Dr. Lilian Pintea – Hope is Unlocking the Potential of Science, Tech, & Tools (Jane Goodall Hopecast S2 EP9)


Full Transcript:

Jane Goodall (00:00): 

When I was five years old and my sister was one, my father wanted us to grow up speaking French because small children learn languages very easily. So he rented a house in Le Touquet in France, and mom, me, and my sister went there and the plan was to be there for at least a year. We’d been there just three months when war broke out, and of course, we had to leave. But I do remember one funny story about that, which I was told that we’d been going to host a wedding of one of the friends of my father’s, and the champagne that had been ordered arrived, big crates of champagne ready for the wedding. But then of course, the war broke out, and there were all these crates of champagne, no wedding. And so everybody who came to the house, tradesmen, the dustman, the baker, they were all given bottles of champagne to take home with them. So it must have been a lot of quite drunk and surprised people, I think. 

Speaker 1 (01:17): 

We are all connected, all our voices matter, and it will take all of our bold talents and strengths to create a healthier planet. 

Speaker 2 (01:25): 

Our mother, our one and only home. 

Speaker 3 (01:27): 

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

Speaker 4 (01:29): 

The earth is beautiful. 

Speaker 5 (01:31): 

She devoted her life to this. 

Speaker 6 (01:33): 

Together we can save the world. 

Speaker 7 (01:36): 

Together we can, together we will. 

Jane Goodall (01:39): 

What is your greatest reason for hope? I’m Jane Goodall, and this is the Hopecast. Today, I get to speak with one of my favorite people, Dr. Lilian Pintea. I’ve always said that we can only achieve our true human potential when head and heart are in harmony and Lilian is proof of this. He’s a brilliant and innovative scientist and at the same time has so much understanding and respect for the people and wildlife. He works with. 

Jane Goodall (02:15): 

Lilian first came to Gombe as a student from the University of Minnesota, collecting data for his PhD in conservation biology. He joined our JGI USA team in 2004, and has introduced cutting edge geospatial technologies to the job of conserving chimpanzees and other wildlife. He’s now vice president of conservation science overseeing all JGI’s science activities in Africa. He works with the Gombe research team and with our Tacare program, JGI’s method of community led conservation. He works closely with local communities, ensuring that they have the tools to monitor the health of their forests. He also works with scientists and other NGOs in mapping the range of chimpanzees across Africa. I’m looking forward to our conversation about how far science has come since I stepped onto the shore of Gombe Tanzania over 60 years ago and where it’ll take us. I hope you enjoy this hopeful conversation with Dr. Lilian Pintea. 

Jane Goodall (03:37): 

I am really and truly looking forward to this episode of Hopecast because it’s with one of my very, very favorite people. Somebody who’s done so much for JGI, for chimpanzees, Dr. Lilian Pintea. Welcome to our Hopecast. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (03:56): 

Thank you, Jane. I’m so happy to be here and honor to be invited to speak with you. 

Jane Goodall (04:03): 

I’m going to start Lilian. When you were growing up, you were in a very different world. What was it like? I really want to know what was it like going to university in Moscow? 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (04:15): 

It is different Jane. One of my first memories was camping, [inaudible 00:04:21]fishing and collecting mushrooms with my dad. And you could say that in some way, it’s a very different world, but it’s a very similar interaction with my parents, with my dad, with my mother, growing up in a community, being lucky to be free range and connecting with nature. Love to read, love to read books. I don’t know how many times I reread the Darwin’s the Voyage of the Beagle. And of course, books about by Grzimek, about Serengeti and by you. And that inspired me and put a seed of this dream to work on wildlife in Africa. What a crazy idea, isn’t it? Being on another side of the iron curtain and the former Soviet Union, born in Moldova. Of course, it all starts with this passion, I loved snakes. By the time I was 14 years old, I was working already with some scientist in the Moldovan Institute of Zoologist studying snakes. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (05:20): 

And I remember my poor mother, she allowed me and actually even encouraged that I can continue studying them. And I remember in our little apartment, I had two hundred snakes. It opened those doors for this snake boy from a little town in Moldova to go to one of the best schools in Soviet Union, which is at Moscow State University. And of course arriving there, it was also amazing times. It was during Perestroika, it was during the Gorbachev times. It was the time of rethinking your identity, understanding who you are, how you relate to all these cultures, and land, and history. And it was very exciting to be there. 

