Jane Goodall (1934-)

“My family has very strong women. My mother never laughed at my dream of Africa, even though everyone else did because we didn’t have any money, because Africa was the ‘dark continent,’ and because I was a girl.”

While I was growing up Jane Goodall was, unsurprisingly, a name that everyone recognized. But to me her name was practically synonymous with wildlife conservation—her respect for living creatures, promotion of learning and understanding, and her efforts on so many levels have shown her to be a true force to be reckoned with. Most famously of course, she is known for her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania. I think many would agree that her time spent in Tanzania studying the social and family interactions and relationships of chimpanzees would be a daunting task for most, even today. But to me, the fact that she spent 55 years studying the chimpanzees of Tanzania—starting in 1960 when she was sent to Gombe Stream National Park to conduct research in the rugged wilderness of pre-independence Tanzania, known as Tanganyika at the time—weathering the conditions and challenges that she did, makes her both admirable and inspiring.

Because she was sent on her first research assignment before going to college, her approach to research was quite different from the norm of the time. Rather than giving the subjects of her study numbers as most scientists did back then, Goodall gave them names. Some have criticized her approach, but most recognize the incredible discoveries that she made through her methods over the years. Jane’s most famous discoveries were the following: chimpanzees were not vegetarian as had previously been believed (they did eat some meat), and chimpanzees were capable of making and using tools. Her research also led to an even deeper understanding of chimpanzee behavior in regard to those outside and inside their troop—they had a less-than-gentle side that had been previously unknown. Eventually Jane was sent to Cambridge University to pursue her PhD in ethology, where she became the eighth person allowed to pursue their PhD at Cambridge without having first obtained a BA or BSc.

Besides her studies and her founding the Jane Goodall institute (which serves to support Gombe research and help protect chimpanzees and their habitats) she used to spend a great deal of time traveling to promote conservation and advocacy for animals—about 300 days a year! A recipient of a plethora of awards, the author of numerous books and children’s books, and featured in a number of films, Goodall has really left her mark on the scientific community and the world! As a world-famous primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist—and even a UN Messenger of Peace—the London-born Jane Goodall is truly an inspirational woman globetrotter!


Story by Alyce Howard