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Jane Goodall Talks COVID, Conservation & Her Hope For The Future

We Talked To Jane Goodall About Quarantine, Birds + The Future Of Conservation
Image by mbg Creative x Stuart Clarke / Contributor
October 30, 2020
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If this were any other year, Jane Goodall would probably be on a plane right now. The acclaimed animal behavior expert typically spends her time traveling the world spreading awareness about the importance of conservation through her namesake institute. These times are far from typical, though.

Since the pandemic began, Goodall has had to trade life on the international lecture circuit for a quieter existence in Bournemouth, England. She's spent the last few months cooped up with her sister and her family, working up in a bedroom-slash-office space in the attic.

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We caught up with Goodall to check in on how she's managing quarantine and were thoroughly unsurprised to learn that it hasn't slowed her down a bit. Here, the legendary environmentalist shares how she's staying motivated, energized, and hopeful for the future through hard times.

On connecting to nature during lockdown.

Though it's a far cry from the vibrant jungles of her past, Goodall has managed to cultivate a sense of wonder in her new environment. "I take my very small lunch into the garden and sit under my favorite tree, that I used to climb as a child. A beech tree named 'Beech!'" she tells mbg via email. "And every day I am joined by a robin—our English robin that adorns Christmas cards. And I sing softly to him, and sometimes he sings to me. So, for 30 minutes or so, I reconnect with the little girl I once was, longing to go to Africa and live with wild animals and write books about them."

On how COVID will affect wildlife conservation.

Goodall hopes that the pandemic serves as a wake-up call on the importance of conserving wildlife and treating animals with respect. "We brought this pandemic on ourselves by our disrespect of nature and animals," she says. "Destroying habitats forces some animals into closer contact with people. The way we exploit wild and captive animals often provides environments that enable a virus—such as COVID-19—to jump from an animal to a person... We must develop a new, sustainable relationship with the natural world."

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On how she maintains tireless energy.

Despite travel restrictions, Goodall is still finding plenty of work to do. In fact, the 86-year-old says this is the busiest she's been in her life. "It is much more exhausting doing virtual interviews and lectures and so on, just me and my laptop...than it was when I traveled some 300 days a year around the world."

As for what keeps her going day after packed day, it's the knowledge that there's no time to waste. "Already in some places we are using up more of the finite natural resources that nature can replenish," she says. "If we carry on with 'business as usual,' we shall eventually reach the point of no return."

On encouraging the next generation of environmentalists.

Watching younger generations speak out against climate change keeps Goodall hopeful that her work won't be in vain. "My main hope lies in the energy and commitment of young people around the world. Once they understand the problems and are empowered to take action, my job is to encourage them and give them hope that together we can turn things around."

She's doing so with her Roots & Shoots organization, which educates the next generation about how to enact positive change at any age, and a new collaboration with Crate & Kids, which brings the natural world home with lush textiles, toys and furniture that's inspired by her famous adventures.

"I was born loving animals and spent a good deal of time outside watching birds and squirrels and insects. And I took twigs with buds into my room and watched the leaves emerge," she says, adding that she hopes the new collection evokes a similar sense of curiosity and wonder in kids around the globe. "We hope that children will be inspired to learn about these things firsthand, whenever this is possible... When you love nature and animals, you want to protect them."

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.