Jane Goodall (06:02): 

After you left the university in Moscow, what was the next stage in your journey to us? 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (06:09): 

Well, around 1990, I came across this book about satellite imagery. And as a biologist, of course, we would not study this, that’s supposed to be studied by geologists and geographers, I loved it. I loved this to have this ability to look at the landscapes, at the ecosystems, at the habitats, which we are studying and try to understand from above. And I was lucky to go to a professor at University of Moscow in geography and ask if I can just be there and listen to her classes. And she not only allowed me to attend these classes, but also was the co-advisor for me to start using the satellite imagery. And that passion and work brought me to Danube Delta, where thanks to UNESCO Cousteau fellowship, I was able to be part of this incredible interdisciplinary team of system ecologists, thinking holistically about not only understanding how the ecosystem works, but what does it mean to achieve real change? 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (07:09): 

And this is where I got exposed to the importance of talking the same language across. It Doesn’t matter if you are an architect or an engineer lawyer, we need to learn how to talk the same language about the importance of ecosystems, of biodiversity, of this important function, which supporting life on earth. So that was my time in Romania that allowed me to continue to come to US with a Fullbright fellowship, to study remote sensing and satellite imagery, because I was so much interested in learning all these technologies and computer approaches. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (07:45): 

I arrived in the US in ’96, and in ’97, it was already my first trip to Africa. And around 2000, I was ready to combine my technical skills, but to work with a passion group on the ground with real people, with real decision makers, with real problems, and understand what is the role of me as a scientist who has access to this amazing technology? What it requires to unlock this potential to truly achieve change on the ground and this is how it brought me to University of Minnesota to Dr. Anne Pusey, who is of course your student, and to the Jane Goodall Institute Center for primary studies. 

Jane Goodall (08:29): 

Pretty amazing journey, isn’t it? I mean, and out of all the things you could have done, you ended up in tiny little Gombe National Park. That first you were working for your PhD or? 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (08:43): 

That’s right. It was a PhD and it was a little bit different. I wasn’t a behavioral biologist. I was a conservation biologist, who brought this satellite imagery, GIS, and combine it with your amazing long term data. I remember the first day when I start bringing this every 15 minute chimpanzee observation collected by the field researchers in Gombe, every day, rain or shine, and this points start appearing, then realizing how much work it went into collecting this amazing, completely unique dataset. And I remember the first thing which I did, actually, in the first or second week was ordering two satellite images. One was from 1972 collected by the first Landsat program, satellite called Landsat MSS and the second one was from 1999. And that was the first time, I think, which many of us and many of you and our team on the ground were able to look how the habitat actually changed. And I remember looking at that and sending you an email. And then few months later, we met in Gombe. 

Jane Goodall (10:02): 

And now you are accepted as one of the most key components in the JGI of today and leading the conservation science team, how did you survive? How did you gather in? How did you make these amazing relationships with Esri and Google earth, how did it work? 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (10:24): 

Well, Jane, it was very early for primatologists, for conservation biologists to embrace the power of GIS, remote sensing, and all these other technologies. And it helped tremendously that you immediately recognize the power of it. I remember the first time we’re sitting in Gombe in December, 2000, right? And I showed you the historical aerial photos collected over Gombe going all the way back to 1948, 1957, I think, and then it was another 1974 after you were there. And I remember you looked at me and said, this is magic. You immediately recognized the importance of it, the value of it. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (11:05): 

Google earth came later in 2005 doing, of course, pretty much the same thing, but at the scale which it’s incredible. And now the capacity and ability of technologies to bring us to places which we never been or to be connected to places which we never maybe be able to visit are tremendous. But the question is still the same, how we can unlock the power of these tools, technologies, data, information, into influencing people who make daily decisions about their lives, about the environment, about the forest, how we can unlock this potential. And that brings me back to Tacare because the secret of course is not about data, it’s about people. It’s about people trust and being able to understand that they are the one who make decisions and they drive decisions and they’re the stewards of their own land, their own lives, and their own environment. 

Jane Goodall (12:07): 

I will never forget sitting with you. You manage to get one of these high resolution, satellite maps and spread it out on the ground. And the villagers were sitting around it and this woman who said, that’s the tree and I put my baby under that tree when I’m working in the fields. And you were explaining about the degradation of the land, where they cut the trees on the steep slopes. And how they immediately understood. That woman who said, now she’s seen this, she’s prepared to walk two extra hours to her farm because she realizes it’s not good to farm on the very steep slopes because of mudslide that wipe cloud half a village. And that very first session where the only map they had was drawn in the sand with their fingers. I mean, and how the technology has changed. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (13:09): 

Because of that trust, which was already established, because of that partnership. When people saw those maps, they were so happy and they were so eager to map out and record the knowledge. And I remember at some point, they start mapping sacred sites. And I was looking at the Tacare team and asking, what I’m supposed to do with this information. I wasn’t taught in conservation science how to deal with invisible, how to deal with traditional knowledge at that time. But again, thanks to the team thinking, we were able to record and recognize as an important perspective from values, which people had about their land and how they see their land. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (13:53): 

And I do remember that in a woman focal group, because we would set up a woman focal group since, as you know, men sometimes would go in front and speak but actually women are the ones who have a lot of knowledge about the land. They are the ones fetching water, they’re the ones looking for firewood, they’re the ones going farming. When traditional sacred sites were start being put on the map, of course, they went back and started reading about it, asking about how the traditional healers, how the traditional spiritual people in the communities, what roles they have? Of course, that helped me understand and learn that people didn’t just settle. The spiritual leaders had to ask the spirits for permission to be on that land. And often the spiritual leaders, of course, had deep knowledge, as you know, very, very well for many people, which you engaged and valued in your research, had this incredible knowledge of plants, animals, and they were integrating all this knowledge for the communities. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (14:54): 

