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Jane Goodall – Special interview: Roots & Shoots 2017

I hate hearing that ‘We’ve borrowed the Earth from our children’; I hate it because it’s a lie. We’ve not ‘borrowed’, we have been stealing, and we’ve made so many mistakes and it’s not the young peoples’ job to put it right. We have to work with them to fix it… we’re holding your hand so that together we can make it better.” 

Dr Jane Goodall’s words from March’s Roots & Shoots Awards ceremony rang in my head as I entered the regal surroundings of Windsor Castle; where Roots & Shoots Annual Summit was taking place for a fourth consecutive year.

Jane Goodall Windsor Castle

Roots & Shoots is a youth-driven initiative to assist young people in setting up and working together on self-chosen projects centred around people, animals and the environment. Its success speaks for itself, with at least 100,000 active groups of all ages initiating projects all over the world!

Knowing the difference in ages between the recipients of the Roots & Shoots Awards (largely projects created by primary and secondary schools) and the global delegates at the Annual Summit (most around university age), I wondered how much Jane’s sentiment or optimism would change around those more aware of the momentous tasks that lie ahead. The truthful answer? It didn’t change a bit!

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual summit

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual Summit, photo courtesy of BESUREIS

Before watching presentations by delegates from 22 different countries (of the 100 that Roots & Shoots programmes are now present in – a milestone met three weeks ago!), I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr Jane and find out more. Easing into the afternoon of the fifth and final day of the summit – which Jane admits is one of the busiest weeks of her calendar – we sit in an impressive lounge room in George’s Hall over tea and take all things Roots & Shoots and the future…

What is the inspiration behind Roots & Shoots?

Dr Jane Goodall: I was learning all about the problems facing the planet and as I was travelling around raising awareness about the chimps and the problems in Africa I was meeting so many young people who were either depressed, or angry, or just apathetic. And when I talked to them, they more or less said the same thing: ‘we feel this way because you’ve compromised our future and there’s nothing we can do about it’. And of course we have compromised their future, but I think there’s something we can do.

So it all began with 12 secondary school students in Dar es Salaam from nine schools in 1991 – and they wanted me to fix all the problems that were around, but I said: “No I can’t, I’m not Tanzanian, but go and get your friends who feel the same [and] we’ll have a meeting” and from that the programme was born, with its main message: ‘every individual matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference every day.’

Do you still find that those who are secondary school-age [often considered ‘the golden age’ before you lose teenagers to apathy and distraction] are still involved now?

Oh, that’s my key target audience, because you get them just before they go away – ok some go to university, but a lot won’t – so it’s your last chance to actually catch them while they’re in one place.

Jane Goodall and Kate on Conservation

Sharing positivity with Jane Goodall over educating and empowering future generations

How would you encourage children to think of their impact on the environment?

Tell them to join Roots & Shoots! Seriously! And then, it depends how old the child is, but for older children — then you start asking questions… I’m going to eat a certain kind of food; “ok, did it harm the environment when it was made? Did it involve cruelty to animals, like in intensive farms? Is it cheap because there was child slave labour?” What do you wear is the same thing: “How was it made? Where did it come from?” And then think about the effect that all these little choices have.

I know so many parents who say: “of course I recycle, my children make me!”. Some kids will literally read every ingredient on a label to see what’s in it — and if it has something in it that’s bad, like palm oil, they won’t let their parents buy it. And if you put millions of those kinds of ethical choices together, you move towards a better world.

 

How do the projects differ across the globe?

Well, in some places they live near the ocean – so they tend to do projects like, they’re especially worried about plastic bags, or maybe they want to help turtles guard their nesting sites and watch while the little ones go back into the ocean when the eggs hatch. Sometimes they’re groups living in the Amazonia jungle, and then they’ll do something perhaps to help whatever kind of endangered primate lives there. Everywhere they’re doing tree planting, everywhere they’re collecting garbage, trying to clean up the world.

It really just depends – like in Asia there’s a lot of concern about the palm oil plantations, but that’s spilled across, because we need to find out which products have palm oil in them, so that we can avoid them, and in order for that to happen you have to persuade the government to enforce labelling. So there’s huge projects in America and Australia to get the government to insist that products have labels saying what’s in them.

Chowbent primary school roots and shoots

Roots & Shoots projects in action at Chowbent Primary School


Are there any specific aims or goals for Roots & Shoots for the year ahead? 

Just going on growing, and also working on global campaigns so that the kids can feel really involved with each other. Recycling cell phones or planting trees can be a global campaign… where they can network on social media.

