Interview: Jane Goodall

By LANCE GOULD  |  September 23, 2009

And as far as Professor/Dr. Leakey ─ was he also of that mindset?
Well, Louis Leakey was very passionate about early humans. His life was spent picking up the remains of our early ancestors. So we never really got into a discussion about animal personality. But of course he would have agreed, because most rational people do. I mean, honestly, you cannot know an animal with a reasonably intelligent brain and not know these things inside yourself.

Does your United Nations affiliation give you room to maneuver with difficult or unwelcoming bureaucracies, or even regimes, that are not particularly interested in ─ or welcoming of ─ your efforts to save endangered species?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s our youth program, the Roots & Shoots, which we’ve established in 111 countries, that allows us to do so. We’ve even got a couple of groups of Roots & Shoots in North Korea. And I think my message is completely apolitical. It’s completely about saving the planet for our children and theirs. And so there’s nothing really sinister about me. I’m a woman. I’m not a big, strong, aggressive-looking woman. And so I’m welcome. I mean, China ─ we’re all over mainland China, Roots & Shoots.

So you’ve been to North Korea?
Twice. And worked with the people. Visited the schools. And although I’ve never met and don’t wish to meet the heads of that regime ─ because it’s a terrible regime ─ I’ve met with the people who run one of the very few NGOs for the environment in the country. It was a private visit, although of course the government knew I was there. And it may surprise you to know that, out of the three books in North Korea that have been translated into North Korean from English, two of them are mine.

Yes. They didn’t pay for the publishing, but they didn’t object. One of them is Reasons for Hope. And I thought, they’ll never let that one go into that regime, talking all about freedom of spirit and everything. But when I talked to my friends there, they said, “No, but that’s actually our philosophy, really. That individuals are very important.”

Do you know offhand what the third book is?
Yes, one of Thomas Hardy’s diatribes against the upper classes. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I think.

Oh. British writers certainly seem to have quite a good hold on the publishing industry there.
Oh, clearly ─ three out of three. But the point is that, whatever country you go in, the ordinary people are just people. We’re the same everywhere ─ there’s no question. And so it’s the regime, not the people. You can think of times in the US when the regime has been very hostile to the environment.

Absolutely. The previous one, I’d say.
Exactly ─ the worst ever. But when I go and I meet with difficult regimes ─ I’ve got a reputation, I think from National Geographic and the films and that sort of thing. And they do see the UN Messenger of Peace, and that stuff. So they feel they should welcome me, and be nice and polite. So they’re not obstructive. They’re not necessarily helpful, but they certainly aren’t obstructive. So it enables one to sow little seeds. Even if you then get kicked out, you’ve sown little seeds of hope among the people.

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