Goodall is in England, in the house she grew up in, and she has a few thoughts about chimpanzees, the coronavirus pandemic and the loo paper shortage.
This is part of an edited phone conversation. The journalist’s questions appear in bold text.
Jane Goodall is in isolation these days along with everyone else, since a fund-raising tour was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. She is staying at her family home in England, not in Tanzania, her primary home when not on the road.
Dr. Goodall changed the way the world views chimpanzees with research that began when she first went to Africa 60 years ago this July, a young woman without a college degree, to observe chimpanzees in the wild at what is now the Gombe Stream Research Centre in Tanzania.
She later became a tireless advocate for chimps in captivity. When she began her work, chimps were routinely used in medical research, a practice Dr. Goodall and other advocates helped stop in the U.S.
So this pause has let you step back a bit?
It’s catching up, you know. But there are some things that are so unbelievably worrying. In the U.S. you have people who can apply for unemployment or something. But what about in Tanzania, for example? The people running the bars, the restaurants, selling food at the side of the road — all banned now. And they make just enough to keep alive for a week and pay the rent and there’s no social security, nothing for them.
Being isolated has made me think of what it must be like for chimpanzees who were isolated in captivity, who depend on physical closeness and touch.
I think about it all the time. I’ve thought about it ever since I saw secretly filmed footage of these social beings in medical research labs in 5-foot by 5-foot cages. The first time I went into one of those labs. It was horrendous. And solitary confinement. As you say, it’s bad enough for us, but we have all these other ways of distracting. And what about these animals who have nothing?
But you know the other thing is, if you’re trying to look for silver linings in this horrible time. It has reactivated the discussion about animal trafficking, selling wild animals for food or for medicine. Everybody’s pointing fingers at China, but already the government’s made a total ban on the markets, selling animals for food and on trafficking, importing wild animals. So we just have to hope that because of the magnitude of this pandemic they will keep that ban. At the moment it’s temporary, but let’s hope they enforce it forever, and close down the market for animals used in traditional medicine.
Animals, although not chimps, will be used in testing treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. What is your stance on animal experimentation?
My stance is that ultimately there will be a time with no animal experimentation. What pleased me about the chimp situation is that I was in it from the ethical point of view, but the fact that the chimps were put in sanctuaries because the research was not useful was a far better outcome than if it had been done on ethical grounds. It’s like fossil fuel. People say we want to stop using fossil fuel now. Well that’s clearly impossible. You can’t just suddenly stop something. And this medical research on animals won’t suddenly stop, although I wish it would. The trouble is that people working on alternatives just don’t get the right support.