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EXCLUSIVE: 'Earth Day', Dr Jane Goodall flags the lessons to be learned from Covid-19

Dr Jane Goodall giving a speech onstage at The Anthem auditorium in September 2019. Picture: National Geographic/Chris McCary.

Dr Jane Goodall giving a speech onstage at The Anthem auditorium in September 2019. Picture: National Geographic/Chris McCary.

Published Apr 22, 2020


With the world in lockdown as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, Dr Jane Goodall says we need to learn from it. 

In a recent telephonic interview with the leading English primatologist and anthropologist, she said: “The most important lesson is that this pandemic was predicted, and we know that it started by a transference of disease from animal to person, a zoonotic disease. 

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This one probably started in a meat market in China, nobody is absolutely sure but it probably originally was in a bat and then it may have transferred to a pangolin and then into people.  So, what we can learn is that we have to stop destroying the natural world and we have to show more respect for animals and stop treating them as commodities and stop destroying their habitat.”

Dr Goodall, who turned 86 earlier this month, has spent a large amount of time researching chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, making Africa her second home. 

Dr Jane Goodall poses for a photograph with a group of local villagers in Bitale, Tanzania. This features strongly in National Geographic's "Jane Goodall: The Hope".

Picture: National Geographic/Joe Redl

“We celebrate 60 years of uninterrupted research this year and part of it is because every individual is different and individuals start a new behavior and then you can see how others copy it and it becomes part of the culture.  And, of course, from the captive animal studies, particularly, we’re learning more and more about animal intellect and finding that crows and rats and even octopuses show incredibly intelligent behavior, which people wouldn’t have believed many years ago,” she revealed.

This Earth Day (April 22), a two-hour documentary special on her remarkable work will be shown in "Jane Goodall: The Hope".

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Admittedly, I found the title rather apt under the current circumstances. 

On the three messages viewers will take away from watching it, she offered: “Well, I think the main one is the message that my mother gave me when I was ten-years-old and dreamed of going to Africa, which was that if you want to do something like this you’re going to have to work really hard, take advantage of opportunity, but don’t give up.  And, that’s the message I take around the world. So that’s one thing.

“The second is the main message of our youth program, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, for young people of all ages, kindergarten to university, and everybody in between.  The main message is every single one of us makes some impact on the planet every single day, and we get to choose what sort of impact we make.”

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Dr Goodall continued: “And the third one is that we have really got to start showing more respect to animals.  They now find that rats, just ordinary rats that people think of as vermin, and they only become a nuisance when people leave food lying around and they don’t really look after their discarded food items, but anyway, they can actually sense hunger in another rat and they will altruistically share food with that hungry rat.  "

""They show empathy. They’ll rescue a rat in trouble. So, that’s just a rat. And, we find these characteristics in so many different animals and we have to start realizing that we must treat them with more respect.

"" The intensive factory farms are horrendous. We have billions of animals worldwide every year in these dreadful conditions and that also is a way for the zoonotic diseases to pass from animals to people.”

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Right now, Dr Goodall is spending much of her time at home. Her outdoor activity is restricted to walking her dogs. Fortunately, she has a great garden to escape to.

"Jane Goodall: The Hope" celebrates her work and explores the ways in which her passion for wildlife has changed the world for the better.

Picture: National Geographic/David Guttenfelder.

When asked if she was working on anything, she said: “Normally, I travel 300 days a year and, in a way, this has given me a rehearsal to when I can no longer physically travel 300 days a year.  "So, first I was angry and frustrated and then I thought, well, that’s not helping anybody. So, my team and I have been working out how to best keep up the momentum of the 60th anniversary of Gombe and my 86th birthday. 

"So, we were celebrating that with lots of events and gatherings and lectures. Now we’ve turned that into using technology and there’s a virtual Jane out there reading books for children, doing podcasts, doing interviews like this, doing Skypes, and print and radio, and, of course, there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails coming in.  

"So, I’m trying to make use of this time to really be out there in the world even though I’m actually in my home in England.”

"""Jane Goodall: The Hope" airs on National Geographic (DStv channel 181) and National Geographic Wild (DStv channel 182) on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, at 6pm

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