Happy Birthday Dame And Dr. Jane Goodall! What Has This Lady Accomplished In Her 86 Years?

Happy Birthday Dame And Dr. Jane Goodall! What Has This Lady Accomplished In Her 86 Years?

Posted by Michael Starbuck on 31st Mar 2020

There are very few figures in the history of popular science as iconic as Jane Goodall. With her long hair, calm smile, and khaki shorts, she has been the face of compassionate biology for decades as the woman who helped the world recognise humanity’s kinship with the great apes. She has fought fearlessly for animal rights around the world, and her contributions to this work have been recognised by numerous organisations and universities.

(Source For Above Image: New York Times)

Early Beginnings

Goodall was born in London in 1934. A year later, a chimpanzee was born at the London Zoo, and in a famous anecdote, Jane’s father bought her a stuffed chimpanzee toy despite his friends’ protestations that the stuffed ape would give his little girl nightmares. Contrary to expectations, that stuffed chimp, named Jubilee, became the little girl’s favourite toy. She carried it everywhere and still has it sitting on her dresser in her London home today.

Jane Goodall

But in the beginning, Jane’s dreams were not chimpanzee-specific. She simply knew growing up that she wanted to work with animals. Unable to afford a university education, like many young people her age at the time, she worked several jobs. First, she was a secretary, then she edited soundtrack music, but none of which spoke to her passionately, however. Finally, one day she got an invitation from a friend to come stay at their family’s farm in Kenya. Jane immediately quit her job in London, moved back home to save money, and worked as a waitress to earn enough money for the airfare to Africa. She had no plans for when she got there, but just the opportunity to observe and be closer to the wild animals she had loved so much from afar was enough.

Fortune Favours The Brave

When Jane arrived in Africa in 1957, she found work once more as a secretary, but she also reached out to Louis Leakey, an already well-known archaeologist and palaeontologist. She thought she merely wanted to have a conversation with Leakey, but the great researcher had been looking for someone to spearhead a study of chimpanzee behaviour, and this young, enthusiastic English woman struck a chord with him. Leakey went on to become Goodall’s mentor and patron. He arranged for her to study with some of the greatest minds in primate biology at the time, and then he sent her to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to study chimpanzee behaviour. Leakey also later arranged for the funding for Goodall to obtain her Ph.D. at Cambridge in ethology, the study of animal behaviour. Goodall was only the eighth person in Cambridge’s history to be allowed into the doctorate program without previous university education, such as a B.A. or B.Sc. Her thesis, under the mentorship of Robert Hinde, detailed her five years in Gombe and was titled Behaviour of Free-Living Chimps.

Jane Goodall Degrees

(Source: Asha Nelson, as published by themanitoban.com)

To understand Goodall’s impact, it’s important to remember what an exception in the scientific world she was. A young girl with no higher education, she simply walked into the office of a world-renowned scientist, and with very little formal training, she accomplished what takes some researchers an entire lifetime to pull off. Later, this same exceptionalism would come back to bite her when it came to peer critiques of her methods. The scientific world was thrown by the idea of a researcher actually living and interacting with her subjects; traditionally, the researcher is supposed to observe unnoticed. But living with the chimps she loved so much, allowed Jane to form relationships with them and achieve a level of intimacy that illuminated the very most private areas of chimpanzee life, and the results of her work are undeniable.

Ground Breaking Discoveries

Jane Goodall With Chimps

(Source: National Georgraphic)

Goodall’s most famous discovery was that chimpanzees employed tools, upending the notion that only humans had the capacity or intelligence for tool-making. She observed chimpanzees stripping the leaves from branches, coating the branches with saliva, and then dipping the branches into termite mounds to extract food. This simple observation caused animal researchers to look for tool usage in other species as well.

