In her new book, "Hope for Animals and Their World," Jane Goodall writes about how she came to devote her life to animals and the natural world, and what does to raise awareness about the state of our planet.
For more information about Jane Goodall, visit The Jane Goodall Institute.
I am writing this from my home in Bournemouth, England. I grew up in this house, and as I look out my window I can see the very same trees I climbed as a child. Up high in those trees I believed I was closer to the birds and the sky, more a part of nature. Even as a very young child, I felt most alive in the natural world, and almost every book I read -- borrowed from the local library -- was about animals and adventures in wild untamed places in the world. I began with the stories about Doctor Dolittle, that English doctor who was taught animal languages by his parrot. Then I discovered the books about Tarzan of the Apes. Those two books inspired a seemingly impossible dream -- I would go to Africa one day and live with animals and write books about them.
Perhaps the volume that influenced me most was called The Miracle of Life. I spent hours poring over the small print of those magical pages. It was not a book written for children, but I was absolutely absorbed as I learned about the diversity of life on earth, the age of the dinosaurs, evolution and Charles Darwin, the early explorers and naturalists -- and the amazing variety and adaptations of the animals around the world. And so, as I grew older and learned more and more, my love of animals broadened from my hamster, slow worm, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs, to a fascination for all the amazing animals I read about in those books.
There was no television when I was young: I learned everything from books -- and nature. My childhood dream was realized when I was invited to Kenya by a school friend. I set off when I was twenty-six years old, after working asa waitress to save the fare. I went by boat because it was cheapest, calling in at places I had read about such as Cape Town and Durban, and finally arriving in Mombasa. For me it was especially exciting to arrive at the Canary Islands -- for Doctor Dolittle had been there, too! What adventure, back then, for a young woman traveling alone. Once I reached Kenya, my love of animals led me to Louis Leakey, who eventually entrusted me with the task of uncovering the secrets of the behavior of the animal most like us. (Quite extraordinary when you consider I had no degree and back then girls did not do that sort of thing!) That study of chimpanzees, in Tanzania's Gombe National Park, has lasted for half a century and helped us understand, among other things, more about our own evolutionary history.
It has taught us that the similarities in biology and behavior between chimpanzees and humans are far greater than anyone had supposed. We are not, after all, the only beings with personalities, rational thought, and emotions. There is no sharp line dividing us from the chimpanzees and the other apes, and the differences that obviously exist are of degree, not of kind. This understanding gives us new respect not only for chimpanzees, but also for all the other amazing animals with whom we share this planet. For we humans are a part of, and not separate from, the animal kingdom. We are still studying the chimpanzees of Gombe, and I might well have stayed there, with the animals and forests I love, if I had not attended a conference called Understanding Chimpanzees.
It was that conference, in 1986, that changed the course of my life. Field researchers from all the study sites across Africa came together for the first time. There was one session on conservation that was utterly shocking. Right across their range, the chimpanzees' forests were being felled at a horrifying rate, they were being caught in poachers' snares, and the socalled bushmeat trade -- the commercial hunting of wild animals for food -- had begun. Chimpanzee numbers had plummeted since I began my study in 1960, from somewhere over a million to an estimated four to five hundred thousand (it is much less now). It was a wake-up call for me. I went to the conference as a scientist, planning to continue working in the field, analyzing and publishing my data. I left as an advocate for the chimpanzees and their vanishing forest home. I knew that to try to help the chimpanzees, I must leave the field and do my best to try to raise awareness and hope that we could start to halt at least some of the destruction.
And so, after spending twenty-six years of my life doing what I loved best in the place I loved best, I took to the road. And the more I traveled around the world, giving lectures, attending conferences, meeting with conservationists and legislators, the more I realized the extent of the devastation we are wreaking on our planet. It was not just the forests harboring chimpanzees and other African animals that were endangered -- it was forests and animals everywhere. And not only forests, but all of the natural world. Life on the road is hard. Since 1986, I have traveled some three hundred days a year. From America and Europe to Africa and Asia. From airport to hotel to lecture venue; from schoolroom to corporate conference room to government offices. But there are some perks along the way. I get to visit some incredible places. And I get to meet some truly wonderful and inspirational people. And I hear, among all the terrible news of the ongoing destruction of the natural world, some stories of people who have prevented the felling of an old-growth forest, stopped the building of a dam, succeeded in restoring a despoiled wetlands, saved a species from extinction.
Even so, evidence is mounting of a sixth extinction -- this time caused by human actions. To keep up my spirits when I was tired and things seemed extra-bleak, I made a collection of what I call my "symbols of hope." Many illustrate the resilience of nature -- such as a leaf from a tree found in Australia, previously known only from fossil imprints on rocks. A tree that has survived seventeen ice ages and is still alive and well in a hidden canyon in the Blue Mountains. A feather from a peregrine falcon that was flying again in an area where it had been locally extinct for a hundred years and another from a California condor, a species rescued from the brink of extinction. This was what caught Thane's attention when I was lecturing at the zoo in Cincinnati. He said I should write up those stories. I told him I intended to -- but there was so little time. He said he would help. Thane is a kindred spirit. He, too, is filled with optimism for our future. Clearly this is a very different book from the slender volume originally planned. I kept meeting amazing people who had done amazing work to prevent animals from becoming extinct. And I met them all over the world. How could I write about the California condor and not the whooping crane? And what about the giant panda, symbol of conservation?
