Jane Goodall: The Hope for Animals


Prerna Gopinath, Journalist/Editor

The expert on primates and world-famous animal rights activist and environmentalist. The woman who made all the innovative new discoveries on chimpanzees.  The primatologist who found out how similar we are to our primate cousins. Jane Goodall completely transformed the way we think about our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees.

Jane Goodall was born on April 3, 1934 in London, England as Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall. Her father Mortimer Herbert Morris-Goodall who was a businessman and her mother Margaret Myfanwe Joseph who was a novelist. As a child Jane was extremely fascinated by animals and observed many animals near her home . At a young age she conducted what her mother called “Jane’s first animal research program” where she hid among the hay in the hen house waiting to see a chicken lay an egg. Young Jane dreamed of traveling to Africa and seeing animals in their natural habitat.

In 1957 Jane was invited to her childhood friend’s house in South Kinangop, Kenya. Soon after, she met the anthropologist Louis Leaky and became his secretary after Leaky saw her desire to see and understand animals and the evolution of humans. 

In 1960 Jane made her historic second visit to Africa visiting the forest at Gombe. Jane had a very innovative approach to studying the chimpanzees as though she was one of them and experiencing their lives like a neighbor not a distant observer like many scientists at the time had done. She also gave the chimpanzees names to identify them not numbers and understood them not as animals but as individuals each uniquely made.

Later that year Jane saw the chimpanzee, whom she had named David Greybeard, stripping twigs of leaves in order to make tools for getting termites out of trees. Until that point scientists had thought that humans were the only species to make and use tools. Goodall’s discovery was among the most important in the world of primatology. Upon hearing this Dr. Leaky exclaimed “Now we must redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as humans!”

At Gombe Jane also studied chimpanzees eating and hunting, proving the theory that chimpanzees were primarily vegetarians who only sometimes ate insects incorrect. 

Next year in 1961 Jane entered Cambridge University as a Ph.D candidate. She is one of few people who got accepted into college without a degree. Jane earned her Ph.D in ethology in 1966 and continued her studies in Gombe.

Jane’s study in Gombe revolutionized primatology and led to many surprising realizations like the fact that chimpanzees engage in primitive and brutal warfare. In 1965 Jane created the Gombe Stream Research Center where many students interested in studying primates attend. The center also drew many women who were previously not in the field and “…arguably her greatest legacy.” said Gilbert Grosvenor, chairman of The National Geographic Society. Primatology is now a primarily female dominated field. 

A year after getting her Ph.D Jane Goodall had Hugo, her son, with her first husband Baron Hugo van Lawick who was a dutch nobleman and wildlife photographer. 8 years later she married Derek Bryson who was the director of National Parks in Tanzania and died 5 years after marriage. 

In 1977 Jane established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) which focuses on her work around the world. JGI is known for its work in helping people, animals and the environment and is located in over 30 countries around the globe. 

Soon Jane saw deforestation and declining chimpanzee populations around the world and realized that she was needed in other places and that she had to leave Gombe which had been her home for many years. To date she continues her work traveling around the world helping chimpanzees and spreading awareness about all the environmental problems we face today. 

Jane has written many books about her life with chimpanzees that have inspired millions of people. In addition Jane has been named a United Nations Messenger of Peace, a Dame of the British Empire, and was presented France’s highest recognition, a Legion of Honor.

Jane believes in the power of individual action and encourages her audience to acknowledge their responsibility and their power to change the world. “Every individual matters,” Jane says. “Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”