Azzedine Downes: Hope is Protecting Animals and Changing the Face of Conservation (Jane Goodall Hopecast #5)



Jane Goodall 0:02
JANE SPLASH: One of my most special memories of when I was growing up here in Bournemouth in the UK, is the relationship that I had with my dog, Rusty. I swear to you, Rusty was sent to me to teach me about animal behavior. He wasn’t even our dog. He lived in a hotel around the corner. And I met him because I was taking out a dog for a lady who owned a sweet shop. And when I was taking him for walks, this little black mutt, started joining in, I paid him little attention. Well, I was trying to teach Buds, a few little simple tricks like shake hands. So again, and again, I would say, give me a paw, shake hands, take his paw, praise him and give him a reward, but he couldn’t learn to raise his paw. And one day when for the umpteenth time, I was talking to Buds, a little black paw came out. And it was from Rusty. And from that moment, I realized this dog is special. I haven’t taught him. But he’s learned. He’s the only dog I’ve ever known, who if he did something, and you reprimanded him, but he hadn’t been taught that it was bad, he walked over to the wall, he sat down, staring at the wall with his nose, almost touching it, until I went down on my knees, put my arms around him and apologized. He would not move from that position. When the professors in Cambridge, told me that animals didn’t have personalities, minds, or emotions, Rusty had taught me. Of course, we’re not the only beings with personality and mind, and feeling. And I owe so much to that teacher, in my childhood, Rusty. And if Rusty hadn’t sadly died, I wouldn’t have gone to Africa, I could not have betrayed that amazing bond that we had. But he freed me to go to Africa.

CONSERVATION CHOIR INTRO: There are so many ways we can save our planet. What is there without a hope? I just want people to find empathy for all the species we share this planet with. I have so much hope! Can nature of bounce back? Earth is pretty special because– Jane Goodall made me believe in my own power– She devoted her life to this. Together we can! Together we will! What is your greatest reasons for hope? I’m Jane Goodall and this is the Hopecast.

INTRO: Today, we’re talking to a very old friend of mine. I’ve known Azzedine Downes for decades. He is the President and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, or IFAW, as it’s known, where he works to protect animals across the globe, every day, a big job to say the least. We have the most fascinating chat about everything from myths about the medicinal properties of certain animal parts to the absolute necessity of having hope, to why it’s of utmost importance, that we change the face of conservation. I hope you enjoy this hopeful conversation with Azzedine Downes.

INTERVIEW: You’re a fighter like me, and I wish there was another word because fighting is associated with aggression when I’m using fighting in a different sense. Like, you know, you’re a fighter, I’m a fighter, we’re not going to let the evil forces, we’re not going to let them win. We’re going to put on our armor. And we’re going to in a very gentle and very quiet and very sharing of information and laying out the facts. That’s the way to move forward. And don’t you agree, telling stories?

Azzedine Downes 4:15
Yes, I say this all the time to my scientist friends that they say “Why don’t you just give them the disc with the, with the data, and then they’ll just agree with you?” I was like, but you have to have a relationship. You have to spend the time. And I find that being hopeful is disarming to many people who are not. They can’t imagine. Given all that goes on how can you remain hopeful and it’s not because we’re pie in the sky optimists. So you have to believe it. You have to believe in hope for a better world. I know people ask you and they’ve asked me, how do you remain hopeful? How do you remain hopeful positive? And the one thing that I say is that I’m not willing to simply manage the demise of the planet, I’m not willing to say we’re lost. And, and the world is coming to an end, and it’s 100 years or 1000 years, I’m not going to manage the demise of the planet and everything that lives in it. And I believe that if you don’t have hope, you can’t get through your day.

Jane Goodall 5:28
One thing in our favor Azzedine, the silver lining of this pandemic, which you know, it’s caused horrible suffering and death and economic chaos. It’s a kind of nightmare. But people are beginning to realize we brought it on ourselves by our disrespect of nature and animals. And as we invade wild animals territory and destroy their environment, and they get forced to come into closer contact with us, and then we hunt them, kill them, eat them, traffic them, sell them in these wildlife markets and the bushmeat markets, we have created HIV AIDS, we’ve created Ebola, we’ve created SARS, and now COVID-19. And it’s our fault that these things have happened. And of scientists who study these zoonotic diseases predict it’s only going to get worse, and we cannot be let off. Because our factory farms, they cause many zoonotic diseases.

