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Dr Jane Goodall DBE addresses the Cambridge Union

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The famed primatologist - the 2020 Hawking Fellow - marked the 60th anniversary of her work in Tanzania with a virtual lecture.

Dr Jane Goodall, DBE
Dr Jane Goodall, DBE

On Monday, November 9, the Cambridge Union welcomed Dr Jane Goodall DBE, the fourth - and first virtual - recipient of the Hawking Fellowship.

As a young woman, Jane travelled to Gombe (Kenya) and opened a new, remarkable window to human beings' closest living relatives, changing our views on chimpanzees and conservation permanently.

Addressing her digital audience from her childhood home, Jane opened the lecture by resolutely reminding us that our actions induce tangible and often terrible consequences.

The lecture's Zoom stage brought the pandemic into immediate focus, and Jane did not shy away from this topic.

Connecting the pandemic to our disrespect for the natural world, the primatologist traced how our destruction of environments, commercialisation of animals and the exploitative conditions of the farming industry has forced the animal world to come into greater contact with human civilisation.

This proximity made it far too easy for a virus from an animal to lodge in a person, where it bonded with a cell to form a new disease, Covid-19. For Dr Goodall, the pandemic is completely our own doing.

She views the pandemic as a wake-up call for us to globally unite to forge a new sustainable and humanitarian relationship with the natural world and a greener economy before the temporary and existential threats to our planet become irreversible.

Dr Goodall says that if we go back to the world we knew before the pandemic, we will doom the future of our children. She outlined the steps that must be taken to ameliorate these problems.

First, she insisted, we must eliminate poverty, as life in poverty naturally induces people to cut down the largest trees and fish the largest fishes in an attempt to feed themselves - and in urban areas the goods people consume are inevitably the cheapest and have the most exploitative supply lines.

But Dr Goodall believes there are signs of hope, and her final reason for hope is based on the resilience of nature.

Places which we have destroyed have been reclaimed by nature - it was Jane's desire to facilitate this process that led her to realise that society had to help the incredibly poor communities that were forced to exploit their communities to survive, prompting the establishment of the holistic campaign 'Take Care'.

Dr Goodall also talked of her time at Cambridge, where she was the eighth person to be allowed to study for a PhD at the University without first having obtained a BA or BSc.

When it came to questions from members of the Union, Jane was asked, among other things, about the inspiration for her research. She cited her mother's support for her passion of nature, which even stretched to tolerance for her taking worms to bed!

Jane's interest in animals was also stimulated by books such as Dr Doolittle and Tarzan.

The respected anthropologist ended her enlightening discussion by bringing the voice of a chimpanzee to the audience, imitating a typical chimpanzee greeting, reminding us of the extensive research she has conducted of their behaviour and the immense impact it has made on the way we view ourselves and our surroundings.

The Union says it was honoured to have hosted Dr Jane Goodall and hopes that one day they will be able to welcome her back to the chamber in person.

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