Conservationist Jane Goodall: Humans brought Covid on themselves

Trailblazing researcher says forcing animals to live closer to people is to blame for pandemic

Humans have only themselves to blame for the Covid-19 pandemic because of the disrespect shown to the natural world, conservationist Jane Goodall said.

It should act as a wake-up call that mankind must change its ways, she said.

Goodall, best known for her 1960s research in Africa that revealed the true nature of chimpanzees, pleaded for the world to learn from past mistakes to prevent future disasters.

Despite the desire to return to normality, the world's pre-eminent primatologist warned against the rush to focus on fixing economies too soon.

As the world exits the pandemic it faces the looming dual crises of climate change and nature loss and humanity must discover a "new mindset for our survival", she told AFP.

"We basically brought this on ourselves by our disrespect of the natural world, forcing animals closer to people, making it easier for a pathogen to jump from an animal to a person," she said.

"And then, our absolute disrespect of animals -- hunting them, killing them, eating them, capturing them, trafficking them, forcing them into terrible conditions, unhygienic and very, very cruel intensive factory farms.

Jane Goodall hopes humanity can learn from mistakes that led the the Covid pandemic
Jane Goodall hopes humanity can learn from mistakes that led the the Covid pandemic

"So hopefully this pandemic has woken people up. We must develop a new relationship with the natural world."

Earlier this year, ahead of the release of the new National Geographic documentary Jane Goodall: The Hope, she pleaded for the world to learn from past mistakes to prevent future disasters.

Goodall, 87, has dedicated her life to better understanding the animal kingdom and promoting conservation efforts.

Born in London and without the funds to take a university course, she shot to international stardom in 1965 when she was featured on the cover of National Geographic for her trailblazing research on chimpanzees in Tanzania.

Her pioneering, up-close study of the behaviour of chimpanzees in the 1960s was the first to observe them using tools, a capacity that was until then thought to belong only to humans.

In the decades since, she has championed sustainable practices and the preservation of nature through grassroots organisations and initiatives in all corners of the planet.

This 1974 file photo shows anthropologist Jane Goodall, right, with husband Hugo van lawick behind a camera. AP
This 1974 file photo shows anthropologist Jane Goodall, right, with husband Hugo van lawick behind a camera. AP

Normally a frequent traveller, she said the pandemic had forced her to adapt her activism. Among the new communication tools, last year she launched "Hopecast", a podcast recorded in the attic studio of her childhood home urging listeners to be hopeful for the future of the planet.

Goodall warned against the temptation to rush back to unfettered economic growth at the expense of the planet and called on policymakers to redefine their approach to governance.

"Unfortunately there are too many people in power who are just eager to get back to business as usual. It's all about the bottom line, about money," she said.

"We have to somehow create a more sustainable, greener economy. We have to have a new mindset for our survival."

Faced with ever bleaker warnings from scientists about climate change and biodiversity loss, Goodall insists it is possible for everyone to retain that hopefulness.

"Almost everything I do has hope in it. If you don't hope that your actions are going to make change, why bother to act?" she said.

The United Nations this week said that countries had met a goal set a decade ago to protect 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of marine environments by 2020.

"This movement is growing and this pandemic has given us a new sense of urgency," said Goodall.

"And if you lose hope, you may as well give up. So whether it's logical or not, that's my job. And I couldn't do it if I didn't believe that if we get together now before it's too late we can indeed slow down climate change and slow down biodiversity loss."

Goodall on Thursday joined the likes of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama in receiving the Templeton Prize, one of the world's largest individual lifetime achievement awards.

Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation that awards the prize, said Goodall was selected for her scientific breakthroughs that "have profoundly altered the world's view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity".

Goodall, who said she was "kind of blown away" to win, said she believed the world was reaching a "critical mass of people" who were passionate about preserving nature.

"None of us can absolutely predict what's going to happen. So we just have to go on doing what we can do in the belief that we do have this window of time where we have to work really hard at changing governments, changing business and changing the mindsets of ordinary people," she said.

"I don't pretend to have all the answers. All I know is I am here to do everything I can to move us in the right direction. That's all I can do. And that's what I'll spend the rest of my life doing."

Updated: May 20, 2021 07:32 PM

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