Azzedine Downes 6:27
You know what the number one Google search was, when the pandemic broke and people began talking about COVID-19? Pangolins. What is a pangolin?

Jane Goodall 6:37
The most heavily trafficked animal in the world. That was a thought that maybe the pangolin was the animal that allowed a pathogen from it, a virus, to jump to a person that they still haven’t proved that is a pangolin. But Azzedine, with this pangolin thing, pangolins are now on the number one list in China, and you’re prosecuted if you hunt them or sell them. They seize shipments of scales, which Chinese traditional, Chinese medicine and in Vietnam, says is medicinal, which is, you know, just like rhino horn. That’s why environmental education should be part of every, every single school curriculum. Azzedine, can we possibly tie up donkeys with the possibility of a new zoonotic disease, because that might be the only way to save them? You know, they’re nearly extinct in Kenya, we have, our Roots and Shoots, has a wonderful program, going around to the families who own the donkeys and giving them education, but it’s the young people who do it. It’s the Roots and Shoots members. And they go to each family and tell them you know, you’ll get more out of your donkey if you treat it well. But the story that I love best, is one man decided he joined this campaign. So he went round with the families with donkeys. And he talked to the man of the family. And he said, If you treat your donkey, well, it will do more work. And your wife will have less work to do and she’ll be better in bed. The human mind and the imagination, isn’t that wonderful?

Azzedine Downes 8:13
Yeah, well, you know, years and years ago, I when I first lived in Fez in Morocco, I lived in an old palace. And downstairs, we had one of these huge doorways to the entrance to, to the palace. And there was a man who was in his 80s, who had a very young wife, four children and a tiny little room. And he was a porter and he had a donkey. And he brought the donkey into the house every night. And so I thought innocently, he must have a great relationship with this, with this donkey. And so I asked him one day, what’s the donkeys name? He could not understand what I was saying. He kept saying, it’s a donkey. I said, No, I know. But you spend every day of your life with this donkey, she must have a name. And he, he just kept saying no, no, she’s a donkey, you know, lovingly, but you know, for me, I’m thinking, Well, come on, she must have a name.

Jane Goodall 9:14
But just think Azzedine, as recently as 1962, I was told in Cambridge, when I got there having not been to college before, to do my PhD, that I shouldn’t have given the chimpanzees names, they should have numbers. And I couldn’t talk about their personality, their mind or their emotions, because those, and this is what the scientists said, were unique to us. And I was actually told there was a difference between us and all the other animals of kind because the chimps are so like us, biologically. And then Hugo came and took film of their behavior like tool using, kissing, embracing, and that was all the detailed observations. Scientists have to admit that we’re not the only beings personality, mind, and emotion as you know, people can now students can study all those things.

Azzedine Downes 10:09
You know, I’ve always been so curious about that, even friends that I have who, you know, go out to the national parks, and they follow grizzly, grizzly bears. And they’re just like, “Oh, I’m just so in love with 399!” I’m thinking, but you know, 399, the number becomes a name, as well. I mean, what, I’m going to be just as attached to 399 as I am to Sally.

Jane Goodall 10:31
But you know, one reason why people don’t want to give names is the same in some zoos is because they want to recycle the animal. And if it has a name, it’s harder to do.

Azzedine Downes 10:43

Jane Goodall 10:43
And if it’s just an animal, just a bear, just a donkey, just a lion. So when did the whole trophy hunting business, come up to the fore and boil over? Because the lion killed had a name, Cecil.

Azzedine Downes 10:58
That’s right, yeah.

Jane Goodall 11:00
Every other lion who doesn’t have a name, has just as much personality and right to live.

Azzedine Downes 11:07
When you look at the videos of those people who are involved in trophy hunting, and they’ll say things like, when I shot and killed this animal, I wept. So if you wept, why did you do it?

Jane Goodall 11:22
Yes, exactly. Where is the courage?

Azzedine Downes 11:26
The statistics are so alarming. Every report comes out, you know, a million species in danger of being lost. What I have seen, because people ask us all the time, well, you know, have you been able to continue to do your work during the pandemic? And we have the team really focus on those people who are on the frontline. So the rescue workers, people who are involved in rescue centers, and people who are supporting Rangers, and the pandemic has caused a total loss of revenue for all of the National Parks, and, from tourism. And that’s true of the private conservancies too. The upside of it, though, is that in a number of cases that we see in Zimbabwe, and in Kenya, the animals are reclaiming spaces that had been lost, perhaps because of the over, overpopulation of the tourists. You know, there’s a downside to it, obviously, with the loss of revenue. But one of the things that that we put out there as a premise was nature will bounce back.

