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Jane Goodall, DBE

The Womens Conference

How She Empowers Others

In the summer of 1960, a young Englishwoman arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in what is now Tanzania, East Africa.  She was about to venture into the African forest to study chimpanzees—a highly unorthodox activity for a woman in those days.  In fact, British authorities had insisted that the young woman have a companion, and so her mother would share this adventure for a time.  As Jane Goodall first surveyed the mountains and valley forests of what was then called the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve, she had no idea her coming efforts would redefine the relationship between humans and animals or that the project would continue into the 21st century. 

This Tanzanian adventure was the fulfillment of Goodall’s childhood dream.  She had been fascinated by animals even as a small girl—once frightening the adults in her household by disappearing for hours to hide under some hay in the henhouse and wait for a chicken to lay an egg.  “It was Jane’s first animal research program,” her mother, Vanne, would say later.  Goodall read countless books about wild animals and dreamed about living like Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle.

As a young woman, Goodall searched for ways to realize her dream.  When, in 1957, a school friend invited Goodall to her parents’ farm in Kenya, she eagerly accepted.  Within a few months of arriving, she met the famed anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey.  Dr. Leakey had been searching for someone to begin a study of chimpanzees, not only to better understand these little-known primates but also to gain insight into man’s evolutionary past.  Goodall’s patience and persistent desire to understand animals convinced him she was the right person.  He believed that a mind uncluttered by academia would yield a fresh perspective.

At first, the Gombe chimps fled whenever they saw Goodall.  She persisted, however, watching from a distance with binoculars, and gradually the chimps allowed her closer.  One day in the fall of 1960, she saw chimpanzee David Greybeard strip leaves off twigs to fashion tools for fishing termites from a nest.  Scientists thought humans were the only species to make and use tools, but here was evidence to the contrary.  On hearing of Goodall’s observation, Dr. Leakey said:  “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”  This would be one of Goodall’s most important discoveries.

Also in her first year at Gombe, Goodall observed chimps hunting and eating bushpigs and other animals, disproving theories that chimpanzees were primarily vegetarians and fruit eaters who only occasionally supplemented their diet with insects and small rodents.

In 1962, she entered Cambridge University as a Ph.D. candidate, one of very few people to be admitted without a college degree.  She earned her Ph.D. in ethology in 1965.

It is hard to overstate the degree to which Dr. Goodall changed and enriched the field of primatology.  She defied scientific convention by giving the Gombe chimps names instead of numbers, and insisted on the validity of her observations that animals have distinct personalities, minds and emotions.  She wrote of lasting chimpanzee family relationships.  Through the years, her work continued to yield surprising insights, such as the unsettling discovery that chimpanzees engage in primitive and brutal warfare.  In early 1974, a “four-year war” began at Gombe, the first record of long-term “warfare” in nonhuman primates.  Members of the Kasekela group systematically annihilated members of the Kahama splinter group.  In 1987, she and her field staff would also observe adolescent Spindle “adopt” three-year-old orphan Mel, even though the infant was not a close relative.

The Gombe Stream Research Centre, which Dr. Goodall established in 1965, eventually became a training ground for students interested in studying primates.  Today it hosts a skilled team of researchers and field assistants, including many Tanzanians.

Said Gilbert Grosvenor, chairman of The National Geographic Society:  “Jane Goodall’s trail-blazing path for other women primatologists is arguably her greatest legacy.  During the last third of the 20th century, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas, Cheryl Knott, Penny Patterson, and many more women have followed her.  Indeed, women now dominate long-term primate behavioral studies worldwide.”

Perhaps most significantly, Dr. Goodall’s work opened a window to the world of chimpanzees for a public with a strong curiosity about its closest genetic relatives.  Through her books, particularly In the Shadow of Man and Through a Window, people worldwide are on a first-name basis with the chimpanzees of Gombe.  Gombe’s greatest mother, Flo, and her offspring became internationally known.  When homely old Flo died in 1972, The London Times printed an obituary.

In 1977, Dr. Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute.  The Institute supports the continuing research at Gombe and is a global leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.  It also is widely recognized for establishing innovative community-centered conservation and development programs in Africa, and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, the global environmental and humanitarian youth program that has nearly 150,000 members in 110 countries. 

In 1986, after a conference session with startling news about deforestation and the rapidly dwindling chimpanzee populations across Africa, Dr. Goodall realized she would have to leave her beloved Gombe and begin working to save chimpanzees.  She continues this work today, traveling an average of 300 days per year to visit school children and speak in packed auditoriums about the threats facing chimpanzees, other environmental crises, and her reasons for hope that humankind will ultimately solve the problems it has imposed on the Earth.  Dr. Goodall continually urges her audiences to recognize their personal responsibility and ability to effect change.  “Every individual counts,” she says.  “Every individual has a role to play.  Every individual makes a difference.”

Dr. Goodall also emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life.  The Roots & Shoots program embodies this principle by encouraging member groups to undertake service learning projects benefiting people, animals and the environment.

Dr. Goodall’s scores of honors include the Medal of Tanzania, the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal, Japan's prestigious Kyoto Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research 2003, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, UNESCO Gold Medal Award, and the Gandhi/King Award for Nonviolence.  In April 2002 Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Dr. Goodall a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Messengers help mobilize the public to become involved in work that makes the world a better place.  They serve as advocates in a variety of areas: poverty eradication, human rights, peace and conflict resolution, HIV/AIDS, disarmament, community development and conservation.  In 2004, in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles invested Dr. Goodall as a Dame of the British Empire, the female equivalent of knighthood.  In 2006, Dr. Goodall received France’s highest recognition, the French Legion of Honor, presented by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin in Paris.

Dr. Goodall has received honorary doctorates from numerous universities, including: Utrecht University, Holland; Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich; Stirling University, Scotland; Providence University, Taiwan; University of Guelph and Ryerson University in Canada; Buffalo University, Tufts University and other U.S. universities.

Dr. Goodall's list of publications is extensive, including two overviews of her work at Gombe—In the Shadow of Man and Through a Window—as well as two autobiographies in letters, a best-selling autobiography, Reason for Hope, and Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating. Her many children's books include Grub: the Bush Baby, Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours and My Life with the Chimpanzees. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior is recognized as the definitive work on chimpanzees and is the culmination of Dr. Goodall's scientific career.

Dr. Goodall has been the subject of numerous television documentaries and is featured in the large-screen format film Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees (2002).  Discovery Channel Animal Planet specials featuring Dr. Goodall include: "Jane Goodall’s Return to Gombe," "Jane Goodall’s State of the Great Ape," "When Animals Talk," "Jane’s Goodall’s Heroes," and "Almost Human."


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