Dr. Evan Antin – Hope is Following Your Heart and Giving Back to Animals (Jane Goodall Hopecast Episode #22)

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Full Transcript:

Jane Goodall (00:03):

I’ve found that in many, many, many captive situations, you must think of the individual, not just what you think is the right solution. Think of it from his or her point of view.

Jane Goodall (00:16):

This is concerning a chimpanzee. He was on a chain, and he one day threw a rock because he was teased by the children. So he had to be confined in a cage, and every day the children came, they teased him and he would respond by displaying, and they would scream and laugh and rush away.

Jane Goodall (00:39):

So the animal rights people came in and said, “This must be stopped,” and so they moved him to a much bigger space where they were planning to introduce him to a group of chimps, and he stopped eating. And his old keeper said, “Well, he’s missing the fun he had with the children.” So they took him back and within a week he was doing his old thing, he was displaying around, and he lived for a long time after that. So thinking about the individual experience of that animal, rather than what people think should be the solution.

Speaker 2 (01:25):

We are all connected. All our voices matter, and it will take all of our [inaudible 00:01:30]talents and strengths to create a healthier planet.

Speaker 1 (01:34):

Our mother, our one and only home.

Speaker 3 (01:35):

I aspire to change the world too, because of the hope she gave me.

Speaker 4 (01:40):

The [inaudible 00:01:40].

Speaker 3 (01:40):

She devoted her life to this.

Speaker 5 (01:41):

Together, we can save the world.

Speaker 4 (01:45):

Together, we can. Together, we will.

Jane Goodall (01:45):

What is your greatest reason for hope? I’m Jane Goodall, and this is the Hopecast.

Jane Goodall (01:57):

Today, I get to speak to the incredible veterinarian and advocate for animals, Dr. Evan Antin. Dr. Antin grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, where he spent the majority of his childhood in search of native wildlife. He went on to study evolutionary and ecological biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and spent multiple semesters abroad in Australia and Tanzania to learn more about their respective ecosystems.

Jane Goodall (02:32):

Dr. Antin’s Instagram account has a large following, with over 1 million followers, which has gained popularity for his ability to showcase the amazing variety of animals that he cares for and the issues they face in the wild and in captivity. He’s passionate about exotic animal medicine and has worked with wildlife around the world, though he of course also loves and works with cats and dogs.

Jane Goodall (03:03):

He’s also worked with JGI as part of our efforts to encourage appropriate imagery of great apes and other primates on social media, aiming to reduce and report inappropriate animal selfies and other exploitation rampant on social platforms.

Jane Goodall (03:24):

During this conversation, Dr. Antin and I talk in detail about key themes in my new book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, including my reasons for hope, the indomitable human spirit, the resilience of nature, the human intellect and the power of young people to make a difference.

Jane Goodall (03:48):

I’m absolutely delighted to speak with Dr. Antin today. His dedication to and love for animals gives me immense joy and hope. I hope you enjoy this hopeful conversation with Dr. Evan Antin.

Jane Goodall (04:09):

Welcome, Evan, to the Hopecast, because it’s really, really exciting to have somebody on Hopecast who loves animals as my much as I do, and who has done so much to improve their lives, many different species of animals in different places. And I truly admire everything that you’ve done, so again, welcome.

Dr. Evan Antin (04:35):

Jane, thank you so much. It is an honor to be able to chat with you today. I’ve been really looking forward to this.

Jane Goodall (04:41):

I’m really curious. I’ve admired what you’ve done. What got you started? When did you start deciding what you wanted to do?

Dr. Evan Antin (04:51):

My earliest memories are growing up with a creek in my backyard in suburban Kansas, outside of Kansas City, flipping rocks looking for neat wildlife, like insects and the frogs and turtles and whatnot. And it’s always been an innate passion that I’ve had towards wildlife. It’s one of those things you just can’t fully explain. I don’t know why. I have such a penchant for it. I love it.

Dr. Evan Antin (05:13):

And seeing my favorite animals in their native habitats around the world is extremely exciting for me. When I was in my undergrad, I studied abroad a couple of times, once in Australia doing a marine biology and zoology focus for a semester, and then I did, again, a study abroad, and my first time in Sub-Saharan Africa was in Tanzania, and that was mostly in Northern Tanzania, visiting some of the big national parks and private reserves, and that was an ecology and wildlife-conservation-based program as well.