Jane Goodall 12:40
Oh, it will. Oh yes, if we let it. I did a talk like, three days ago, to the Wu Han Natural History Museum. That museum is built on what was, or of course, I suppose still is, the largest landfill in Asia. And it is now the largest green space in Asia. There are so many good news stories in China. It’s amazing. I mean, the animals rescued from the brink of extinction, like the panda, and the crested ibis and the two humped wild camel. And that was done by a tiny little group. And for the first time, they’ve got a Chinese group of Chinese scientists, and Mongolian scientists working together across the boundary, to protect the camels in the Gobi desert and a lot more desert. These are wonderful stories.

Azzedine Downes 13:37
Well, that’s a really important point that I think has emerged. You know, we’ve talked a lot about trans boundary and transnational issues, and getting away from the political fights, right? Of, “These are our elephants, or our rhinos, or our wildebeast,” but they’ve always moved across these international borders. And again, with the loss of so many people, the animals are rediscovering some of their migration routes. And it’s very, very enlightening for people to say, Well, you know, we haven’t lost, we haven’t lost the species. And the downside, of course, is, you know, the lack of tourism, but there’s also the lack of the trophy hunters. And what we see in our work is that conservancies that allow or promote trophy hunting, are quiet, because no one is there. And the animals are incredibly intelligent, and they’re thinking, you know what, this is now a safe place. And if there’s an alternative to, you know, kill them to save them people are beginning to listen in new ways. It’s like, you know what, we’ve lost all of the revenue, the hunters aren’t coming. So what else is out there to offer us? And you know, that that’s why I kind of focus that that notion of stop assigning an economic value to everything that moves, you know, there’s intrinsic value. And and I think more and more people are waking up to that.

Jane Goodall 15:13
And also, don’t you think Azzedine, we need a new definition of what success means as an individual? In success when you have a good life.

Azzedine Downes 15:23
That’s right,

Jane Goodall 15:24
When you have enough money to support yourself and your family.

Azzedine Downes 15:27

Jane Goodall 15:28
To educate your children. That’s what we should aim for. And that should be enough. Somehow there’s something in us that always wants to get more and more and more, that’s what we may be being able to fight better after COVID-19.

When I said that, we need a new definition of success, wasn’t it, the king of Bhutan, who has the happiness index, there was a study done and they took, I think it was six immigrant families. And they came in with exactly the same, like it was a husband, wife and child. And they had nothing. And then they followed that, them for about 10 years, I think. And so, in all six cases, they managed to get a job. In all six cases, they managed to get their children to a school, in all six cases, they managed to get somewhere to live. And at that point, two of the, two of the six stopped. He said, you know, we’ve got our children at school, they’ve got a good education, we’ve got a nice house, we’ve got enough food. And the happiness index, which had written for everybody, as they rose to this place, stayed the same maybe, maybe to these people, it went up. But the others, they went on wanting more, wanting more, wanting more. And they got more and more and more, but at the same time, the happiness index went down. And I love that story. Because this is what’s gone wrong with the planet. This is what’s wrong with the world, it’s wrong with us.

Azzedine Downes 17:16
I see more places, setting land aside, you know, you mentioned Bhutan, and we work in Bhutan, an extraordinary devotion to nature where they had set aside 70% of the country for forested land. And as you know, when you fly over and you see Bhutan, versus Nepal, which can be denuded, it’s extraordinary. So it’s just another example of, of people waking up. That, burning down our home, is basically killing ourselves. Saving saving an animal, is saving ourselves. Saving their home is saving our own home. The notion that development, even though it includes all of these things about health and gender and inclusion, that there’s an assumption that development will always lead to a healthier life, in all of the things that you’ve just mentioned. But I’m really not sure that it does. And could we change that definition to sustainable health? You know, development will come from it. But that’s the priority of people and the planet is healthy, good things will flow. Development will not necessarily produce a better world.

Jane Goodall 18:36
No, of course it won’t. And, you know, to have another shopping mall and another road and another dam and destroy another environment, that is destroying our children’s future. And that’s what people are beginning to understand.

Azzedine Downes 18:49
I really do think they are you look at again, a catastrophe like the fires in Australia.

