Jane Goodall Helps a Different Kind of Primate

You might think you’re a badass, but in the annals of badassery, it’s pretty hard to match that of Jane Goodall. After all, when was the last time you lived in a forest with a bunch of misunderstood creatures who could squish your head like a grape?

But plucky Jane did just that, starting in 1960 with her groundbreaking study of chimpanzees in the Tanzanian wild. It’s because of Goodall’s work, living among these near-human primates, that we now hold most of our generally accepted views about them.

You would never deny today, that chimpanzees are super-intelligent apes with distinct personalities, right? But that was all Goodall’s work. Before she started her research, she told DNA’s Alejandra Campoverdi, her colleagues worked by a set of scientific standards that considered chimps and their relatives to be, basically, soulless.

“I should have given the chimpanzees numbers, not names,” Goodall said of her colleagues’ comments, during PhD work at Cambridge University. “And I couldn’t talk about them having personalities or minds capable of any kind of thinking, and absolutely not emotions–happiness, sadness, fear.”

In other words, Goodall honed a near-boundless inner empathy early on, as well as a career that includes more than 24 books, 18 films and countless honorific medals and degrees. These days, she continues to sponsor work in African forests and with primates through her Jane Goodall Institute.

But she’s also spread the empathy to her latest passion project: Roots & Shoots. The youth-focused nonprofit now spans 132 countries, and, despite what some may think, it’s not necessarily related to Goodall’s most famous causes.

“People think, ‘Oh, Jane, chimpanzees, Roots & Shoots, another environmental program,’” she said. “It’s about everything. Every issue that a child cares about. And that relates to where they live and their experience.”

Instead of dictating which issues participants – from elementary school- to college-age – should focus on, Roots & Shoots instead empowers them to decide. Each community-based group of students comes up with three projects of their own choosing.

“One [is] to help people, one to help other animals, one to help the environment,” Goodall explained, “with the theme of, ‘Let’s learn to live in peace and harmony.’ First with each other, all these different races and cultures and religions and nations, and secondly with Mother Earth.”

Watch above for the first part of a two-part interview between Goodall and DNA’s Campoverdi – and stay tuned for the second part, coming soon.