Dr. Evan Antin (05:43):

And ever since then, I mean, I really got the bug and my personal motivations were seeing my favorite wildlife in their native habitats. And at this stage I did know I wanted to be a veterinarian and I wanted to work with our pets, because I love the human-animal bond, and I thought as a vet, I want to give back to this wildlife that has brought so much joy and excitement and enthusiasm and passion to my life. And that was a way that I felt that I could, was traveling and just linking up with conservationists, linking up with rescues and veterinarians and giving back in ways that I could for these animals because of what they’ve given me, with the conservation work that I do, combined with the veterinary work I do. Whereas as a veterinarian, my focus is doing what’s best for this individual spirit, this soul.

Dr. Evan Antin (06:27):

There’s a lot of instances where animal welfare, if you will, doesn’t always line up with big-picture wildlife conservation, things like conservation-based hunting, or culling where we need to more balance an ecosystem that has been mis-balanced because of things that humans, as a species, we are responsible for. How do you manage with that? Because those sometimes collide, and the animal welfare story does not always line up with big-picture conservation and what seems to be best for overall long-term sustainability. A lot of individuals in turn do have to suffer or pay a price for it.

Jane Goodall (07:07):

Yeah. I know. And that is one of the big problems today, but an overall way of thinking of it is that conservation has so often been about conservation of species rather than within the species: the individual. And I come across that a lot with chimpanzee conservation, with victims of the bush-meat trade, with individuals in zoos. But when you come to the conflict between too many animals in a given environment, destroying the environment and actually harming themselves, becoming starved in the winter… And so we are beginning to design ways that we can reduce numbers of a population without sometimes very cruel ways of culling them, which means basically killing them. It’s a very important question, and it needs people getting together.

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:08:04]

Jane Goodall (08:03):

… very important question. And it needs people getting together and talking about the way forward.

Dr. Evan Antin (08:06):

No, I think that’s a beautiful answer, and I think you’re absolutely right, because with the work that we do, obviously our heart is for the animals, and the individuals too. I mean, every time we work with a rescue Chimp or any species, that’s a feel good moment. That’s very rewarding yet. Yet, at the same time, we do want these overall habitats to be able to thrive where everybody can survive and that the land is not desertified, because it’s been overgrazed or what have you. That’s a beautiful answer. I appreciate that.

Dr. Evan Antin (08:46):

I didn’t realize how much I needed this book right now. This was so important for me in the work that I do. One of the most interesting points you were talking about, the human spirit and human nature, really. And you were saying just as humans and only humans are capable of true evil, compared to any other species. We’re the ones that as humans, we can be just truly evil, truly cruel. We are also the ones truly capable of true altruism. And I thought that was such a beautiful point. And that really wore my heart reading that. And I wanted to chat with you and see where along your path that you discovered that, or if it was with the chimps in Gombe, in Tanzania or somewhere else along the way?

Jane Goodall (09:29):

When I discovered true evil was at the end of World War II, I was just a child. I was 10 or 11, and the pictures from the Holocaust emerged of the survivors. And it was a big shock to me. I mean, I’d lived through the war, bombing, losing people that we loved, but then the Holocaust, the pictures of those survivors, it was very, very hard for me to process that. And I think because of that experience, when I was a child, it’s really colored my pathway through life. Because, I understood human evil right from the beginning. But I also understood from the stories of the war, from what I knew, what I experienced the heroism, the amazing qualities of self sacrifice that were produced and still are produced during times of darkness and conflict. And, of course, we see it in the chimpanzees. On the one hand, they can be brutal and aggressive and kill, but on the other hand, they can be loving, compassionate, and truly altruistic. We can be altruistic knowing full well that our altruistic act may harm us. Whereas chimpanzees and other animals are altruistic, but they’re responding to the need of the moment.

Dr. Evan Antin (10:55):

That was such a beautiful point. It was just one of many, many little parts of this book that really lured me in. And from the veterinary perspective, chimps, especially really amazed me in terms of their durability and in terms of the amount of stress and trauma, whether it be physical or emotional trauma that they can endure. Yet, they can turn around, and often within a relatively short time, to go from seeing another species, destroy their family, rip them from the wild, keep them in horrible conditions where they’re barely hanging on by a thread, and then turn around and then trust the same species that’s here to care for them and bring them back to life. And give them as good a life as they could possibly have. And potentially one day, get them back in the wild. That’s something that even other apes aren’t often capable of. I mean gorillas and orangutans from the veterinary perspective, they’re much more sensitive species as compared to a chimpanzee. And they’re very amazing and unique in that way.

