The heartbreaking reason Jane Goodall stopped doing what she loved most in the world

Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking work with chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa was the achievement of a childhood dream and the time she often looks back on as the happiest in her life.

But after spending decades observing primates on the ground, she finally got a glimpse of their habitat from afar, in a plane, and was immediately struck with panic.

The area she’d been working in was fast disappearing. People were cutting down trees, encroaching on the chimps’ habitat from all sides.

“It was absolutely horrifying to see,” Goodall said on Wednesday at an event in New York.

Goodall quickly realised that if she really wanted to help the chimpanzees she’d studied, she’d have to protect their home first.

This meant she’d have to shift her career in a very big way. Instead of working mainly with primates in the field, she’d need to find ways to protect their habitats. For this, she’d need to work more with people than animals.

She took action quickly, first turning the area where she’d worked, around the Gombe Stream on the northwest border of Tanzania, into a recognised national park.

That distinction kept tourists and people from coming into the area and using its resources whenever they please. As one of Tanzania’s official national parks, the area began to have limited public access. Anyone entering could do so only with permission; tourist groups had to be licensed and register with the park before they came into the park.

Soon after, Goodall created the Jane Goodall Institute, a global non-profit that aims to increase people’s knowledge of great apes and their habitats and support primate research and conservation projects throughout the world.

Are her efforts working?

Deforestation is an ongoing problem across the globe, but recent evidence indicates that the trend has been slowing a bit. A March report from the UN Food and Agriculture organisation, for example, found that we’d lost 25% less trees between 2011 and 2015 than we had during the previous 10-year period.

Experts say the slowing trend owes at least some credit to the work of organisations like the Jane Goodall Institute. By helping increase local communities’ access to education and basic resources like clean water, these groups aim to help reduce poverty and empower people in the areas near wildlife to help conserve it.

And it seems to be working.

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