Exclusive! Jane Goodall on 'Jane's Journey'

As a new film chonicles her remarkable life, the pioneering primatologist talks about the mother who nurtured her dreams, her programs today—and her all-time favorite chimp

by Susan Toepfer • More Features Editor/Entertainment
Jane Goodall image
Photograph: Andre Zacher

J.G. We knew each other very well. She came to Gombe before she started her research because Louis said she had to see how I did it. She might have resented that. She would sit in gorillas’ laps, which I didn’t think was a terribly smart way of doing research, and we had a lot of arguments about her relationships with the local people. She wouldn’t let the local people have any contact with gorillas, because she thought it would make them more susceptible to poachers. I’d say, “Diane, we have staff; they talk about the chimps in the village, they understand them, and if the fishermen see the group, the chimps will hide. The chimps know the difference between us the same way we know about them.” But she wouldn’t try to work with the local people.

More: What are you reading now?

J.G.: I haven’t got time. I’m trying to write a book, so everything I’m reading relates to that. It’s a book about plants and trees and forests and all the ways we are influenced by them. It’s not the book I planned to write, but the plants wanted me to. My original idea was inspirational stories about animals on the brink of distinction, animals who were given a second chance. People need hope, especially young biologists, and amazing stories often get lost amid the doom and gloom.

    My publisher said it’s too long, take out the plants, so the plants decided to be their own book. It’s about their effect on human history, things like the potato famine and the slave trade, the plantations, the opium poppies. The book is enthralling me, so this one will be even longer

More: The documentary allows both you and your son [Hugo van Lawick, nicknamed Grub] to talk rather frankly about your disagreements. Can you speak a bit about that?

J.G.: I learned about what he was thinking when I saw it in the film. That film has done so much to bring us closer together. I was amazed to hear what he said.

More: There seemed to be some particular conflict between Grub and his stepfather, Derek Bryceson.

J.G.: They had a funny relationship for a grown man and a child, but Derek was jealous of Grub. Men are funny things. We couldn’t do without them, but they’re funny things. I’m sure they think we are funny things, too.

More: Where does Grub live now?

J.G.: He has always lived in Tanzania. He’s working to save the Hippo Pool in Lake Manyara National Park. That amazing, wonderful, beautiful place, the future of which we still have not insured. We will save the hippos, though. Grub is also busy building boats for Lake Tanganyika, which will save the life of the tropical hardwoods.

More: Does he have children?

J.G.: Three—18, 16, and a little one, 11, with a different mother.

More: How often do you get to see them?

J.G.: Twice a year, sometimes three.

More: What do you try to teach your grandchildren?

J.G.: To follow their dreams and basically the same values we have for all our youth in the Roots & Shoots program: respect, hard work, compassion, learning that you feel good by helping to make the world a better place; you certainly teach them to respect animals.

More: And what have you learned from your grandchildren?

J.G.: From children and grandchildren, that children are born with their own personalities and interests and they are their own selves.

More: At the end of the documentary, you’re being interviewed by a young boy, sitting behind you in a moving car. I had an awful flashback watching it, because when I was not much older than that child, I was sitting in the same seat, interviewing Margaret Mead. She terrified me.

J.G.: (laughs) Well, he wasn’t terrified. Nobody’s terrified of me, at least not once we meet.

More: I was amused in the documentary to see you drinking whiskey out in the wild.

First Published January 18, 2012

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