Jane Goodall – Primatologist and Conservationist
Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. Her research of primates has led the way to giving us valuable insight into our closest relatives in the animal kingdom
At the age of 78, famed British primatology researcher Jane Goodall (who is frequently rated as among the top living scientists today) still maintains a hectic schedule. She is said to be on the road more than 300 days per year. At any given time, she could be on any continent. On any given day, she could be speaking to a group of students, meeting with government officials to discuss animal conservation issues, sitting before television cameras being interviewed, or meeting with donors to raise money for projects at the world-renowned non-profit Jane Goodall Institute based in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Born in London, England in 1934, Jane cultivated a love for animals at an early age. Her father (a London businessman) and her mother (a novelist) gave her a lifelike chimpanzee toy named Jubilee as a child. This began her early love of animals. Today, the toy still sits on her dresser in London. As she states in her book, Reason For Hope: "My mother's friends were horrified by this toy, thinking it would frighten me and give me nightmares." Jane first traveled to Africa in 1957, accepting an invitation to visit her friend's family farm in the Kenyan highlands. This led to her opportunity there to meet the famous archaeologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey who became impressed with Jane's enthusiasm to work with animals. Leakey hired her as his secretary in Kenya and began to mentor her in the study of chimpanzees – animals which he believed (along with the great apes) could shed light on the behavior of early hominids.
Jane's research took her to the Gombe Stream Game Reserve in Tanzania where Leakey gave her a daunting assignment: find and get close to wild chimpanzees and document their behavior to shed light on the evolutionary past of humans. She rose to the occasion, very quickly making the first observations of these wild animals making and using tools. Jane also observed chimps (who scientists had long thought to be primarily vegitarian) hunting and eating bushpigs and other animals on a fairly regular basis.
Why She's Important: Through her 45-year long study of chimpanzees at Gombe Stream Game Reserve, Jane Goodall, became known as the world's foremost authority on these primates, with her work giving us valuable insight into our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. She opened the world's eyes to the complexity and richness of chimpanzee communities, writing of these animals' close family bonds, dominance struggles among "alpha" males, and chimpanzees'human-like communications such as pats on the back, hugs, and much more.
In addition, today the Gombe chimps are perhaps the world's best-known, and Jane's Gombe Stream Research Center (run by the Jane Goodall Institute) represents the world's longest continuous wildlife study, and is a hub of scientific inquiry for researchers from all over the globe.
Other Achievements: While Jane's research in the realm of primatology is legendary, so is her work as a conservationist – efforts which she began in earnest in the 1980s when deforestation and its effects on chimpanzees in Africa became rampant. Because of these conditions, chimps were in danger of being hunted and harmed by poachers and sold on the black market. Her sanctuary program for these animals is world-renowned.
Equally important, Jane is known for establishing the Jane Goodall Institute in 1979 – a non-profit organization to improve the global understanding, treatment and conservation of great apes and their habitats through research, public education and advocacy. The institute is also focused on creating a worldwide network of young people who will assume responsible roles in caring deeply for their human community, for all animals and for the environment.
Education: During her primatology research in Tanzania, Jane enrolled at Cambridge University in England, receiving her Ph.D. there in Ethology in 1965, becoming only the eighth person in the university's long history who was allowed to pursue a Ph.D. without first earning a Bachelor's degree.
In Her Own Words: "Every individual matters and has a role to play in this life on Earth."