NEW YORK (Reuters) - World renowned primatologist Jane Goodall began her groundbreaking research into chimpanzees over 50 years ago in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park, leaving an indelible imprint on the way humans view animals.
On Tuesday this week, the 77 year-old animal researcher and United Nations Messenger of Peace, is featured in an unusual event in 500 movie U.S. movie theaters.
The one-night only “Jane Goodall Live!” features the U.S. premiere of documentary “Jane’s Journey,” about her life with appearances by Angelina Jolie, Pierce Bronson, and Charlize Theron. There also will be a live question-and-answer session with Goodall and her friend and musician Dave Matthews.
Reuters spoke to the anthropologist about the upcoming event, what people can do to make a difference in keeping the planet healthy, and what humans can learn from animals.
Q: What will audiences discover on “Jane’s Journey?”
A: ”The film was long in the making by German independent filmmaker, Lorenz Knauer, and it’s been running in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain other European countries for several months. The audience response is similar to the response I receive at my lectures, as they leave teary-eyed, saying, ‘What can we do?’
”We haven’t been doing enough to help the planet.“ The message of let’s wake up and take care of this planet, we’ve been stealing from our children before it’s too late, is the message I hope that audiences will embrace.”
Q: At what age did you know that working as an animal conservationist would be your life’s calling?
A: ”From a tiny, tiny age I loved animals, observed animals, went on nature walks, watched “Dr. Dolittle” and fell in love with Tarzan. I was 11 when I decided that I would go to Africa and live with animals and write books about them.
“It was in Africa that I met Louis Leakey, the late renowned paleontologist, who gave me this opportunity to go out and study chimpanzees. I had no degree of any sort then. What an amazing and extraordinary journey it really has been.”
Q: Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron and Dave Matthews are just a few of the high-profile celebrities who are helping to get your message out. How does it feel to have a whole new generation of people becoming familiar with your work?
A: ”I find it really necessary. I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t familiar with my work, per se. The important thing is to understand that every one of us makes a difference, every day, and we can live with a lighter ecological footprint.
“When you have people like Angelina Jolie getting behind the film, that can attract some people who might not otherwise be interested and then hopefully they get the message, too. In fact, that’s what’s been happening. In Europe, the film received the ‘Green Oscar.'”
Q: What can we humans learn from the animal world?
A: “First of all we should learn a bit of humility, that we are of course different, but not as different as we may think. From chimpanzees, I have substantiated my belief of the tremendous importance of the first couple years of life and the kind of experiences a child has. The human child psychologists have been talking about that for a long time. In chimpanzees, it’s so easy to trace the effects of a traumatic experience, because unlike us, they don’t try to hide the way they feel, they just act the way they feel.”
Q: If chimps could talk what would they tell humans?
A: They would probably tell us to leave them alone, get out of the forest and protect the forest. That’s probably what they would tell us to do.
Q: So what can one person do to make a difference?
A: “Each person can just spend a little bit of time each day thinking about the consequences of what you buy, what you eat, what you wear and how you interact with people. If millions of people think about the consequences, they start to change and then we achieve the kind of change we must see on this planet.”
Q: What do you think has been your greatest achievement and what are you most proud of in your work?
A: ”People from all over the world continue to tell me that, ‘In The Shadow of the Man,’ published in 52 languages, has had a lasting impact on them. Also helping people understand that animals do have personalities, minds and feelings and that they matter as individuals.
“The other accomplishment I‘m most proud of is starting Roots and Shoots so we involve young people for caring for our planet before it’s too late.”
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Editing by Bob Tourtellotte