Then, somehow, word got out that we were writing this book and information flooded in -- why were we not including insects? Amphibians? Reptiles? And surely the plant kingdom was important, too?
And so the book grew, not only in volume, but also in concept. It seemed so important to discuss some of the species believed extinct that have been rediscovered -- sometimes more than a hundred years after they had been written off. And to write about the wonderful work being done to restore and protect habitats. I found that people got really excited about the idea of sharing the good news, shining a light on all the projects, large and small, that together are gradually healing some of the harm we have inflicted. It has been several years in the making, this book, and it has taken me on a fantastic journey of exploration: I have learned ever more about animal and plant species brought to the brink of extinction by human activities and then -- sometimes at the very last minute and against all odds -- been given a reprieve. The stories shared here illustrate the resilience of nature, and the persistence and determination of the men and women who fight -- sometimes for decades -- to save the last survivors of a species, refusing to give up.
There is Old Blue, at one time the very last female black robin in the world who, with the help of an inspired biologist, saved her species from extinction. There is the individual tree, the very last of its kind, that, having been almost eaten to death by browsing goats, was killed by a forest fire -- yet found the energy to produce seeds on its last living branch. With the help of inspired horticulturists, the species sprang back, like the phoenix, from the ashes. It is these and many other human and other-than-human heroes that you will meet in the following chapters. There are tales of adventure and high courage, as biologists risk their lives to climb sheer rock faces or leap from wildly tossing boats onto jagged rocks, and pilots maneuver helicopters through forbidding landscapes in terrible weather. There are stories of men and women brought close to despair as they battled bureaucracies to try to save a species from extinction, knowing that delay caused by human obstinacy was lessening their chances of success with each passing day. There is an account of a man trying to persuade a falcon to copulate with his hat and another who mimics the courtship dance of a crane to persuade her to lay an egg.
Many of the rescue programs are ongoing even as we write. New generations of whooping cranes and northern black ibises are still being taught new migration routes, led by human devotees in flying machines. New breeding and release techniques for giant pandas, and better protection of wild habitat, offer hope for their future in China, but there is a long way to go. The plight of the Asian vultures that died in their hundreds of thousands from non-intentional poisoning is being addressed through captive breeding and "Vulture Restaurants" in the wild, but there is much, much work to do.
We realize that there are countless other programs going on around the world to conserve existing populations of animals and plants. But we had to pick and choose, and we included mainly stories that we knew about, firsthand. I wish we could include the efforts of the pioneer conservationists, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who established the first national parks and reserves for the protection of wilderness areas. Or write about the farsighted people who worked to protect the last of the beavers from an industry desperate to plunder their pelts for the making of hats. There are many who have fought to save other mammal and bird species from extinction because of our insatiable desire to bedeck ourselves with their skins, furs, and feathers. Koala bears might no longer be with us but for those who realized, back in the 1800s, that they would soon be gone if steps were not taken to save their eucalyptus forests. Indeed, there are countless species not even classified as endangered today that might well have become extinct were it not for caring people who protected them long ago. To those early pioneers in conservation we owe a great deal.
In October 2008 in Barcelona, Spain, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released results of a global survey of mammal populations. It concluded that "at least a quarter of mammal species are headed toward extinction in the near future." And tragically, for many, there may be little that can be done. Yet I have been so inspired by the stories included in this book and by the people who refuse to give up.
There is an old maxim: "While there is life, there is hope." For the sake of our children we must not give up, we must continue to fight to save what is left and restore that which is despoiled. We must support those valiant men and women who are out there doing just that. And it is important for us to realize that we cannot relax our efforts on behalf of endangered animals -- for the threats to their survival are ever present, often growing. Human population growth, unsustainable lifestyles, desperate poverty, shrinking water supplies, corporate greed, global climate change -- all these and more will, unless we are vigilant, undo all that has been accomplished.
It is inevitable that more and more species will need a helping hand if they are to continue to share the planet with us. So it is fortunate that increasing numbers of people are waking up, becoming aware of the damage we are inflicting on the web of life, and wanting to do their bit to help, whether as wildlife biologists, government officials, or concerned citizens.
One thing is certain -- my own journey of exploration will not stop. I shall go on collecting stories, meeting and talking with more extraordinary and inspirational people. There are many to whom I have only spoken on the telephone, but now I want to meet them: I want to look into their eyes to see the spirit of determination that keeps them going, and look into their hearts to glimpse the love for the species or the natural world that takes them to lonely, all-but-inaccessible places. And I want to share their stories with young people around the world. I want them to know that, even when our mindless activities have almost entirely destroyed some ecosystem or driven a species to the brink of extinction, we must not give up. Thanks to the resilience of nature, and the indomitable human spirit, there is still hope. Hope for animals and their world. And it is our world, too.
-- Jane Goodall, February 2009 From HOPE FOR ANIMALS AND THEIR WORLD by Jane Goodall. Copyright © 2009 by Jane Goodall with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson. Used by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.