#WCIW: Jane Goodall
Adventurous Spirit. Devoted Conservationist. Groundbreaking Grit.
Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall was fascinated by animals and their behavior from toddlerhood. Born on April 3rd, 1934 to Mortimer and Vanne Morris-Goodall, Jane was only 1-year-old when her father presented her with a stuffed chimpanzee toy in honor of a baby chimpanzee born at the London Zoo.
Little Jane was hooked. She named the toy Jubilee and carried it with her everywhere, developing what would become a lifelong passion for chimps. As a child, Jane began to learn all she could about animals—especially chimpanzees—and dreamed of living in Africa. Her novelist mother encouraged the dream, telling her, “Jane, if you really want something, and if you work hard, take advantage of the opportunities, and never give up, you will somehow find a way.” Jane took this lesson to heart and set her path to Africa in motion.
Graduating from High School in 1952, Jane could not afford to attend University right away. She learned to type, as many women did at the time, and became a secretary, first at Oxford University and later for a filmmaking company. While working with the filmmaking company she became interested in documentaries and started to work selecting music for them. Everything changed, however, in 1956 when a friend invited Jane to visit her family’s farm in Kenya. Ecstatic, Jane immediately quit her job and moved home from London to wait tables in order to save money for the boat fare to Africa. In 1957, she finally makes the trip.
Jane fell in love with Africa at first sight. She loved meeting new people and experiencing different cultures and interacting with the local wildlife. The trip proved to be much more than a vacation, however. In Kenya, 23-year-old Jane met Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey, a well-known anthropologist and paleontologist who was planning an archaeology exhibition to Tanzania with his wife.
Deeply impressed by Jane’s knowledge of Africa and animals, Dr. Leakey hired her as his assistant and invited her along on the trip. While Jane traveled extensively with Dr. Leakey, she became particularly interested in Gombe Stream Game Reserve. It was there, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, that a healthy population of wild chimpanzees thrived.
Jane and Dr. Leakey began to plan a study unlike any other that had ever been done—especially by a young woman. Jane would study the chimpanzees, not from afar, but by living amongst them. Initially the Tanzanian government rejected the request, believing it inappropriate and dangerous for a young woman to live alone in the wilderness of the Reserve.
They finally agreed to grant the permits when Jane’s mother Vanne offered to stay with her for the first three months. On July 14th, 1960, Jane and Vanne arrived at their campsite. Initially, the study was difficult. The chimps were fearful of the women and refused to allow them to get too close. Jane however, was undeterred. She intentionally kept distance between herself and the chimps and finally, they began to accept her presence.
As the chimpanzees allowed Jane to get closer, she was able to observe behaviors that would shatter the preconceived notions long-held by the scientific community. It became immediately clear that the chimpanzees had distinct personalities, prompting Jane to name each of the subjects. She observed hunting and meat-eating, disproving the belief that chimps were vegetarians. She also witnessed the chimps using found items to create tools in order to reach foods, like termites, deep in the ground.
That would become one of the most important discoveries of her career. Up to that point, scientists had believed that humans were alone in creating and using tools. Jane’s observations disproved that theory and Dr. Leakey famously said, “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as human.”
In 1962, Jane’s work had become so well known that she was accepted to become a Ph.D candidate at Cambridge University, despite not having an undergraduate degree. In 1963 Jane returned to Gombe as the subject of a National Geographic feature with photographer and filmmaker Hugo van Lawick. In August of that year, they published “My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees”. Dr. Goodall found that she could use her fame and recognition to create positive change, not only for the chimpanzees that she loved so dearly, but for the people in the communities that she had also grown to cherish.
In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation, an institution that continues to thrive today. To date, the Institute has helped to establish over 3.4 million acres of land as habitat covered under Conservation Act plans, have produced nearly 500 scientific papers and graduate theses, and currently care for nearly 300 chimps and gorillas in their animal sanctuary.
The Institute has also provided over 300 scholarships to young women to support their education, helped over 600 girls return to school after their mentorship program, and have trained nearly 200 people in the use of forest monitoring technology. They also support the "Roots and Shoots" program founded by Jane in 1991 as an initiative to create a global environmental and humanitarian education program for youth. In 2002, Jane was appointed by the UN to serve as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. She continues to travel nearly 300 days per year to reach and educate as many people as possible about the threats facing wild chimpanzees, the impact of climate change, and her hope for the future.
For her adventurous spirit, her lifelong devotion to animals and conservation, and her groundbreaking grit, Dr. Jane Goodall is this week’s #WCIW.