"We are, indeed, unique primates, we humans, but we’re simply not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to think."
Honour: Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the environment and conservation, 2003 (Gazette supplement 56963)
Dame Jane Goodall is widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert in chimpanzees.
A pioneer in the field of primatology, she redefined the relationship between humans and animals through her study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. She defied scientific convention by giving the chimpanzees names instead of numbers, to emphasise that animals have distinct personalities, minds and emotions.
In 1977, she set up the Jane Goodall Institute, which champions community-centred conservation and development programmes in Africa, and is a global leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.
How it all started
Jane was born in London on 3 April 1934. Her lifelong love of animals began with her father giving her a chimpanzee toy named Jubilee. A burgeoning fascination with animals and desire for travel – she read countless books about wild animals and ‘fell in love with Tarzan by the age of 11’ – led the 23-year-old to take the bold step of accepting an invitation from her friend Clo to stay on her parent’s farm in Kenya. Jane’s family were not well off, and she had to scrimp and save for the fare to Mombasa.
Once there, she met palaeontologist Dr Louis Leakey, and progressed to being an assistant on his expeditions and eventually, a pioneer of a chimpanzee study in Tanzania. Jane had no degree in the area, so it was a risk for Leakey to take, but he could clearly see her talent and potential, along with her passion and fascination for conservation work. She took on the daunting assignment, which she called an ‘extraordinary opportunity’, to find and get close to wild chimpanzees and document their behaviour.
Jane went to Cambridge University on Leakey’s recommendation and gained a PhD in ethology in 1966.
As little as 55 years ago the private life of chimpanzees remained largely hidden from view. Jane’s studies of the Gombe chimpanzees is the world’s longest continuous wildlife study, revealing that chimpanzees are cultural beings with their own rich traditions, minds capable of thought, personalities and emotions. Key findings were that chimpanzees:
- use and even make tools from stems, twigs, branches, leaves and rocks (she saw chimpanzee David Greybeard strip leaves off twigs to fashion tools for fishing termites from a nest)
- are not vegetarians, and collaborate in hunts sometimes for monkeys and bushpigs
- foster close, affectionate and supportive family relationships across multiple generations, especially mother and child
- have a dark side, capable of killing both monkeys and, sometimes, each other
Jane is also well known for her Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots movement, which engages youngsters in over 130 countries worldwide in learning about problems (and solutions) in their communities and in the world.
Jane travels worldwide and hopes to encourage a generation of life scientists to follow in her footsteps. She was appointed as a United Nations Messenger of Peace by Kofi Annan in 2002 and reappointed in 2007 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In Jane’s own words: "Never mind how we got to be who we are. Let’s work out a way so that we can preserve what’s left of this planet and enhance it for future generations."
Find out more about the work of the Jane Goodall Institute at www.janegoodall.org.