Dr Jane Goodall, World Chimpanzee Expert

Jane Goodall (image from Wikipedia.org)

Jane Goodall (image from Wikipedia.org)

"What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

Dame (and Doctor) Jane Goodall is a primatologist, anthropologist, ethologist (the study of non-human behaviour), and a UN Messenger for Peace.

Jane grew up in London and was given a toy chimpanzee as a child, which she still has today. She was fascinated with animals and in 1937, while visiting a friend in Kenya, she met Louis Leakey, a renowned archeologist and palaeontologist. He was looking for someone to research chimpanzees, which have genetic code that is about 98% similar to humans, and he thought her fresh eyes (she had no scientific background), astuteness, and patience would be a good fit.

First, he sent her to London to learn from British primate experts. In 1958 and in her early 20s, she arrived at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania (accompanied by her mother for safety reasons), with a notebook and a pair of binoculars, to observe chimpanzees. She planned to spend a few years there, but her assignment spanned many decades: tracking the chimpanzees in the reserve and observing them from a distance until they accepted her, allowing her rare and intimate access. 

Her discoveries from observing their day-to-day behaviour rocked the scientific world, and her methods were occasionally controversial and ground-breaking. For example, instead of numbering chimps for identification, she took the unusual step of naming them (David Greybeard and Fifi were just two examples). She recorded that each chimpanzee had its own personality, and noted that they hugged, kissed, patted on the back and tickled each other.

Her research also refuted long-standing beliefs that chimps couldn't fashion their own tools, and that they were vegetarian. She also recorded their darker, more aggressive side: they hunted in groups, systematically cornering and eating smaller primates. Even in their own groups, the females would sometimes kill the offspring of other females to assert their dominance.

In the early 1960s Jane returned to England to complete a PhD at Cambridge, a rare privilege for someone without a Bachelor's degree. Her thesis was called 'Behaviour of the Free Ranging Chimpanzee' and shared everything she had learned from her first five years at Gombe. 

In 1974 she set up the Jane Goodall Institute to support African communities and educate people about conservation. Now aged 82, Jane travels around the world advocating for endangered animals and their habitats.

She has written many books for adults and children, including Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey and Africa in my Blood.