Jane Goodall (11:53):

Yeah, I suppose they are. But these orphans that come to us, what they need is love, and what our caregivers in the sanctuaries give them is love. They embrace them. They’ve learned the chimpanzee sounds. And I think this is helping the young chimpanzee. For an older chimpanzee, it’s harder. For an infant chimpanzee, they’re more plastic and more willing to accept because they’re desperate for this love, this contact. And so they respond to it.

Dr. Evan Antin (12:28):

Yeah. And I think that’s something that humans have in common with these chimpanzees. I think if you put a young human in the same situation, a lot of times you’d see the same thing. I remember the first time I personally saw a very young chimpanzee rescue. It was this young female. She was a little under a year old. She was ripped from the wild. She was going to be sent to the pet trade, whether that was going to Southeast Asia, China, or Syria, or wherever. And as soon as we got her to the rescue, then I was spending time at, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in [Luwito 00:12:59], we opened her crate, her enclosure. And she came out and she was just talking and came out and just hugged the first person she saw right there. And it was just… I mean, I get goosebumps thinking about it now and it brought tears and eyes in that moment.

Dr. Evan Antin (13:12):

It was such a special scene to see. I want to bring up another point and I am so happy that you made a point to discuss this in the book. And that was the importance of local community in reference to species or habitat, or what have you that we’re trying to conserve and how crucial that is and truly necessary it is, if we want sustainable long lasting conservation, this can’t be neglected. And that is the involvement of the local community in being motivated and preserving and conserving our habitats and wildlife. And what I share with people who follow my work is that we need to make it so these people benefit as much or more with these habitats and wildlife extent. And these habitats intact more so than they would if they were to go poach and exploit the land and poach the animals.

Jane Goodall (14:02):

Yep. Back in the late 1980s, it really came to a head for me about what was going on in Africa. I flew over the Gombe National Park, which is at the smallest national park in Tanzania. And it had been part of that great equatorial forest belt stretching right across to the west coast. And by the late 1980s, when I flew over, it was a tiny island of forests surrounded by completely bare hills. And they had overused, their farm land, which was infertile. They were cutting down the trees, even on the steep slopes because they had to survive. Somehow, they were too poor to buy food from elsewhere. That’s when it hit me. If we can’t help these people to find ways of living without destroying their environment, we can’t save chimps, forest or anything else. And so that’s when we began [Altercury 00:14:58] program, helping the people find about ways of living, introducing education to the people and the children until they became our partners.

Dr. Evan Antin (15:10):

And that is so important. And I think a lot of people listening, if they’ve not been to places like this, in developing countries where the struggle to survive, as a human, it’s extremely difficult for the average person. It’s really easy for us to say, hey why aren’t we protecting these forest? Why aren’t we doing this? I mean, listen, these people are trying to put food on the table for their family. And every day is a struggle. Every day is in question. Every day they need to do whatever it is they can to provide for their immediate family. Which is the most important priority for them, just like it is for us. So, I totally understand why they do that.

Jane Goodall (15:41):

Yeah. Well, I have to tell you that if you were to fly over Gombe today, you wouldn’t see bear hills because our program has worked so well. The people understand that protecting the environment is not just for wildlife. We didn’t approach it that way. I had a very wise counselor, George Truden who’d worked in Tanzania 15 years, and…

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:16:04]

Jane Goodall (16:03):

Who’d worked in Tanzania 15 years, and we approached them with the attitude of, “We want to help you.”

Dr. Evan Antin (16:10):

I really connected and loved when you were talking about your sense of spiritual being. I’m kind of the same where, in my early years of studies, when I learn more about biology and science, evolutionary biology especially, I was almost a little bit vibing with an atheist, because this made so much more sense than any organized religion information I had learned. But then after that, I then realized I had this deep connection, like a spiritual connection, and it was this energy that I felt inside of me that I didn’t have a clean definition for, but it was so strong when I was in nature and I was connecting with our wildlife and with our wildlife habitats. It was so fun and cool to hear then, that was the same case for you.

Dr. Evan Antin (16:55):

I know in the book you had mentioned you had had that with the time you spent in Gombe and with the chimps. I wanted to ask you, is there anywhere else in the world or any other habitat or a species or area that really gets that deep spiritual feeling that there is this some sort of greater power, a force within you in helping you do what you do for our world and the ways that you give back?

Jane Goodall (17:19):

Well, yes, I find I have been unfortunate. For me to really feel this spiritual connection with the natural world, I need to be alone. If you’re alone, you forget yourself. You’re just part of nature. If you’re with somebody, even somebody you love, you are two human beings in nature, and it’s different.

