Stop the Wildlife Trade: Dr Jane Goodall says we brought coronavirus pandemic 'on ourselves'​ with our treatment of animals

In a Zoom call to congratulate Class of 2020 graduates, the 86-year-old conservationist urged them to remain hopeful as the virus has ‘brought out the best in people’

Louise Boyle
New York
Thursday 21 May 2020 17:37 BST
Dr Jane Goodall's message to 2020 graduates

Dr Jane Goodall congratulated the Class of 2020 on their “unique” graduation and said that although a different world would be waiting after the coronavirus, they should be hopeful as this "sneaky little virus" is "bringing out the best in people".

The renowned conservationist, 86, delivered a commencement speech on Zoom to students across the world from her family home in Bournemouth, England where she has been isolating during the pandemic lockdown.

She offered commiserations to the many who are graduating while still in lockdown, and missing out on celebrations in person with family and friends, but said that their experience was unlike any before.

“It’s going to be a very unique one that most people will never have experienced and we hope they won’t have to again,” Dr Goodall said.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen. For you, this is a graduation you will remember because it’s at such a strange time in our history."

Following the commencement speech, she took questions from students of her Roots & Shoots youth conservation programme who are graduating this year.

In the video message, Dr Goodall drew a parallel with her childhood during the Second World War and the battle with the "real, physical enemy" of the Nazis. Now, she said, we are faced with an invisible enemy, “a sneaky little virus”.

“I should be spending all this time congratulating you but you will be going out into a new world,” Dr Goodall said, asking students to reflect on how the destruction of natural habitats have contributed to the pandemic.

“The sad thing is we brought it on ourselves. We’ve been very disrespectful of the environment, very disrespectful of animals. We’ve been gradually invading the world of the animals.

“We’ve been forcing them to spend more time together which enables a virus or a bacteria to cross the species barrier from an animal into a human.

“We’re hunting, killing, eating and trafficking them.”

She pointed to the need to tackle wildlife markets due to their risk of spreading infectious diseases.

“The wildlife markets are the worst because animals of many different species are crowded together, often in very unhygienic conditions in tiny cages. Do remember that these are individual beings. They have feelings like we do and can be stressed and frightened. They can certainly feel pain and fear.

"These are the conditions which make it easy for a virus from a certain animal to spillover into a human and if it finds a cell it can bond with, that may become a new disease like Covid-19."

Dr Goodall told the students that when the pandemic is over, “I pray that we will emerge from it better people and that we’ll start thinking about our relationship with the natural world”.

She urged them to be hopeful because “the virus is bringing out the best in people”, with many delivering food to the needy and making phone calls to those who are lonely and frightened.

“You’ve all been using your brains like crazy but remember it needs to work in harmony with your heart," she said. “That’s something you’ve been learning through these years of hard work. Take it out with you into the world, into whatever career you want to pursue."

She closed with advice that her mother had given her as a child after she decided that she wanted to go to Africa and live with wild animals. Dr Goodall went on to conduct ground-breaking research on the behaviour of chimpanzees in Tanzania, discovering that our closest living relatives were a lot more like us than previously believed – they have their own personalities, can use tools, mimic each other and grieve for the loss of friends.

She said: “[My mother] said to work really hard and take advantage of every opportunity but if you don’t give up, you may find a way, and of course I did.

"And you all can too. Even if it's not your original goal, it's perfectly okay if you change course. When you suddenly realise what you want to do, don’t give up.”

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