I’ve always had this notion that “when I grew up”, I would make a difference. At age 8, I’d decided that becoming a doctor would be a noble career path that would allow me to do just that. But by 20, when I was a few years along in university, my career aspirations changed. Perhaps I noticed that humans already had a lot of help. In fact, for everything you could possibly want or need, there is someone employed to help you. Animals have no such luxury. Humans have wrought unspeakable horrors on the animal kingdom – more than every other species combined. In many cases, our impacts on the natural world have been so severe that animals are incapable of changing the outcome of their own dire situations. But we have also accomplished tremendous good. We have brought nearly extinct species back from the brink, we have stood against habitat destruction, we have prevented animal exploitation. The majority of humanity’s conservation achievements have been at the hands of a few fiercely passionate individuals. Dr. Jane Goodall is a front-runner among these.
Dr. Goodall was exactly the same age as I am today when she set foot on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. What she witnessed there shaped the rest of her life, and filled her with a passion that few will find in their lifetime. 53 years later, she is still traveling the globe, carrying a message about chimpanzees, conservation, and the power of the human spirit to change the world. She is still writing books. She is still a UN Messenger of Peace. She is still an activist. She has accomplished as much for her cause as anyone could have hoped for in two lifetimes.
It is largely because of her efforts and her message that chimpanzees, as a species, are surviving today. There are sanctuaries like Tchimpounga and Ngamba Island that take in the survivors of poaching and the bushmeat trade. There are programs that work with those living next to critical chimpanzee habitat so that they can develop livelihoods independent of hunting and resource extraction from forests. And there is a wealth of information out there, so that we may think twice about how our decisions as consumers have far reaching effects on the natural world. There is still much to be done, but because of Dr. Goodall, we have come a long way.
I saw Dr. Jane Goodall speak when I was still an undergraduate in Edmonton. I had always thought that a good public speaker would have a loud, booming voice, lots of charisma, boundless energy, and a comedic, punchy demeanor. Dr. Goodall, with her soft voice and mild manner, did not fit this perception. Yet she was able to captivate the audience and hold them breathless in their seats till the very end of her lecture. Every word she said dripped with the passion she felt, so we listened, and we left changed. From Dr. Goodall, I have learned how to “make the difference” that I so desired. It isn’t about tactics and persona, it’s about finding a cause you believe in whole-heartedly and dedicating yourself to it.
So happy birthday, Dr. Jane. Thank you for being the inspiration that you are to me. I hope that by the time I am 79, I can say I have accomplished half as much as you.