So it's crucial to connect with people emotionally on these issues?
That's right. I know two examples where they had some facts ... when "Bambi" was first shown, deer hunting went right down. When "Babe" came out, some people stopped eating pigs for a while, but there wasn't enough follow-up. You have to find a way to capitalize on something like that and keep it out there somehow. Those are the challenges we face, and I do think social media can help. All these little YouTube animal skits, some of them are so amazing.
Animal videos and stories in general tend to go viral online more than any other kind of story. Why do you think that is?
Well, because animals do have a deep and ancient relationship to us. So when you see a baby rhino that's been brought up running around and around in the living room and playing with the dog, that's wonderful ... When you see that, people start thinking differently about rhinos.
On one hand a film, a movie, a video or whatever which only shows the wonderful nature - that tends to lull people into thinking there's still a lot of nature left. When you come face-to-face with the individual animal, with the facts about so many rhinos being killed ... it makes you angry. When you then relate those numbers to [the baby rhino] running around and around in the living room, you think differently.
So there's a potential power to these viral animal videos? They're more than just a fun break in the workday?
I think they're really important in connecting heart and head. On the one hand you've got the science out there now that shows that animals do have personalities, minds and feelings. On the other hand you are seeing animals face-to-face in these YouTubes.
What was a particularly emotionally moving experience you've had with an animal?
I was in South Africa on a tour giving a fund raising dinner talk. The hosts really love dogs, so I was told when I arrived "We have two [Congolese hunting dogs], a male and a female. They're not aggressive, but they don't have much time for people. The female will let you pet her sometimes, but the male is just aloof." So indeed I petted the female and she wasn't particularly responsive, but it was okay.
Then I'm giving my talk about how when I got to Cambridge University I was told that animals didn't have personalities, minds and feelings. I knew that professors were wrong [thanks to my childhood teacher]. My childhood teacher was my dog, Rusty. I'm up there on this little podium and I was thinking as I'm planning (you plan ahead while you're speaking); it would be nice if one of those dogs would come by. I was looking around the room to see if I could see one of them because then I could say, as I like to say, it changes the atmosphere of the room if there's a dog in it.
The male dog, the one who could care less about people, he walked across the room, he climbed onto the podium, he stood with his side touching my leg looking out over the people. He then lay sphinx-style, touching me, looking at the people until I stopped talking about Rusty. Then he got up and left. The owners were gob-smacked. They said he never had done anything even remotely like this.
I know you felt connected to animals from a very young age. Do you feel that an affinity to animals is something some people just have, or can it be learned?
It was innate in me, but could have been crushed by an uncaring, unsympathetic mother. When she found earthworms in my bed, instead of getting angry she just said they needed the earth and they would die and I was making them die and I cried. I was one and a half. We took them back into the garden.
But you see an awful lot of cruelty in children and hopefully there's somebody to guide them and to help them understand that animals feel like we do. Lots of people, not just children, never get taught that. I know when I started talking about the chimpanzees and other animals in Tanzania in 1991 when we began Roots and Shoots people started thinking in a new way about that. They hadn't thought about animals having feelings and feeling pain.
The world opens up before you once you get out of this box that tells us animals don't have these sorts of feelings.
(The Jane Goodall Institute)