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.


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