For many years Jane Goodall lived in a paradise, in Gombe, the mountain home of chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa. She describes these memorable years on her website: "The most wonderful thing about fieldwork, whether with chimps, baboons or any other wildlife, is waking up and asking yourself, 'What am I going to see today?' Living under the skies, the forest is for me a temple, a cathedral made of tree canopies and dancing light, especially when it's raining and quiet. That's heaven on earth for me... It's paradise."
Once you have lived in paradise you do everything to protect it. Today, Goodall travels around the world trying to save many spaces like Gombe from animal poachers, unscrupulous developers and forest destroyers. Her organization, Roots and Shoots, inspires school and college students in 70 countries to look after the local community, the animals and to preserve their immediate environment. From a chimp researcher she is today United Nations Messenger of Peace.
Animal Rights and Peace? London-born Goodall does not believe world peace is simply the giving up of arms. At a recent talk on Reason for Hope, organized by Wildlife Trust of India in New Delhi, Goodall said peace also involves the breakdown of barriers of religion, nations and socio-economic and cultural differences. "It's about cultivating a harmonious relationship between humans and nature." It's about erasing the line between the animal world and the human world. "Peace is about respecting the intrinsic value of every human being and each animal on this earth."
Goodall asserts that most research done on animals over the past two decades has been useless to humans. Today, Goodall engages with several pharmaceutical companies and industrial houses, trying to convince them to look at animals as part of their own world. Unlike many animal lovers, Goodall is not strident or shrill; she approaches her adversaries with gentleness and a firm knowledge base.
How does she convince the hardcore destroyers of forests or sea life? How does she resolve the eternal conflict of the animals' rights to their habitat vs. the humans' right to livelihood? "I tell the large corporations to consider the future of their employees, the future of their families. Humans are not naturally cruel. Heads of state, polluting units or even oil companies essentially want to be good citizens. I speak to them about caring for the future of their employees. Of how damage to the environment will also hurt them."
Already, attempts are being made the world over to marry development with conservation. In the US, a businesswoman was awarded a contract to build a train track in a forest which was home to the rare Whooping crane. Constructing the rail track meant destroying the habitat of the crane. The contractor didn't want to do that. But neither did she want to give up building the track. "So, she shifted the cranes and their habitat to a bigger area. It took her three years to create a new habitat. But in the end, the track was built and the birds' habitat also survived. In fact, the birds multiplied in the new habitat," says Goodall.
However, she agrees that the road to peace and harmony is tough and long. "Developed societies have moved away from the natural world. The task is huge. The Bush administration has gone and undone whatever the Clinton administration tried to achieve in terms of conservation. But increasingly, people are realizing that they have damaged a lot. I am very hopeful. Instead of waiting for others, each one should decide to do something about the problem."
In India, Goodall met President A P J Abdul Kalam, officials in the environment ministry, school principals, spiritual leaders and NGOs to share with them her vision of peace and animal care. "President Kalam is very keen to take the conservation movement forward. India has a long history of regard for animals. There is a lot to learn from here. The Delhi and Bangalore schools I met were very responsive. They want to involve students in conservation. The ministry officials even wanted to reach out to different schools through the Roots and Shoots concept," said Goodall.
Just like roots go underground to make a firm foundation and shoots break through walls to get light, Goodall sees young people creating a firm foundation for the planet and breaking all barriers - towards conservation.
Goodall's path-breaking research on chimps between 1960 and 1965 focused on the fragile and yet crucial relationship between animals, forests and humans. Relationships which most of us have forgotten in our urge to control and consume everything on earth. Her research also established that
like humans, chimpanzees are intelligent, emotional and they grow with relationships. During her talk, Goodall shared pictures of the chimp family album - chimps bonding, playing, crying, working, bullying, attacking and ageing.
One of Goodall's very special slides is that of chimps digging for termites with a straw. This was the first evidence of how evolved the chimps are. Goodall's research exploded the myth that only humans make and use tools.
Goodall's experience in Gombe was also the beginning of her fight against misuse and abuse of animals in laboratories, circuses and zoos, destruction of forests and against harmful development. Her happy memories of chimps made her speak against animal testing from a position of strength. "The human mind is excellent. It has taken us to the moon. It can think of so much. Why can't it think of alternatives to experimenting on animals?" she asks.
Of course, Goodall's childhood dream to study chimps was not easy to achieve. She had no college education and no money when she went to renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey with her dream. She was 26 and single, which made research on animals in the wild Tanzanian forests too dangerous, too radical. Yet, Goodall was determined, and took her mother as an escort to Gombe.
Her research earned her a Ph.D from Cambridge University and motivated her to establish the Gombe Stream Research Centre Home and later, the Jane Goodall Institute to focus on primate studies. In the following years she penned two books, 'Wild Chimpanzees' and 'In the Shadow of Man', which have inspired people to care for animals.
These days she barely manages to visit Gombe more than twice a year. The otherwise very shy primates sometimes come out to see her. Most of the time she is lecturing, writing letters (a 100 a day sometimes) to children, traveling and talking to different people about saving the planet. A small but significant attempt to help regain paradise.