Jane Goodall talks conservation science in last Distinguished Speaker Series event of semester

Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, speaks at a Tisch College event on April 28. Sophie Dolan / The Tufts Daily

Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a United Nations messenger of peace, spoke to the Tufts community about her research on chimpanzee behavior and her experience in conservation science at a live virtual event on Wednesday.

The event was hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and was the last event in this semester’s Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series, which has been renamed the Alan and Susan Solomont Distinguished Speaker Series, a change that was announced at the Goodall event. The event was co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program, the Fletcher School’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Tufts Institute of the Environment and The Fletcher School.

University President Anthony Monaco delivered opening remarks and outlined Goodall’s experience studying chimpanzee behavior in the 1960s as well as her research at Gombe Stream National Park that paved the way for future primatological research. 

“Dr. Goodall is a renowned conservationist, whose work has redefined the relationship between humans and animals,” Monaco said. 

Monaco then introduced Felicia Nutter, director of international veterinary medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and Chris Whittier, director of the Master’s’ in Conservation Medicine Program at the Cummings School, who led the discussion. 

Before passing the event to them, however, Solomont (A’70) briefly spoke about his retirement and the future of the Speaker Series. 

“As I approach my retirement from the dean’s job, and I thought about what I might leave behind, what made the most sense was to help ensure that the Speaker Series would continue to enhance the civic life of the entire university,” Solomont said. 

The event then turned to Goodall. Nutter asked her about Roots and Shoots, a Jane Goodall Institute program that empowers youth to take action to enact change in their communities. 

“We’ve messed up the world, and the reason that Roots and Shoots began is because so many students told me they’d lost hope,” Goodall said. “We have compromised the future, but it’s not too late to start healing some of the harm, the terrible harm that we’ve inflicted on this planet, and at least try to slow down climate change and loss of biodiversity.” 

Whittier then asked Goodall about her research at Gombe Stream National Park. Goodall responded by explaining the importance of training local people to carry on the research that she had introduced. 

“Conservation will never work long term, unless the local people are involved — all of these villages are now our partners in conservation,” she said. “We’ve given them the tools to monitor the health of their forests, and they understand that protecting the environment is for their own future, not just the wildlife.” 

Nutter asked Goodall about her experience and relationships with the chimpanzees that she has worked with. 

“For me, collecting anecdotes about all of these different chimpanzees is absolutely fascinating, and it’s led to some amazing insights,” Goodall said.

She followed up by explaining that today, observers often use technology to record statistics, but she believes recording stories and anecdotes allows observers to get a feel for the animal’s personality. 

“There’s a big risk in today’s world, that all observers start using just little clicks on some kind of gadget to make everything statistical,” she said. 

Whittier asked about Goodall’s path and challenges as a woman in conservation science and asked her to give advice to young women interested in careers in conservation science. 

“You’ve got to be really passionate, and then simply say what my mother said to me: You’re going to have to work really hard, take advantage of every opportunity and if you don’t give up you will surely find a way,” Goodall said.

The discussion then opened to a question and answer session involving Tufts community members.