Jane Goodall (17:45):

Being alone in nature, for me, is very important. But what I have loved in the last years is finding out that more and more of the most intellectual people on the planet have decided quite independently there is intelligence behind the universe. I used to spend hours and hours as a child in this very house thinking about, “Well, time must have begun, but what was before time? Space. There must be an ending. What’s beyond the ending?” It used to keep me awake for hours and hours and hours. Now we know that in this world there are certain mysteries that we will never comprehend.

Dr. Evan Antin (18:34):

For that reason, it gives me more… I don’t know what it is. I don’t have it defined, but it has to leave you at least wondering, if you don’t believe that, at least wondering that there’s something behind that. What you said about being alone, that would confuse so many of my friends and family, and it wasn’t until I had those experiences and I realized the importance of that, then I realized just what you said. Being alone, and I love traveling with people, I love going with friends and loved ones and everything. But when you’re alone and you’re just taking it all in and you hear the birds and the bees and the insects and the wildlife and everything happening around you and you’re just a piece of that, observing and immersed in it, nothing’s gotten my spiritual connection and my spiritual energy and drive and just feeling like there’s something more, than exactly that. It was those moments that really even got that mindset started to begin with.

Jane Goodall (19:28):

Absolutely. Right from the beginning, I understood that there was this greater power out there. The faith communities have a very, very important role to play. If the leaders of the faith communities just explain to their followers the importance of the natural world and protecting it for future generations, then that’s going to make an enormous difference. When people feel part of that greater power, and then on of that are told, “You make a difference. You can make a difference on the planet and we need to protect the natural world for your future,” then these different religions can make an enormous impact.

Dr. Evan Antin (20:15):

They have such a massive influence. That can really make a big difference.

Dr. Evan Antin (20:29):

Anyways, you guys listening, this is a story of a guy that Jane shared in her book that was… It was a big quarry. He was just doing mostly… It sounded like he was just digging into the earth and-

Jane Goodall (20:39):

It was a quarry that was created for getting the material for cement.

Dr. Evan Antin (20:44):

Right. It was some 500 acres and it was lifeless, essentially. It was completely ruined. The ecology had completely changed. It’s completely gone. It sounds like he felt a deeper connection or a deeper passion to make a difference, and then he put his resources and his time and his money into changing that. He hired his ecology team to turn this into an ecology that can be utilized and effective the way it should be.

Jane Goodall (21:11):

It was even better than that, Evan. He hired one man, one horticulturalist, Renee [Halla 00:21:18], and he just very quietly went around this dead, desolated landscape, and he learned from nature how maybe life could start coming back. The story is magical. I’m so glad you brought that up because this is long before the environmental movement. It’s just that he felt, “This is terrible, what we’ve done. I want to try and put it right.” Now it’s even a park. What’s happened is unbelievable.

Dr. Evan Antin (21:47):

That’s so incredible, that approach. What you mentioned, that approach with the horticulturist. I love how you described it in the book how he was just trying to figure out what plants were looking like they were surviving. What were the ones on the borders? What are some that we can maybe bring into this habitat that might actually have a chance? Then they can take it from there and fill this land. It was this just natural approach. That’s something I love about your approach when you’re out there as a naturalist. When you’re studying nature and taking it all in and your patients and the way you immerse yourself with it, I find very fascinating, because with my education and my background, it’s a very scientific approach in the way that I learned.

Dr. Evan Antin (22:27):

My major in undergrad was evolution ecological biology. I went to vet school, obviously, and it’s a very science-based approach. It’s that evidence-based approach and not as much of this, “Let’s just take it in. Let’s really see it for ourselves. Let’s step back a little bit and see what it does before we start putting these variables and changing these things in our own often synthetic and lab-driven kind of way.” I find that very fascinating.

Jane Goodall (22:58):

Well, I was lucky. I never wanted to be a scientist. All I wanted to be was a naturalist. People say, “Well, what’s the difference?” I say, “Well, a scientist is driven by facts and data, and a naturalist is driven by awe and wonder and a deep desire to find out the truth.”

Dr. Evan Antin (23:18):

That makes it so exciting. That’s what makes us want to learn more because we get to see it from that lens and seeing how you did it in that way, which was so monumental and so unheard of, it seemed. This was before my time but it just seemed like, especially coming from a woman that didn’t have that same kind of scientific background going out there and doing this and changing the world and changing the way we look at nature, changing the way we look at animals, their emotional and overall intelligence. It was truly revolutionary and super inspiring and exciting.

