“Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.” -Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is best known for decades of studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, during which time she revolutionized the way scientists see primates and other animal behavior. Goodall went on to become a champion for animal rights and sustainability.
Today, in her 80s, she’s still active , and the Jane Goodall Institute is involved in some amazing conservation efforts for both people and animals. Read on to learn about this inspiring woman, her active legacy, and how you can get involved.
Jane Goodall: A Short Biography
Goodall, with roots in England, has a love of animals which started at an early age from reading books like “Dr. Dolittle” and “Tarzan.”
Goodall’s passion for Africa eventually sent her to a friend’s farm in Kenya where she eventually corresponded with the famous archaeologist and palaeontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Leakey needed a primate researcher, and decided someone with a fresh perspective outside of academia was needed. In 1960, when Jane was 26-years-old, she went to work in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania with Dr. Leakey.
It was there that Goodall’s dedication and passion as a researcher really stood out. Back in those days, Goodall had only a notebook and a pair of binoculars. It took years of patience to gain the trust of the shy chimpanzees, but she emerged from the experience as the world’s foremost expert on primate behavior.
Without a strict scientific background, Goodall came to her research with truly unconventional methods for the day. She named the chimps, rather than numbering them, and closely observed the unique personalities of the animals. At the time, seeing personalities in animals was beyond the scientific doctrine. Yet Goodall observed all of it and used it to gain an inside view into the chimps’ social and behavioral structures.
Goodall is famously noted as saying, “It isn’t only human beings who have personality, who are capable of rational thought [and] emotions like joy and sorrow.” Goodall picked up on hugs, kisses, tickling, and patting backs among the chimps pointing to the stark similarities primates share with humans, not just genetically, but behaviorally as well. Further, she debunked the old scientific beliefs that only humans could use tools and that chimps were vegetarians.
“During the first 10 years of the study I had believed… that the Gombe chimpanzees were, for the most part, rather nicer than human beings,” said Goodall in her book “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey.” “Then suddenly we found that chimpanzees could be brutal—that they, like us, had a darker side to their nature.” Previously undiscovered behavior like that is what marked Goodall’s career as one that had a huge influence in changing scientific fact.
In 1961, Goodall started studying for a Ph.D. in ethology from Cambridge University, and stood as the eighth person to study for a Ph.D. at the school without a bachelor’s degree. She graduated from the program in 1966.
As Chairman of The National Geographic Society Gilbert Grosvenor puts it, “Jane Goodall’s trail-blazing path for other women primatologists is arguably her greatest legacy…Indeed, women now dominate long-term primate behavioral studies worldwide.”
Yet Goodall’s work goes far beyond the field of primatology.
The living legacy of the Jane Goodall Institute
Goodall first established the institute in 1977. Since then, the institute has gone on to have one of the most comprehensive environmental activism approaches.
One major threat to chimpanzee populations is poachers looking for bushmeat, or meat that is from non-domesticated animals, which is treated as a delicacy in some cities. This can cause the spread of tropical diseases, which easily migrate from primates to humans. On top of that is the desire for chimpanzees as exotic pets, meaning many chimpanzee young are abducted after poachers kill their mothers.
The institute runs the Gombe Stream Research Center to continue studying the primates and offering a sustainable, safe habitat. The institute also helps orphaned primates through the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center. To spread knowledge about the threats to animal habitats, there are local billboard campaigns, school programs and community outreach.
Perhaps some of the most empowering work the Jane Goodall Institute does is to promote sustainable livelihoods. Programs in Africa help people live in such a way that does not damage primate habitats or require reliance on illegal bushmeat. One of the promoted efforts even involves supporting sustainable coffee production. Programs foster livelihoods that are not as dependent on exploiting natural resources, such as animal husbandry, tree nursery projects and permaculture.
The institute also helps women get access to education so that they can stay in school past puberty.
Visit The Jane Goodall Institution’s “Get Involved” page to donate.