It Started With Jane Goodall

How the famous primatologist inspired WWF's CeCe Sieffert's career in conservation

chimpanzees hugging

On a warm June day in 2008 I found myself hiking through the Budongo forest in western Uganda. I was a volunteer intern with the Jane Goodall Institute in Entebbe, Uganda, and had taken a long weekend to visit one of the chimpanzee field sites. We hadn’t trekked far into the forest before we started hearing the cacophony of sound coming from an approaching troop of chimps.

In addition to screams and hoots, the chimps beat the wide buttresses of trees as they passed. As the percussive clamor neared, our guides told us to crouch down and be still. No easy task with the surge of adrenaline coursing through my body.

We were in for quite a spectacle: the troop was not only on the hunt, but older chimps were taking the opportunity to teach adolescents in the troop how to run down and corner prey.

In that forest, under the protection of rangers, one generation of chimps was teaching the next how to survive. I was incredibly lucky to witness such an event, and it was an experience that guided the path I would take in my career.

african elephant

It started with Jane

Just nine months before that day in the forest, my life was on a completely different track. My husband and I had steady jobs and a home in a Baltimore suburb. Yet the nagging feeling that we could be “doing more” wouldn’t leave. I’d always been inspired by conservationists like Jane Goodall, but wondered what role I could play in saving wildlife.

Soon enough, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold our house and spent 13 months traveling through 30 countries in Asia and Africa. We each followed our passion—for me that meant seeking out wildlife conservation programs, particularly those that involved local communities.

It wasn’t long before I’d learned about the Jane Goodall Institute’s initiatives and how they help both human and chimpanzee populations thrive. I was inspired by the organization’s work and upon returning home the US, enrolled in a master’s program in conservation biology.

Today, I work at WWF on the wildlife conservation team. The bulk of my work is inspiring our members, just as Jane Goodall inspired me, to take an active role in saving the world’s most precious wildlife.

We all have a role to play

Being in the field is a transformative experience, but I’ve learned change can happen at so many different levels. That each one of us plays a role in making a difference for conservation and wildlife.

Last year at the historic US ivory crush, Dr. Goodall submitted a video for those of us in attendance. “The elephants’ future is up to us. Each of us is responsible for protecting them from harm,” she pleaded.

We know that 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year for their ivory. In South Africa alone last year, 1,000 rhinos were killed for their horns. The crisis is global and only getting worse.

And it’s up to all of us to do something to save them from the brink of extinction.

WWF, the Jane Goodall Institute, other conservation organizations and ordinary citizens are all calling on the US Congress to halt the spread of wildlife crime.

Join us and tell Congress to support legislation to crack down on wildlife trafficking and to make it a serious crime under U.S. law.