Jane Goodall on Her 90th Birthday and Her Legacy – TODAY

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On her 90th birthday, the researcher and activist talks about her legacy and what she still hopes to accomplish.
It’s Jane Goodall’s 90th birthday and, outside, the rain is coming down in buckets. While most people would be put off by the dismal weather, Goodall doesn’t mind. In fact, she welcomes it.
“I love it, I love rain,” the celebrated anthropologist and activist says during a sit-down interview with TODAY.com.
Sitting with her? A small stuffed monkey dubbed “Mr. H,” after Gary Haun, a close friend of Goodall’s who, despite being blinded while serving in the U.S. Marines, refused to let the disability prevent him from fully embracing life.
“He decided to be a magician. Everybody’s (like), ‘You can’t be a magician if you’re blind,’” says Goodall. She explains that Haun not only went on to become a magician, but a skydiver, scuba diver and a painter, too, delivering the message that while something may happen in your life, “Never give up. There’s always a way forward.”
Haun gifted the monkey to Goodall on her 57th birthday, telling her, “Take him where you go and you know my spirit’s with you.” For 33 years, Mr. H has remained by her side.
“He symbolizes the indomitable human spirit,” says Goodall.
As she has been the majority of her life, Goodall is once more in the public eye and using her global platform to shine the spotlight on environmental issues and what she says is the woeful state of the world.
“The world today is a real mess. Not just because of climate change and loss of biodiversity and intensive farming and poverty, but look at the wars,” says Goodall, who cites ongoing conflicts across the globe.
“What’s wrong with us? We have this amazing intellect and, yet, we are not making a better world,” she explains.
Making a better world, however, is exactly what Goodall has been advocating for since her landmark research with chimpanzees back in the 1960s.
After spending months studying the primates in Tanzania, Goodall discovered that long-held beliefs about the animals — which included the assumption that they were herbivores and far removed from their human counterparts — were patently incorrect and, in fact, were actually sentient beings capable of using tools and exhibiting behaviors that closely matched that of humans.
She’s spent the subsequent decades raising awareness over the ethical treatment of not just chimps, but all animals, as well as being a vocal advocate for environmental responsibility.
In 1977, the activist founded the Jane Goodall Institute to help mobilize the movement, and since then has tirelessly traveled the world over in hopes of bringing about change and inspiring new generations to get involved.
It’s a dream she’s seen realized, in part, through Roots & Shoots, a program that encourages young people to effect change within their communities and the world at large — something she hopes will be part of her legacy.
“This is enabling young people to choose projects to make the world better for people, animals, the environment,” she tells TODAY.com, adding that the initiative is her “greatest hope for the future.”
Along with Roots & Shoots, Goodall says that she’d like to be remembered for changing perceptions around our relationship with animals and helping foster the understanding that humans are “part of and not separate from the animal kingdom.”
“When I first went to get my Ph.D., I was told only humans have personality, mind and emotion. And thanks to the chimpanzees being so biologically like us, that we share 98.7% of our DNA, science gradually came to admit we are not the only sentient sapien beings on the planet,” says Goodall.
“So, now we know, (it’s) not just the apes and the monkeys, but the whales and the dolphins and the elephants and the lions and the crows and the parrots and other birds.”
When asked if humans have made progress in their stewardship of the animal world, Goodall says, “We have a hundred percent moved awareness. All around the world there are now animal welfare groups which weren’t there before. There are more people fighting to help spread the word that animals, like us, have personalities, minds and emotions. So, in that way, we’ve progressed a great deal.”
Even so, Goodall says that awareness hasn’t necessarily translated into meaningful change, citing ongoing sports hunting and the senseless killing of animals, including elephants.
“Elephants are endangered and they’re magnificent. They live long lives and they have close family relationships and they are wise. They’re like whales on land. How can somebody go and shoot one?” she asks.
That said, there has been progress in other areas, including sustainability, which Goodall supports in any number of ways, including a partnership with Brilliant Earth, a company that aims to change how jewelry is crafted and worn by using recycled materials, lab-grown gems and energy-efficient practices.
“I think people don’t understand the products that they’re buying,” says Beth Gerstein, co-founder of Brilliant Earth. Citing the destruction brought on by diamond and gold mining, Gerstein says traditional methods can deeply impact communities and their workers, not to mention the environment.
“If you look at one ring, it creates 20 tons of mining waste with mined gold,” Gerstein says. “Gold is also the leading cause of mercury pollution and that has very devastating effects.”
But through awareness comes change, says Goodall.
“There’s nothing that we can’t do if we start collaborating with organizations that really do care about the future.”
For some, turning 90 would be cause to retire. But not Goodall. The primatologist still travels upwards of 300 days a year, giving talks and continuing her tireless activism for environmental responsibility and advocacy for meaningful change across the planet.
What keeps her going?
“What motivates me is the state of the world, the threat to our young people if we don’t make change. The understanding that if we all get together and take action, it’s not too late to make a difference,” she says.
Goodall also says that she finds strength in connecting with people. “I can walk into an auditorium of 2,000, 5,000 people and the greeting; it just gives me so much energy.”
However, it’s not her only source of inspiration.
“I think I get the energy from some great spiritual power, which people may find crazy to think about, but for me, it works.”
Sarah is a lifestyle and entertainment reporter for TODAY who covers holidays, celebrities and everything in between.
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