The world-famous British ethologist and environmental activist Dr. Jane Goodall is Hasselt University’s newest honorary doctor. The honorary doctorate and a universal medal were bestowed to her during an online ceremony which also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland. “As an individual, you have an impact on your environment every single day. Make sure to wield that impact wisely”, Jane Goodall told in a hopeful message in which she called for action to address climate change.
“We are going through dark times because of the corona pandemic. And we have only ourselves to blame”, said Jane Goodall in the message she conveyed after receiving UHasselt’s honorary doctorate. Due to the coronavirus, the ceremony took place online and Jane Goodall gave a lecture from her living room in Bournemouth. The British scientist, who became famous because of her pioneering research on chimpanzees’ behaviour in the wild, points to our disrespectful treatment of nature and wild animal species as the main cause of the worldwide wave of contaminations. “But we will overcome this pandemic”, added Jane Goodall, who is now 86 years old. “It’s what comes after this that will hit us humans much harder. Climate change is not a far-off event, it is happening right now and our window of opportunity to intervene is closing rapidly.”
Reasons for hope
Still, the Dame of the British Empire remains hopeful. “Human beings are very intelligent and resourceful creatures, with an iron will not to give in. Today, the younger generations are taking the lead, with their tireless commitment, and they take action. They show us that there is still a way to reverse the situation, as long as we dare to stand up and act.” In this regard, she did not only refer to Roots & Shoots, the programme of her own Institute which globally encourages young people to make the world a better place for humans, animals and nature, but also to UHasselt’s Young Planet Ambassadors. This recently created group of young scientists will, as of next year, organise a range of activities for young people using the latest scientific findings available to shed light on how our planet is doing.
UHasselt’s 83th honorary doctor
Jane Goodall is UHasselt’s 83th honorary doctor. By bestowing this doctorate, the university honours Dr. Jane Goodall’s work and boundless commitment to nature conservation and animal welfare. “There are numerous reasons to justify this honorary doctorate”, explains rector Bernard Vanheusden in the traditional laudation. “Not only is her research on chimpanzee behaviour in the wild impressive and pioneering. Jane Goodall is more than justly an honorary doctor to us because of the message of hope she sends out and the boundless commitment by which she inspires people of all ages, making them aware that each and every one of us must be brave and dare to change this world for the better.”
Jane Goodall was delighted to receive UHasselt’s honorary doctorate and praised the climate research by Ecotron Hasselt University. “Your research provides scientists with a better understanding of how climate change impacts our ecosystem. This can help us to better prepare and adapt, and hopefully to save nature, wildlife and also ourselves.”
The 30th anniversary of Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland (RLKM)
The online ceremony was also partly dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland that was created in 1990 by Natuurpunt and the Kempische Steenkoolmijnen as a lever for nature restoration and landscape management. Ever since, the RLKM team has developed a whole range of wonderful, internationally acclaimed initiatives, such as the development of the Cycle Routes Network, the National Park Hoge Kempen, RivierPark Maasvallei and GrensPark Kempen~Broek. Ignace Schops, director of the RLKM, explains: “After 30 years of cooperation, we wanted to show our gratitude to all our partners in style. Jane Goodall was soon willing to join us and tell her fantastic story, and to come and support the people in our green province of Limburg. Because of Corona, it has to be an online event, but this does not rob the message conveyed from its strength: together we can make a sustainable future come true!”
Special words by Jane Goodall and David Attenborough
During the ceremony, both Jane Goodall and the famous British documentary maker David Attenborough lauded the work accomplished by Ignace Schops and the Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland. “I feel very moved by the messages that Jane Goodall and David Attenborough addressed to me”, said Ignace Schops, surprised. “I do run into them occasionally because of my international activities, but it is a very special feeling when the world’s two biggest icons of nature conservation talk to you directly.
However, the greatest merit goes to my Board and all of our partners, who have supported me and my team time and time again, giving us so many opportunities to extend the green heart of the province of Limburg together. A very big thank you to all!”
Prof. Dr. Bernard Vanheusden (Rector UHasselt): 0473 48 83 34
Ignace Schops (director of RLKM): 0477 43 56 33
Koen Santermans (spokesperson UHasselt): 0473 26 53 10
Anouska Plasmeijer (Jane Goodall Institute Belgium): 0487 23 56 43
Image credits: Judy Waters (Jane’s sister)