Jane Goodall 18:56

Azzedine Downes 18:57
The number of people who rushed into a burning forest and ripped off their own shirts to pick up a koala.

Jane Goodall 19:06

Azzedine Downes 19:07
And run out, risking their own lives. That is not something we’ve seen, you know, in the last 10-20 years. But now you see it more and more. And it’s because humans are now facing catastrophes, climate change, and things like that, that they haven’t perhaps been really aware of. But they see it now staring them in the face, and they’re taking action. So I think that does give us hope that people who perhaps were not aware, like we were saying, what, what is a pangolin? Well, now everyone who looked it up is saying, listen, let’s save that pangolin.

Jane Goodall 19:43
But you know, Azzedine, when you said all these people in Australia rushed in and risked their lives and took off their shirts to save an animal, I think that’s been going on. But because the fires were such a newsworthy situation, the people who did that got into the news, whereas the people who have been doing it for so long. Risking their lives to help animals. It hasn’t made the news.

Azzedine Downes 20:10
You know how they say in the media, if it bleeds, it leads.

Jane Goodall 20:13
And every time I get a news conference, I always say, you know, you guys, you need to give more space to the good news stories. Yes, there’s a lot of doom and gloom. Yes and you do need to share it. Yes, we do need to know, yes, you need to educate people. But because you and I have both traveled around the world, all, to all these places, we’ve seen the good news stories. We’ve seen places, you know, reclaimed. Places that we destroy that now support nature. We’ve met people who’ve worked on these projects. We’ve seen the greening of cities. We’ve seen all this, but it doesn’t get its proper share of media attention. And there’s so many things we can do as individuals. I think one reason people give up hope, is because they look at the whole situation around the globe, and they feel helpless and hopeless. I mean, it’s grim. They read the news, they look at the newspapers, they check the Internet, and everything is doom and gloom and doom and gloom, doom and gloom, you know, we’re losing this and lots of scientists saying we’ve reached the point of no return. And there’s nothing we can do that will change the climate change crisis, and soon the globe will be uninhabitable. Okay, so when they read that, of course, they give up hope, don’t they? But what’s the antidote? The antidote to that, I think, is just helping everybody to understand that every day you live, you make an impact on the planet. And you get to choose what sort of impact you make. And you can make a difference. You can use consumer pressure to change the way the big corporations work by refusing to buy food, or clothing that’s made in an, in an unethical way. And once people get involved in hands on stuff, and that’s why Roots and Shoots is working so well, they get a different attitude. And hope springs back, like, Yes, we can. The cumulative effect of billions of ethical choices every day, thinking about the future of your children and theirs, are not just about what I gain out of this today. That’s the key. That’s what we have to push. That’s what my mission is. And I think it’s yours too,

Azzedine Downes 22:38
You know, it absolutely is. And I, for me, it gets to the issue of respecting people, and listening to them and not imposing and just don’t believe in, in protesting every single thing that you see. Offer something. Offer something, “What am I for?” There’s lots of things we can be against, but what are you for? And if you sit quietly, and think about what you’re for, as opposed to all of the things in the world that you might be against-

Jane Goodall 23:08
What you don’t like.

Azzedine Downes 23:09
Yeah, you find a way forward, you’ll find a path for yourself.

Jane Goodall 23:14
I’m curious, I’ve got my four reasons for hope and I think you know, them. And, you know, one of them is the, the way that young people are rising up to, to tackle these problems in a very sophisticated, adult way. Once they know, they know that what the problems are, and we, they get educated and we empower them to take action. And then secondly, the resilience of nature, which we’ve talked about. And thirdly, this brain of ours, which, you know, yours is more exposed than mine.

Azzedine Downes 23:52
I didn’t pull my hair out, it decided to leave me.

Jane Goodall 23:55
Yours is perfectly exposed. A perfect example of this wonderful intellect is shining from your head. And then finally, and I think maybe this is the most important, this indomitable spirit. If there were not people out there who just tackle what seems impossible, and don’t give in. I mean, they’re the leaders there. They, you know, they inspire people. And so often they succeed, and if they don’t succeed, they’ve inspired so many people that the course will be taken on. And in the end, it will win. I mean like, you know, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and people like that.

