Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

This famous quote is by a lady who has been interested in animals all of her life. Dame Valerie Jane Goodall was born in London in 1934. Jane Goodall is the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees, having closely observed their behavior for the past quarter century in the jungles of the Gombe Game Reserve in Africa, living in the chimps’ environment and gaining their confidence as in one of her project she said that:

“Chimpanzees have given me so much. The long hours spent with them in the forest have enriched my life beyond measure. What I have learned from them has shaped my understanding of human behavior, of our place in nature.”


Early Life and Education:

As a child she was given a lifelike chimpanzee toy named Jubilee by her mother. Jubilee started her early love of animals. Today, the toy still sits on her dresser in London. As she writes in her book, Reason For Hope: “My mother’s friends were horrified by this toy, thinking it would frighten me and give me nightmares.” Jane was a bright student as she is the one of only nine people to receive a PhD degree in Ethology without first obtaining a BA or B.Sc.

Were it not for fate, Goodall may have ended up being a secretary instead of the champion of animals she now is as went to secretarial school and then had a series of jobs at Oxford University and for a film studio that made documentary films until by chance a friend invited her to travel to Kenya. She saved her money by working as a waitress until she could afford to travel by boat to Kenya. She sailed from London to Africa on the passenger liner The Kenya Castle. Two months after arriving there she met Louis Leakey, a famous anthropologist and his wife, Mary.

After a period of working with the Leakeys in the Uvalde Gorge, Leakey recognized in Goodall the right qualities to do an in depth study of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania.

Contributions and Achievements:

Dr. Goodall’s research at Gombe Stream is best known to the scientific community for challenging two long-standing beliefs of the day: that only humans could construct and use tools, and that chimpanzees were passive vegetarians. While observing one chimpanzee feeding at a termite mound, she watched him repeatedly place stalks of grass into termite holes, then remove them from the hole covered with clinging termites, effectively “fishing” for termites. The chimps would also take twigs from trees and strip off the leaves to make the twig more effective, a form of object modification which is the rudimentary beginnings of tool making.

Humans had long distinguished us from the rest of the animal kingdom as “Man the Toolmaker”. In response to Goodall’s revolutionary findings, Louis Leakey wrote, “We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!” Over the course of her study, Goodall found evidence of mental traits in chimpanzees such as reasoned thought, abstraction, generalization, symbolic representation, and even the concept of self, all previously thought to be uniquely human abilities.

But the most disturbing thing was the tendency for aggression and violence within chimpanzee troops. Goodall observed dominant females deliberately killing the young of other females in the troop in order to maintain their dominance, sometimes going as far as cannibalism. These findings revolutionized contemporary knowledge of chimpanzee behaviour, and were further evidence of the social similarities between humans and chimpanzees, albeit it in a much darker manner.

Goodall also set herself apart from the traditional conventions of the time by naming the animals in her studies of primates, instead of assigning each a number. Numbering was a nearly universal practice at the time, and thought to be important in the removal of one’s self from the potential for emotional attachment to the subject being studied.

Later Life:

Jane was the international recipient of the 1996 Caring Award for Scientific Achievement. She also received the National Geographic Society’s prestigious Hubbard Medal ‘for her extraordinary study of wild chimpanzees and for tirelessly defending the natural world we share. She has also appeared in an episode of Nickelodeon’s animated series and is also a character in Irregular Web comic Steve and Terry theme. A parody of Goodall featured as a diamond-hoarding chimpanzee slave driver in an episode of The Simpsons.

Today, Jane Goodall spends much of her time lecturing, sharing her message of hope for the future and encouraging young people to make a difference in their world.