We met with primatologist and anthropologist. Jane Goodall when she was in Manhattan recently.
She is the ambassador for Disneynature Films and her Roots & Shoots youth service program is used in schools all across the country. Its goal is to help others gain respect and compassion for all living things.
What message would you want to send to future generations?
To understand that every individual — that is all of you and me — that we make an impact on the planet. If we start thinking each day what sort of impact we might make, then we start moving toward a better world.
Were you nervous when you were out in the open for the first time in Africa?
No. It was what I'd dreamed of since I was your age. It was like going home.
What or who is your biggest inspiration?
My mother. She was the one who supported me. When everybody laughed and said I would never get to Africa, she said if I really want this, I have to work really hard, to take advantage of all opportunities and don't give up.
What made you fall in love with chimps?
When I went to Africa to study animals and it was Dr. [Louis] Leakey who suggested chimps. At first, it was difficult to fall in love with them because they ran away as soon as they saw me. I think it was David Graybeard [the first chimp who trusted and befriended Jane when she was in Gombe] who made me understand how special chimps really are. And I found out there are nice ones and nasty ones, just like us.
What were you feeling when David Graybeard first came up to you?
He first came up to me. Just like the early anthropologists, they would lay out beads so the tribes that have never met a white person before might realize they are friendly. I put out bananas. And the day that David first took one from my hand was very very special. It showed that finally, after three months, he trusted me.
We don't think of you in terms of fashion, but what clothes do you like and do you often go shopping?
I never go shopping unless I absolutely have to, and then it is for something like books. The clothes I wear, you have seen them — a jumper, trousers. I have never been interested in fashion. And I don't change my clothes all the time, I wear the same ones for years. Simple clothes.
How many days in the year are you traveling?
What do you feel is the most inspiring message that you have been giving?
We have to remember that each one of us makes a difference every single day.
Would you rather eat dinner with humans or chimps?
Actually humans. If you try to eat dinner with chimps, they will steal all the food away.
How did you feel when you and lots of other people raised money so these chimps can stay in their habitats?
It is my lifework now, raising money. And, of course the chimps still live in 21 African countries. They have disappeared already from five. It is very hard work. To save chimps you have to save forests and there are people all the time that want to cut the forest down. When we do manage to save forests, it feels good.
Did you ever feel like giving up when you were working in Africa?
No. I couldn't give up. I am obstinate.
Who are the members of your family, and have they always been supportive of your work?
I grew up with my mother and my sister. When I first went to Gombe, I was told I couldn't be alone because it wasn't the thing for young ladies to go out into the forest, and so my mother volunteered to come with me. That is how much she supported me, and the rest of the family as well.
Aside from chimps, were there other animals you enjoyed working with?
I loved working with hyenas. I spent six months with them. At Gombe, I spent a lot of time watching baboons. I spent a little bit of time watching warthogs. I wish I could have spent more time with them.
Valentina Gatti and Bonnie Hersch’s sixth-grade class, Wantagh Middle School