Azzedine Downes 24:45
When I talk about changing the face of conservation, there’s a number of things that that I focus on. One is including more women in the conservation conversation. And if you look around the world and you know, you know, because you’re invited to speak, in so many different fora, and what I, what I find, oftentimes is that the number of African women who were on the stage with me is so low. And at the same time, I’m thinking, it’s the women who are doing so much of the work, to take care of children or to collect firewood, or to be in the forest or to be going to the river. They know what it is to have to interact with wildlife, many of whom are are dangerous. And so both on a professional level, and I say, changing the face of conservation, it’s, it’s to get away from this notion that it’s, it’s something that’s imposed from the West.

Jane Goodall 26:06
No, it’s not true at all. It’s absolutely totally, completely not true. And, we too, as you know, Azzedine, we, we’ve been working since 94, to give girls scholarships to keep them in school beyond puberty, to give them a chance of secondary education. And it’s just made such a difference. And I think it is probably the future of conservation. But you know, what I love is a tribe in Latin America. And I was talking to the chief, I don’t remember even which country, I think it was Peru. And he said, we think of our tribe as, like an eagle. One wing is male, and the other wing is female. And only when the two wings are equal, can we fly high. I think that is just such a lovely vision of where we should be going. Because, you know, thinking about women moving into politics, in previously male dominated, you know, areas of business and so on, women and men are different. And we have different, I don’t know what to call them, skills, different ways of looking at the world. I was lucky because Louis Leakey took me on to study the chimps because he wanted a woman. He thought women might have more patience, might have more empathy with the animals. So the future is combination of education, understanding and understanding meaning that we understand the importance of the environment, we understand the need for a good relationship with it, we understand that animals are sentient beings, we understand that this continual consumption of natural resources can’t go on because already we’ve over consumed and nature can’t keep up. And our populations are growing and our livestock is growing. It’s got to change and it needs, the characteristics of men and women together.

Azzedine Downes 28:17
And if you are patient, and you don’t come with a pre-packaged plan in your back pocket, and you spend time with the community, and speak with people who haven’t been given a voice previously, you will learn so many things that you had no idea was going on.

Jane Goodall 28:38
Well, Azzedine, with these new Hopecasts, which hopefully will bring hope to people around the world, I would just want to thank you for agreeing to be one of the people on these Hopecasts. Because it’s been, hopefully for people informative, hopefully, for people inspiring. Hopefully, for you and me, it’s also been fun and reaffirming a deep friendship.

Azzedine Downes 29:07
And thank you, Jane for having me. It’s my honor to be with you and you give me hope. And I think of you all the time, and that’s what keeps me optimistic. So thanks for having me.

Jane Goodall 29:19
You give me hope too.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Pangolins happen to be the most traffic animals in the world. We have them at Gombe. I’ve seen a lion playing, patting around pangolin ball. I was taught about them by Louis Leakey in 1957, when I first went to Africa and onto the Serengeti, and he said, Jane, whatever you do, if you meet a pangolin, don’t get your fingers between the tail and the body scales because they make wiggling movements and you’ll lose all your fingers before you can say “Jack Robinson”. But unfortunately, that does not protect them from the poaching and the hunting because of the mistaken belief that their scales can provide some kind of protection, but also pangolin meat is eaten as a delicacy in many parts of Asia. So these poor pangolins, they’re so enchanting. They’re just so worth saving.

CREDITS: Feel hopeful and inspired to act with the Jane Goodall Hopecast by subscribing on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google podcasts, and anywhere podcasts are found. I’m your host, Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute. Our production partner is FRQNCY Media. Michelle Khouri is our executive producer. Enna Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelsohn with additional violin tracks from Angie Shear. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation chorus is by Matthew Ernest Filler.


The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.

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About Author

Scientist. Activist. Storyteller. Icon. Jane Goodall blazed the trail and changed the world. Now, she's studying new subjects – humans! This brand-new podcast will take listeners on a one-of-a-kind journey as they learn from Dr. Goodall's extraordinary life, hear from changemaking guests from every arena, and become awed by a growing movement sparked by Jane and fueled by hope. Join us as we get curious, grow compassion, and take action to build a better world for all. As we face some of the greatest challenges to humankind and the natural world, we have a unique opportunity: the power of technology to connect and share ideas. Now is the time to galvanize people around Jane’s message of hope in action and bring big thinkers together to change hearts and minds alike. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute by Dan DuPont, Shawn Sweeney, and Ashley Sullivan. Our production partner is FRQNCY Media. Michelle Khouri is our executive producer, Enna Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest Filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelson with additional violin tracks from Angie Shyr. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest Filler.