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Published: 11-Jul-2014

Written by: Jessica McKelson

Did you see Dr Jane Goodall while she was in Australia recently on her 80th Year Tour?

I have such vivid memories from my childhood of watching her with Chimpanzees in TV documentaries and I also remember that I was so inspired by her ground-breaking work with these creatures in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. I wanted to be just like her – she has been one of my longest-standing role models and definitely helped shape my life and what I do today.

A little reminder of 26-year old Jane in Gombe

In fact, I was lucky enough to meet her once, a little while ago now at Melbourne Zoo, when we opened the new Orangutan Sanctuary – I still cherish the thrill I got meeting her and sharing the (then) new orangutan exhibit. Still one of my career highlights.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I realised that I would miss Dr Jane Goodall’s latest tour of Australia, as my work with SOCP meant I would be in Medan at the time – not returning home until after her tour finished. Even though I absolutely love my work at the SOCP Quarantine Centre managing the ongoing influx of orangutan babies and building cages etc., I was feeling pretty jealous of all my colleagues and friends back home who would get to see her presentation without me.

Then the Unexpected happened!

Just when I was getting used to the idea and the disappointment of not seeing Jane, I received an invite to be a guest panellist in Bali, at the Jane Goodall Institute and Green School Environmental Conference. I was invited to be on an Orangutan Conservation Panel, with three other local experts:

  • Simon Husson, Director of OuTrop in Kalimantan,
  • Panut Hadisiswoyo from Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), and
  • Dr Ian Singleton from SOCP (my boss)
Image Credit: © Shanti Pockell | Courtesy of Green School Bali

I was thrilled to be invited by the Jane Goodall Institute Australia; they thought it would be a great opportunity to highlight orangutan conservation. Orangutans share a common enemy with Chimpanzees and all Great Apes: unsustainable palm oil development, which is eating away at their habitat, the prime rainforest, most likely resulting the extinction of Africa’s Great Apes even sooner.

What an unexpected delight, and now I would have an opportunity to not only see Jane Goodall’s presentation, but to also share a stage with other conservationists and to meet her again!

The Conservation and Sustainability Conference at Green School Bali

The event was held at the Green School in Bali, which has incredible architecture that is environmentally friendly and feels very natural. I was amazed by the buildings and the layout of the facilities, which has inspired loads of ideas for our Orangutan Haven development in North Sumatra. Our Orangutan Conservation panel received incredibly positive feedback and left people thinking about the individual power of change they could make to help our efforts in the field.

Especially Inspiring

And we were introduced to Ginger and her family. She donated $300 towards our orangutan conservation at SOCP by hosting a fundraiser and ensuring all people donated towards her efforts. Her father even got on board and requested donations instead of presents for his birthday. It really was a beautiful moment and very encouraging.

A little later Dr Jane Goodall gave her inspirational presentation on her life story and the impact of Hope and how we all have choices to make. She spoke of the world changing rapidly and what we must do to make changes - no matter how big or small. It really was a moving presentation that brought me to tears. I sat there overwhelmed and at awe with her energy and courage taking on the world and conveying her message of change, 300 days a year!!! And just in case you weren’t aware, I should just mention that she is 80years old. A real hero….

Later that evening Ian and myself both had the most incredible opportunity to meet Dr Jane Goodall and spend 45 minutes with her. We met Jane at her private residence and spoke to her about orangutan conservation, the future and how we are fighting to keep this species and the habitat from becoming extinct. But at the end of the day it was nice to sit back, have a scotch with Jane, talk conservation, the strength we need to continue to fight for hope and what we must teach the younger generation so we can ensure that our mistakes are not made again.

What was incredible was that I found courage to mention to Jane that I made the brave decision to follow her advice years before. What she told me at the Orangutan Sanctuary years ago has stayed with me for a long time and it has always played on my mind. "Go to Indonesia and help those poor Siamangs and Orangutans, that is where you need to be." When I informed her I was doing everything she had mentioned to me, a light sparkled in her eyes. I sat there next to her, almost shaking, wanting to just hug this spiritual woman who had so little to say and yet gave me so much.

When I asked Jane that night, ‘What path should I take next?’ she mentioned to me that I do "what my heart should believe in and never give up." This seems small, but personally that means more than ever from my hero, childhood idol and role model. 

Wow! What a day and night!!!! What an incredible life changing moment. An unexpected adventure and travel experience. Meeting my child hood idol was priceless, moving and spiritual, and reconfirmed my inner beliefs and my ethical philosophies.

What was so special about the entire experience was that it was ‘off the cuff’, never planned and emotionally rewarding.

What I realised is that no matter what you do or where you go, there is always a journey to have and moments to reflect on. What we all need is to have these special moments more often so it can provoke a new ‘YOU’.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Please comment below

  1. More information on Green School Bali - Jane Goodall Event
  2. Jane Goodall Institute Australia

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