And now look, what’s happening now, we are so specialized. In order to be a botanist, you need to go to get the botanical degree. In order to be an engineer, you need to go to engineering. And I think we have a challenge to integrate our sectorial, fragmented, very specialized, very professional, but bringing it all together to make better and wiser decision, it’s a challenge. And the value of this GIS and mapping technologies is helping us to do exactly this. Bring back and put all this information together on the same map, show the connection between the people, animals, environment, and communicate it to everybody. And let’s try to make better decisions. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (15:51): 

Well, Jane, Microsoft is a company which recently we start working with. And during my first trip, I got introduced to the engineers on Project Premonition. This incredible device, it’s a robot capturing mosquitoes by detecting through lasers, the frequency of the wing beats of different insects. But what is truly amazing is that in the cases when a mosquito maybe has some blood, we can take this blood, run it through a pipeline of metagenomics tools, all running in the cloud and predict with quite high level of certainty on what animals those mosquitoes fed on. And not only that, if those animals were infected by any major pathogens. So suddenly, you start looking at the mosquitoes as flying around ecosystem and sampling the ecosystem health and you start looking at the diversity of insects in different way as another indicator of ecosystem health. And of course, all of that is connecting to human health in so many different ways. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (17:10): 

The Gombe One Health Hub Project, it’s exactly that. It’s not only brings new technologies, like as we speak right now, we’re setting up one of the first field PCR technologies in Western Tanzania. It’ll be amazing to have this ability to detect some of the potential pathogens right there in Gombe without bringing it out of the country or sending it to the labs around the world. And that unlocks the potential not only for us quicker to detect diseases, it also enables us if we combine it with Tacare to connect scientists with decision makers, to connect scientists with communities. And as Takari showed us, people from the beginning care about health. And we also know because of the chimps that disease is also one of the major threat to chimpanzees. And we also know that you have been talking about the need to think holistically and connect animal, people, and environment since the beginning of creating the Jane Goodall Institute. So here we are, finally, the world is catching up with this important idea, and now we have the insight, the technologies, and we know how to do it. So it’s very exciting times. 

Jane Goodall (18:25): 

It is very exciting. And it’s also something else, which for example, when you were setting up your mosquito traps, big problem, baboons, baboons, what investigate everything. So it’s not just a question of simply setting up a mosquito trap, you have to make it baboon proof. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (18:50): 


Jane Goodall (18:50): 

I love it. I love it, Lilian. I mean, honestly, we’re realist. We know the problems on the ground, see the vision in the future, how to get there? Okay, you have to tackle this problem, this problem, that problem, bring them all together, and you get your solution. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (19:06): 

Jane, this is what I love the most. A lot of times we are dealing with innovative technologies, which are not designed for conservation. They are designed for other purposes or for the needs and where we need to understand and adopt these technologies to work where they need it maybe and can provide the most benefit to the planet. That means indeed dealing with truly interesting questions. Like one of my favorite one is when we started using the first smartphones in 2009, the first screens of the smartphones was not very sensitive. So some of the farmers which had a little bit more rough fingers, the screens would not detect them. And obviously now technology changed, and it’s much more sensitive. But how you charge a phone when you are in a village where there is no electricity, how you send and take advantage of the cloud when the closest internet connectivity is miles and hundreds of miles away. 

Jane Goodall (20:07): 

Or you’re in the middle of the wet season and it’s start to rain day after day after day, we have to be very inventive. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (20:19): 

If we’re talking about the challenges, I still think that the major challenge is not technological, the real challenge is how you take this, again, and convert this amazing information and tools and data to actually improve conservation decisions on the ground. And I think that’s the key which you showed again and again so clearly and inspired a generation of storytellers and scientists who are learning to be better storytellers and reaching to their hearts. 

Jane Goodall (20:54): 

So we look forward to more innovation, to more development, to more involvement, moving in a direction that will benefit the people, the chimpanzees and other animals, and the environment. I’m just so grateful that we met in that Swiss Air lounge all those years ago. You are one of those remarkable scientists who has as much heart as head, but thank you really very much. 

Dr. Lilian Pintea (21:24): 

Thank you, Jane, for deeply inspiring me and for all your support and for your friendship over the years and for helping all of us to understand how important it is to unlock this power of individuals from understanding individual chimpanzees to empowering and letting each individual know that they’re important and they have a choice and power. 

Jane Goodall (22:10): 

Once the villagers had come to trust us, they began to understand that preserving the forest, the environment was just as important for their own future as for preserving wildlife. They got together all the data that they have decided is important. GIS helps us see a picture of the environment that we cannot see from down on the ground. It’s been shown in some forests where chimpanzees and other large animals have been hunted out that the forest is not regenerating. So chimpanzees are very, very important part of the forest ecosystem. We get together now, it’s not too late. We can solve the problems. We will. 

Jane Goodall (23:11): 

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. Find me your host, Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall hope cast 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 Mendelson with additional violin tracks from Angie Shyr. Sound design and music composition for the conservation chorus is by Matthew Ernest Filler. 

1 2

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.