Dr. Evan Antin (23:49):

For me, when I get out in the wild, I like to approach it that way, too. I’m not saying I’m writing papers about it. I’m not doing anything changing the scientific community, but it’s the way that I’ve personally been able to take it in and learn about it and see the ecology for myself. I’ve always appreciated that.

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:24:04]

Dr. Evan Antin (24:03):

… And see the ecology for myself, and I’ve always appreciated that. I mean, the more I spend time with animals, Jane, the more I realize their emotional and intellectual intelligence, all the way down to the simple things. I mean, I remember when I was … I don’t remember. It was Borneo or something. And there was some unique praying mantis species I was scoping out and taking pictures of. And I realized in this encounter, this little insect, he’s making eye contact with me and then he would walk away. He’s turning his head and looking at me. This is not just a mindless little creature that just does its thing in the ecology; I was having a connection with this simple little insect. And it’s just-

Jane Goodall (24:39):

And jumping spiders. Jumping spiders will play with you. So you go to a jumping spider, and it jumps onto your finger. And you put this finger here, and it jumps onto the finger. And you can play like that for over five minutes. And they’re obviously just … I mean, they don’t have to do that; there’s branches all around. But they have fun.

Dr. Evan Antin (25:05):

We really have so much to learn about where we are, and habitats unexplored and the importance of conserving these areas. There’s not enough there. And we need to make that more of a priority not just among people like you or I, but everybody.

Jane Goodall (25:20):

That’s why our JGI Roots & Shoots program for young people, now in 65 countries, with hundreds of thousands of groups from preschool through university, all choosing projects to make the world better for people, for animals, for the environment. That is our hope for the future.

Dr. Evan Antin (25:39):

I think that’s such a lovely idea. And that goes back to what was discussed in the book too. It’s that action, which fuels hope, which fuels more action and getting more people involved. It’s all circular. And it really snowballs from there, if you’ve got the right positive mindset and you’re willing to pursue the work that your heart believes in.

Jane Goodall (25:58):

Yep. And I think one of the most important things is hope isn’t just sitting and at looking at the world through rose-colored spectacles and saying, “Well I hope everything’s going to be okay.” It’s action. So I’ve recently come to the idea that we’re in a very, very dark tunnel right now; we know we are. And right at the very end is a little gleam of light. But between us and that light, there are obstacles that we have to climb over, we have to crawl under, we have to work our way around. And it’s hard work. But if we want to get to that little light that is hope, that’s what we have to do. It won’t just happen. We have to make it happen. So hope is all about taking action to make your hope come true.

Dr. Evan Antin (26:45):

Absolutely. It’s not a fantasy or fantasizing; it’s really taking action. And I just want to say to you, Jane, together we can.

Jane Goodall (26:54):

And together we will.

Dr. Evan Antin (26:56):

Jane, you made my life. That’s right. Together we can, and together we will. I love that so much.

Jane Goodall (27:02):

Well thanks, Evan, so much for this amazing conversation that we’ve had. And I hope that we can sit down in person and share some more experiences.

Dr. Evan Antin (27:14):

I will also be very much hoping for that, and taking action with that hope, and doing everything I can to make that happen as well. Jane, it’s been so lovely just being able to chat with you.

Jane Goodall (27:24):

Yep. I agree. It’s been fabulous talking to you. So until we meet in person, au revoir.

Dr. Evan Antin (27:30):

Au revoir. Thank you, Jane.

Jane Goodall (27:49):

Chimpanzees, more like us than any other living creature. The DNA of the chimpanzee and humans differs by only just over 1%. Unfortunately, the scientists were reluctant to admit the equally dramatic similarities in the behavior of chimpanzees. They’re capable of intellectual performances, like the tool using and tool making, which used to be considered the hallmarks of the human species. A captive chimpanzee can learn more than 400 of the signs used by American Sign Language. And they can use those signs when communicating with each other, as well as communicating with their teacher.

Jane Goodall (28:34):

In the wild, I think one of the most fascinating expressions of intelligence is the way they manipulate each other socially. It’s quite extraordinary how adept they are. In fact, books have been written about chimpanzees’ political skills.

Jane Goodall (28:50):

They also have emotions similar to those that we call happiness, sadness, fear, despair. They’re capable of mental, as well as physical suffering. And all these things that I’ve just said were considered absolutely not possible, when I first went to Cambridge University in England in 1961.

Jane Goodall (29:22):

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 Frequency Media. Michelle Corey 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 Shear. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest-Filler.

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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.