What is your favourite part of working on the Roots & Shoots programme?

The enthusiasm and energy of young people once they know the problems and you empower them to take action. They’re just imaginative and filled with energy – and so excited about what they do.


Listen to an extract of my interview with Dr Jane Goodall here and learn how recycling old mobile phones can reduce the need to mine for coltan, which can have devastating effects on gorilla habitats, and the children forced to mine for coltan.

Interview conducted on behalf of National Geographic Kids Magazine – keep an eye out for the rest of the interview in future issues of the magazine.

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Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Awards on World Wildlife Day

Yesterday was World Wildlife Day, an important day in the calendar for promoting campaigns and causes concerning wildlife across the globe.

I had the absolute pleasure (and honour!) of attending the Jane Goodall institute‘s Roots & Shoots Awards 2017. Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is a youth service program for young people of all ages to foster respect and compassion for all living things; to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs and to inspire individuals to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment.

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I have huge respect for Dr Jane Goodall, one of Lewis Leakey and National Geographic‘s ‘primates‘ (she studied chimpanzees, while Dr Dian Fossey studied gorillas and Dr Brute Galdikas studied orang-utans), and it was amazing to see the way that she is still inspiring and encouraging children today.

I arrived at the Barbican, where the Roots & Shoots Awards were held this year (thanks to sponsors Love Nature) to a room full of school displays by the Roots & Shoots winners, absolutely bubbling with energy! Children of all ages showed off their skills as gardeners, greenhouse-builders, photographers and documentary makers.

Humberstone Junior Academy Roots and Shoots

Humberstone Junior Academy explained their focus on wildlife, including how they had adopted a pangolin with Born Free Foundation

I took a good couple of hours to speak to all the children about their schools’ initiatives and the eco-friendly activities they have devised. Below are a few examples of the amazing work I saw — but there were certainly many more, equally impressive displays and models (I just didn’t have enough space on my phone to photograph them all!)img_5853Humberstone Junior Academy Roots and Shoots masksChowbent primary school roots and shoots

Sir Jonathan North Community College Roots and Shoots

After viewing the room of beautiful exhibits, it was time for lunch in the Barbican Centre‘s greenhouse conservatory, before moving on to the auditorium for the much anticipated award ceremony and the handing out of prizes! Winners received a trophy, a cuddly Jane Goodall ‘Mr H’ monkey, a book and a free subscription to National Geographic Kids Magazine.

Roots and shoots award presentation

Roots and shoots award presentation humberstone junior academy

Congratulations to all the schools who won these prestigious awards. It was a real treat to see such happiness and celebration! Additionally, I got to present two very talented winners the award for ‘Outstanding Photograph‘ on behalf of National Geographic Kids:

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

Rachel from the University of Salford (pictured above) won with this fantastic photograph of three Barbary macaques.

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

The second winner was Claudia from James Allen’s Girls’ School, who won with the beautiful photograph below.

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

Her award was collected by her teacher, who said she was very proud of Claudia’s work. Claudia will have the chance to be an National Geographic Kids reporter for the day!

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

The day concluded with a heartfelt speech delivered by Dr Jane Goodall herself, encompassing the message behind Roots & Shoots of inclusion, tolerance and love and respect for the planet and one another. She praised the teachers who guide and encourage their students in programmes like Roots & Shoots and the people like her mother, who never crushed curiosity or stopped her from making mistakes and learning all the life lessons she need to become a scientist.

Jane Goodall Roots and Shoot address

“I hate hearing that ‘we’ve not inherited the Earth from our parents, we’ve borrowed it from our children’; I hate it because it’s a lie. We’ve not ‘borrowed’, we have been stealing, and we’ve made so many mistakes and it’s not the young peoples’ job to put it right. We have to work with them to fix it. We have been stealing, and now we’re holding your hand so that together we can make it better.”

Listen to more of Jane’s speech by clicking here.

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Primate poaching, problems and protection

I can’t get Racing Extinction out of my head. I think that’s the point of a documentary like that, of course, and it must be working, as I keep coming back to it in my mind.

Racing Extinction

Having also recently watched the powerful film How to Change the World, in which Greenpeace’s Bob Hunter constructs the idea of ‘mind bombs’ (the 1960s equivalent of a viral image or video) to instil a message and influence a state/change of mind; I understood the tactic that Director Louis Psihoyos has employed in Racing Extinction.Racing extinction empire state building

But whilst National Geographic photographs of snow leopards and whales illuminating the Empire State Building or lions and clown fish clambering over the Vatican have captured imaginations all over the globe, the mind bomb that’s gone off in my head is: “what was the chimpanzee feeling when he came back and gave Jane Goodall a hug?’

