A True Environmentalist

Originally posted on www.thepeopleproject.com

Dr. Jane Goodall has been a tremendous inspiration in my life, both emotionally and intellectually. Last week I had the chance to hear Dr. Goodall speak and to meet with her to discuss my own research. This experience has made me realize that so many branches of science, including primatologyanthropology, and biology will be forever indebted to her for her research and for her enduring contributions to these fields of study. Her work has forever changed the way we understand our own relationship with chimpanzees and with the rest of the animal kingdom. Although the world has come to know Dr. Goodall as the woman who introduced us to our closest relative, the chimpanzee, very few people are aware of her work as an environmental activist.

Dr. Goodall developed a passion for protecting the environment at a young age, and this passion has continued to motivate her throughout her entire life (e.g., Goodall, 2009). Although she has devoted her life to chimpanzee research and conservation, she has made it a priority to found the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in 1977, which has taken measures to improve and protect global ecosystems for the past 30+ years.

JGI has pioneered a community conservation approach toward environmental activism. According to this approach, one must address the needs of those people who share an endangered species’ physical environment in order to successfully protect both human and animal. (Goodall & Bekoff, 2003). As many environmentalists already know, the priorities of conservation organizations and the priorities of rural people in the developing world do not usually overlap. While rural populations in developing countries are naturally more concerned about improving their access to health care, clean water, food and education, conservation organizations are primarily interested in taking whatever measures are necessary to protect the endangered species and the ecosystems that fall within their jurisdiction.

Dr. Goodall realized that these conflicting priorities could be re-aligned through a “community conservation approach.” According to Dr. Goodall, if long-term conservation efforts are to be successful in Africa, the needs of the local populations must be put first. As such, JGI has created environmental awareness education programs, trained health care workers, renovated clinics, installed protected water springs, and provided local people with stable jobs as eco-guards and field researchers, through programs like TACARE and Roots & Shoots.

This community conservation approach has proven to be very effective at creating self-sustaining local economies, while reducing the impact of human activities on endangered species and the habitats which they inhabit. Many species, for example, are endangered by unsustainable hunting and logging practices, both of which cause extensive habitat loss. By giving hunters more sustainable and lucrative employment opportunities (e.g., bee farming to promote honey exports) and by providing villages with access to well-managed and monitored woodlots, JGI has managed to improve local economies and to protect those animals regularly targeted by the bush meat trade as well as those eco-systems which, if destroyed, could only be restored over hundreds of years.

All of this has been made possible through the efforts of one determined and caring individual. Although Dr. Goodall could have continued with her research career without any further thought for local populations in developing countries and for the environment, she has made room in her heart for animals, humans, and the earth. The world may know her for her groundbreaking research with chimpanzees at Gombe Stream Reserve near Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, but it is her work to improve the state of our planet that has been her greatest achievement and perhaps her greatest gift to the world.


Goodall, J. 2009. Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Goodall, J. & Bekoff, M. 2003. The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for the Animals We Love. New York: Harperone.



About Cadell Last
Hello. I'm probably drinking coffee and reading.

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