using our brains to see how we can live in harmony with nature.”
There is not much point in labouring over animal rights either. “We need to push for people responsibility rather than animal rights,” she said. Goodall reckons that kids who have been treated cruelly will become cruel to animals.
Hence the focus should be in inculcating responsible behaviour in people and inculcating love of the environment. Conservation and enforcement themselves may not be sufficient.
“There are two different approaches in enforcing (conservation), one is top down by introducing laws, and punishing people if they break them – and people are very good at getting around breaking laws - and the other way is to introduce the love of forest in people so that they want to protect the forest. And that’s what we’ve done,” Goodall told Gaia Discovery referring to the Village Forest Monitor (VFM) programme.
“We have volunteers from 52 countries. They learn how to use smart phones or iTablets donated by Google Earth. They themselves choose what they want to report of their forests – it could be a cut tree, it could be an animal trap, it could be a (gun) cartridge that they found on the ground; or on the positive side, it could be a chimp nest or seeing a leopard or a pangolin and all the information is uploaded on the Google platform, Global Forest Watch. Everything is transparent and it is working like a dream,” she said.
Community forest monitoring is an integral part of the Gombe-Masito-Ugalla programme in Tanzania, and the conservation efforts in western Uganda and eastern DRC.
“And on top of that, we have our Roots & Shoots programme where we take the people into the forest, so that they come to appreciate and love the forest, and to realise the services provided by the forests - sometimes I don’t like to talk about it that way, but sometimes that’s what you do to get to people. Forests give us fresh water, oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.”
So all those different ways (help to inculcate responsible behaviour).”
What about corruption, I asked, as that is rampant among Asian authorities when it comes to protecting the forests and wildlife. I was thinking of the palm oil related forest destruction and forest fires in Malaysia and Indonesia in particular.
“I’ve talked to many politicians about corruption and nobody has come up with a successful solution. It starts with fear; only when the fear ends, the corruption stops. The person who can stop corruption will be a hero,” Goodall quipped.
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Corruption is tough, I don’t have any answers,” she added.
But Goodall has answers for the conservation of natural resources of the planet in light of climate change.
Goodall on Climate Change
First, there has to be awareness. Goodall spoke of the negative impacts happening to forests globally, of wetlands being destroyed, harmful chemicals on agriculture, and monoculture in farming.
“The rainforest is the great lung of the earth. Oceans are the other lung,” said Goodall. But the acidification of the oceans due to pollution would hamper its role to freshen the air.
Next, we have to face climate change but there is the problem of unsustainable consumption. “We have more than what we need,” Goodall observed.
Rise in meat consumption too has led to a number of problems, not just deforestation but also greenhouse gas emissions due to the release of methane from the livestock and farming industries.
“So if you were to ask me - have we compromised the future for our children? Of course we have,” she said. I observed that Goodall carries with her two stuffed toys for all of her talks and public appearances – one of a chimp and the other of a cow. Helps reinforce a real problem that many environmentalists shrug off – the connection between meat and global warming.
Goodall also spoke out against greed and profiteering by corporations and politicians, and of disconnect from the human heart to love and have compassion.
“You’ve heard of the saying that we do not inherit the earth but that we simply borrow it from our children. I tell you we haven’t borrowed the earth from our children, we have stolen it!”
But she still believes that there is a window of hope and that there is time for us to turn things around. Roots & Shoots will help, with its solution-focused people-planet and inclusive approach.
“We don’t have much time but we do need to get together to fight to keep our planet together.”
Personal note from the writer: Thank you Jane Goodall for being a living inspiration to Gaia Discovery team and our readers around the world!
Photos of long-tailed macaques and the banded leaf monkey courtesy of Dr Andie Ang, founder of Primate Watching Online Resources and Vice President of Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore). Check out www.primatewatching.com.