Doctor Jane Goodall on coronavirus, hope and life after lockdown: ‘This pandemic is a result of our destruction of the natural world’

National Geographic is celebrating the life and legacy of Doctor Jane Goodall in The Hope, a new 120-minute special, as part of the Earth Day celebrations.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 21 April 2020 - 3.38pm
NOW TV Documentary

National Geographic Channel

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On Earth Day, people worldwide would normally step outside to help clean up our planet, plant trees and restore the beauty of the Earth. But this is not a normal year; with much of the planet's people on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year is different - very different.

However, National Geographic is still celebrating Earth Day with a series of inspirational films and specials that give us all what we need now more than ever – hope.

And who better to offer us inspiration in troubled times than Doctor Jane Goodall, who has transformed environmentalism, animal welfare and conservation.

Best known for her work as a primatologist and her study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees over some 60 years, Dr Goodall has guided the next generation with her Roots & Shoots youth-empowerment programme, and her advocacy and leadership has made her a hero to many.

Doctor Jane Goodall Getty
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The Hope is the story of a remarkable woman, picking up where the 2017 award-winning film Jane ended.

Galvanising, life-affirming and brimming with hope, it’s essential viewing for 2020.

BT TV joined other journalists to hear how Dr Goodall is coping in lockdown and get her views on the lasting legacy of Covid-19 on the planet.

1. Why do you speak so much about the importance of hope in science?

Doctor Jane Goodall in The Hope National Geographic

It’s not just important for science, it’s important for everybody. If you don’t have hope in science, then what is the point in doing it? You may as well just drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.

For scientists and those who are struggling with conservation, you need to grasp those few glimmers of hope.  The animals that are on the brink of the extinction and then get a second chance, these are pieces of good news that will mean people are more likely to do their bit.

2. Coronavirus is causing havoc across the world. Where do you see hope for us?

A chimp being looked after by Jane Goodall National Geographic

The chance, the hope is that it alters the way we think about the world we live in. Many people have grown up thinking pollution is normal. Now many skies have returned to normal and lots of people won’t want a return to the polluted environment that we had before. Hopefully people will pressure their governments to do something about it.

Hopefully more and more people will understand that this pandemic is a result of our destruction of the natural world. Putting animals into close contact with people, the eating of animals in markets and the battery farms of domestic animals: all of these things are putting us at great risk.

3. How is Covid-19 impacting on your work?

Jane Goodall in The Hope National Geographic

We won’t go anywhere near any wild chimps without masks and protective clothing. Tours will be stopped in all the national parks, because primates can definitely get these diseases from us. And also we need to protect the orphaned chimps that we’re looking after. We’re doing the best we can.

Unless Covid-19 actually starts infecting the chimps we’ll be OK. We’ll desperately try and stop it, that’s the hope, that we can stop it infecting this community.

4. Do you think the world is in better or worse health than when you started working?

Jane Goodall and Prince Harry National Geographic

The world is in a much worse state environmentally that when I first started. There is no question about it.

But there is a much greater awareness today about how we are harming the planet. And through our youth programme, we’re hoping to get more and more young people learning about deforestation and analysing the ways they can help the natural world.

5. How are you dealing with lockdown and what advice do you have for others?

Jane Goodall with her Roots and Shoots group National Geographic

What I’m doing is that I’m getting messages out on social media. That’s something I can do in lockdown. People with gardens can start thinking about nature in their gardens more, about the wildlife.

For people without gardens it will be pretty tough, but people can use that time to learn, watch documentaries about wildlife, make themselves more familiar with what’s going on with the planet.

People can learn about ways they can make a difference when they come out of lockdown. It’s not going on forever.

6. The world is a dark place now. Can you tell us something we don’t know to bring some light?

I don’t know what everyone knows. Everyone is on social media all the time, so everybody probably knows everything. But what I love is the way communities have come together.

I read a very moving story about two very violent gangs in a township and these two big great tough guys, the leaders, they’ve come together to feed their groups. Hopefully that peace will extend into the future.

All the donations to the healthcare workers. All the people sending out messages to everyone lonely and stuck inside their houses. All that community involvement is something we need to cling on to when this is all over.

7. You’re an inspiration to many young people. Who inspired a young Jane Goodall?

Doctor Jane Goodall in The Hope with a young fan National Geographic

Remember when I was young, there was no television. We read books. All my family members were quite special and an inspiration. My uncle was a senior consultant surgeon. I watched him operate and learnt about the human body. I was inspired by what he could do. My mother was the one who installed the sense of calm and the belief not to give up.

When I was young, I read Doctor Doolittle. He’s a wonderful character and I just wanted so badly to talk to the animals like him. And then I read Tarzan and I decided I wanted to move to Africa, live with wild animals and write about them. Everyone laughed at me except my mother, who said, you’re going to have to work hard and never give up. They were my inspirations.

Watch Jane Goodall: The Hope on Wednesday, April 22 on National Geographic, BT TV channel 317, and Nat Geo Wild, BT TV channel 318.

National Geographic is also available on the NOW TV Entertainment Pass.

Learn more about Earthday at natgeo.com/earthday and for kids at natgeokids.com/EarthDay.