Beyond that, Goodall was also instrumental in documenting and analysing chimpanzee relationships, both within and outside the family. She was accepted into a chimpanzee family as a lower member of the troop – chimps live in communities where not all members have the same rank, and Goodall was accepted as a member at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Jane Goodall Living With Chimps

(Source: Jane Goodall 'Untamed'. As published by newsela.com)

This acceptance gave her immense access to see behaviour that no human had witnessed or understood before. She was the first to discover that chimpanzees ate meat and were capable of organised warfare against other chimpanzee tribes. Because of her, we now understand hierarchies among primates as well as the close familial bonds they carry, not only between mother and child but between friends as well. She painted a picture for the world at large of chimpanzees as creatures with complex emotions, duties, and motivations, some good, some bad but all of them very human.

An Advocate For Conservation

Jane Goodall National Geographic

(Source: National Georgraphic)

In the ’80s, Goodall turned her attention outward to conservation and habitat crises around the world. In 1988 the Jane Goodall Institute, a global community conservation organisation, was founded, and in 1991 she founded Roots & Shoots, JGI’s global environmental and humanitarian education programme for young people. In 1994 she launched the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education project, which was designed to help communities around Lake Tanganyika practice methods of agriculture and livelihood that was sustainable enough to preserve local habitat and species.

The Jane Goodall Institute

(Source: The Jane Goodall Institute. visit.org/south-africa)

Goodall published over fourteen books about her work in Gombe and animal conservation worldwide as well as eleven children’s books. She is the subject of over forty movies about her work, most recently the National Geographic biographical documentary, ‘Jane’. She has received numerous awards, including the French Légion d’Honneur, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and honorary degrees from universities all over the world. She is still as busy as ever when it comes to activism and giving lectures, even though she’ll be 86 this April.

Her message is always the same: Preserving the gifts of nature comes down to the choices we make as individuals and our sense of personal responsibility.

Here we say a very happy birthday to you, Dr. Goodall. You are an amazing example of how one human, with just her force of will, can enact great and powerful change.

Share this Article...

Share this article with your friends and followers by using the social media buttons below.

Leave a Comment...

Wanting to add something to this story or just let us know your thoughts? Just leave your comments below. Please be aware that all comments will be moderated: abusive behaviour or self-promotion will not be allowed.

500 characters remaining

Has this blog inspired you to volunteer? If so, why not enquire today? Simply fill out an enquiry form, and allow a member of our travel team to assist with your query! Please note that blog comments are not monitored by the travel team, so any questions related to bookings may be missed.

Featured Videos

Experience The Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary

See what you could get up to as a volunteer at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary! This volunteer project offers you the chance to get up close and personal with some of the country's most iconic species.

Discover The Great White Shark Project

Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation. As a volunteer, not only will you get the incredible opportunity to dive with sharks, but you will also assist the team in raising awareness of the great white as you work alongside tourists and local school children to provide them with knowledge of the local environment and the importance of living in harmony with South Africa’s marine life.

Volunteers Review Their Experience at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary

Volunteers talk about their recent experience at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary in Borneo.

Latest Blog Arcticles

The Team Returns - James & Lauren's South Africa Experience

The Team Returns - James & Lauren's South Africa Experience

Lauren and James have returned and are ready to relay tales...

The Great Projects On Tour: Upcoming Staff Trips

The Great Projects On Tour: Upcoming Staff Trips

Team members Lauren and James, joined colleague Georgia to...

Lynne's Top Tips For Volunteering at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary

Lynne's Top Tips For Volunteering at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary

Volunteer Lynne Coe shares her valuable tips on what to...

10 More Orangutans Released Back Into The Wild From Nyaru Menteng!

10 More Orangutans Released Back Into The Wild From Nyaru Menteng!

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Borneo...

Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary May Update

Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary May Update

The Great Projects volunteer coordinators, Matt and Niamh,...

Latest At The Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary

Latest At The Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary

The Great Projects' volunteer coordinators Matt and Niamh...

Volunteer Update From Samboja In April 2023

Volunteer Update From Samboja In April 2023

As the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project begins once again...

Inge’s Experience at the Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary

Inge’s Experience at the Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary

Inge volunteered at the Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary in...

Where you can go
Contact Info
UK Office
The Great Traveller Ltd,
3 Dairy Yard
Star Street
Ware, Hertfordshire
SG12 7DX
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
   Mon-Fri 8:30am–5:30pm
   Sat 10am-4pm

T: +44(0) 208 885 4987