Jane Goodall toasts 20 years of "Roots and Shoots"

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - At 76, famed primatologist Jane Goodall has no thoughts of slowing down.

British primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall listens to a journalist's question during a news conference at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Still traveling more than 300 days a year, she marshals her personal experiences, her expertise and her rock star status as a world renowned scientist to influence decision makers and inspire young people.

But on Saturday she was happy to stop and pause to mark the 20th anniversary of Roots and Shoots, the worldwide youth service movement she founded in 1991 in Tanzania.

“You bet. We’ll have a little toast,” Goodall told Reuters in an interview.

The British scientist, best known for her study of chimps in Tanzania and for founding the Jane Goodall Institute, reflected on her hopes for a future shaped by the hands of youth like those in Roots and Shoots.

“These are young people who will not capitulate. They are really passionate,” Goodall said.

Roots and Shoots aims at "empowering young people to take action through service projects, creating positive change for people, animals and the environment," according to its website

The organization works through local chapters and includes tens of thousands of young people in almost 100 countries.

Youths are encouraged to identify and tackle problems in their own backyards: from the 2.8 million wooden chopsticks discarded daily in Taiwan, to the litter on a mountain in Kyrgyzstan or the carbon footprint of a school in Europe.

Many chapters operate through schools and other civic and religious organizations. Surprising even to Goodall are the 800 chapters on mainland China and two in North Korea.

“It didn’t seem that the Chinese administration would be very amenable to young people choosing what they want to do to make the world a better place themselves,” Goodall said.

“In fact, it just took off and the government actually asked me to introduce it to the schools,” she said.


Roots and Shoots was born when Goodall, wanting to thank Tanzania for hosting her decades of research among the chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park, offered to give talks at local schools.

She found a huge interest in the environment, along with a lack of environmental education, among the students.

Twelve students, selected by their classmates, later went to Goodall’s home where they talked on her veranda about their environmental concerns. This was the start of Roots and Shoots.

Encouraged by Goodall, the original 12 then tried to stop the export of live birds from Tanzania and dynamite fishing, in which explosives tossed in the water kill the fish so they can be easily collected. But, Goodall noted, the political system in Tanzania at the time thwarted those early efforts.

However, of those original 12, one went on to serve as minister of environment for Tanzania, another became Roots & Shoots’ national director in Tanzania, and others are active in careers such as journalism and education, Goodall said.

The scientist thoroughly enjoys recounting the store of anecdotes about young people working for a more humane and “green” world in Roots and Shoots chapters around the world.

Recently, she said, a teacher on the Isle of Man created a chapter and introduced his students to climate change.

Inspired, the students calculated that they would need to plant 2 million trees to offset the carbon dioxide released by all their travel to and from school. So they began a tree-planting campaign.

“The best way to create the kind of change that we need if we care about our great-great-grandchildren is for everybody to spend just a few minutes each day thinking about the consequences of the choices they make,” Goodall said.

“What they eat, what they wear, how they get from A to B, how they interact with people, animals, the environment. You start going off on all sorts of fascinating trails when you think about life in those terms,” she said.

Looking back at her own experiences, Goodall said she can appreciate the energy and idealism of the young people.

“Lots of disappointment. I mean, people who are really enthusiastic to protect some kind of species or environment and then it all gets pushed aside in the name of progress or economic benefits,” she said of her own experiences.

“It gets very, very sad when you know how many people care, and yet somehow, however much they care, they fail. The main thing there, is to encourage people. OK, you failed this time. Don’t give up. We’ve still got to go on fighting these things if we care about the future,” Goodall said.

Editing by Peter Bohan and Sandra Maler