The poignant moment manages to capture the human-like affection that primates are capable of expressing and makes me acutely aware of how we are not that different to our sentient Great Ape counterparts.

Dr Jane Goodall was selected as number 1 on BBC Wildlife Magazine‘s conservation power list this summer, for her lifetime’s work with chimpanzees – including drawing attention to the tragic impact of the wildlife trade.

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Through her organisation; the Jane Goodall Institute, BBC Wildlife explains that she spends 300 days a year on speaking tours that take her across the globe. But who is this slight, grey-haired woman with such youthful eyes and smile that they almost betray her years of wisdom?

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Everyone seems to have seen the David Attenborough clip  where he shares a special bonding moment with silverback gorillas in 1979, the iconic footage gets shared and re-shared for its absolute magic, but somehow despite this — the plight of Great Apes goes largely overlooked nowadays, in comparison to big cats and critters of the Arctic.

In the 1960 and ’70s, it was different. Under the provision of Dr Louis Leakey; an paleoanthropologist and archaeologist concerned with understanding human evolutionary development, National Geographic funded three separate primate research projects over the two decades, fronted by three extraordinary women: the Trimates

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The Trimates: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas were commissioned to study primates to establish their position in human evolution. Goodall researched chimpanzees, Fossey: gorillas and Galdikas: orangutans.

Goodall began conducting her initial study in Tanzania in 1960, and made significant discoveries with regards to their behavior, social structures, and was the first to discover that chimps used tools (such as sticks, to fish termites out from inside branches and tree trucks), which was a characteristic believed to be exclusive to humans before her work, and one of the things that separated us from our ancestors.

The second Trimate, Dian Fossey set up a research camp in Rwanda in 1967 to begin her study of gorillas. Her story (and its controversies) is documented in the 1988 film, Gorillas in the Mist.

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I watched Gorillas in the Mist for the first time this week, to understand more about Fossey’s work and the circumstances surrounding her murder in 1988.

The thing that struck me most about the film was the relentless fight she faced against poachers. Although hunting had been illegal since the 1920s in the national park she resided in in Rwanda, the law was rarely enforced by park conservators, who were often paid a low salary and bribed by poachers.

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The scene in which the first silverback that Dian had contact with, Digit (called so because of his having a pose-able thumb – or fifth digit – a feature of apes), is killed by poachers is harrowing. Brilliantly acted by Sigourney Weaver, one can only imagine the pain that Dian felt when her beloved Digit was discovered with his head and hands removed by poachers to be made into gorilla hand ashtrays and medicine in the Asian wildlife trade.

The real-life photograph (shown above) was taken by Fossey’s student, Ian Redmond. Now Ian Redmond OBE; a supporter of Born Free Foundation, a contributor to Born Free’s Wildlife magazine, and someone whom I recently listened to at The Service for All Animals, speaking with Virginia McKenna in memory of elephant Pole Pole.

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It always astounds me when these things somehow come together and link in. Perhaps it’s telling of the fact that those involved in the animal rights movements are prolific, dedicating their lives to a cause. Or maybe it’s also a sign that the number of people at the forefront of anti-poaching, anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns are few in number?

I hope it’s the former.

Or perhaps I just seek it. In the summer this year, I visited Lizard’s Point in Cornwall as part of a music mini tour with my partner, and what should I stumble across but a sculpture commissioned in support of the Dian Fossey Organisation and its work with mountain gorillas, raising funds for the cause.

I photographed it at the time, not really knowing much about the organisation or its work, but feeling certain that I would in time. And here we are.

Gorilla

So what of the third Trimate, Birute Galdikas?

Her National Geographic cover story was published in 1975 detailing her work with orangutans in Borneo.  Despite being told by her professors that studying the primates would be impossible, due to their elusive and wary natures, she has continued her work over four decades and today is well-known for her rehabilitation efforts through Orangutan Foundation International.

As with the other two primate pioneers, however, Galdikas’ work is also not without its criticism.

Despite this, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering these amazing ladies’ stories and the education that they bought to the world about our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

It seems national treasure, Sir David Attenborough,  is one of the only Great Ape champions to have escaped such criticism and controversy, but it’s worth noting that the story neither begins nor ends with him alone.

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Like this? Read about my meeting with ‘Trimate’ Jane Goodall here.

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Want to know more about the threats faced by primates today, and what’s being done to help them? Check out: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/primates/