Highly regarded for her extensive and intimate knowledge of chimpanzees, Jane Goodall is one of the world's top primatologists.
Born April 3, 1934 to businessman Mortimer Herbert Goodall and his wife Margaret Myfanwe Joseph, who was a writer and published novels under the name Vanne Morris Goodall, Jane dreamed of observing animals in their natural habitats from an early age. At her home in London, she developed a fascination with birds, made detailed notes and drew sketches of them, and read about ethology and zoology. But she was also intrigued by the animals of Africa and imagined herself traveling to the continent to observe them.
When Jane was introduced to famed anthropologist Louis Leakey, her dream of studying in Africa became reality. Louis, who believed long-term study of primates could uncover essential evolutionary information, recognized in Jane a remarkable passion for animals and deep interest in their behavior. He felt that she was wired to withstand the lengthy periods of isolation required to observe Africa's animals, and despite her lack of education in the field, hired her, initially as a secretary. In 1960, he sent Jane, then 26, to what is now known as Tanzania. Armed with only a notebook and a pair of binoculars, Jane stayed in Tanzania, interacted with chimpanzees and studied them until 1986, when she embarked on a mission to fight deforestation and campaign for the protection of animals, specifically the primates she so adored.
While in Africa, Jane became the world's leading figurehead in chimpanzee biology. She studied the creatures closely and is credited with making the first recorded observations of chimpanzees creating and using tools. Jane also noted the complex social system and communication methods of the animals, and recorded their tendency to throw stones as weapons, rely on touch and physical intimacy to show comfort with one another, and cultivate long-term familial ties. She observed that adult males are removed from family life, and that contrary to the commonly held belief that chimpanzees are exclusively vegetarian, they do in fact stalk, kill and eat large insects and some small birds and animals, including baboons, monkeys and antelopes.
Ultimately, Jane's work revealed that chimpanzees aren't starkly different than humans. In a National Geographic video released to commemorate Jane's 80th birthday in 2014, she said, "We have found that after all, there isn't this sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, as we find animals doing things that we in our arrogance used to think was just human." She adds, "I know that [chimpanzees] share our emotions, pleasure, joy, sadness, fear."
Not only did Jane study in Africa, but she also found love there. In 1964, she married Dutch wildlife photographer/filmmaker Baron Hugo van Lawick, with whom she had a son named Hugo in 1967. The pair divorced in 1974, though, and in 1975, she married Derek Bryceson. He was a former Parliament member and director of Tanzanian national parks. They remained married until his death in 1980 from cancer.
Just after Jane's first marriage, she received a Ph.D. in ethology from Cambridge University. She became only the eighth person in the institution's history to pursue a Ph.D. without having attained a B.A. degree.
From her findings, Jane published several texts. Her first major book was 1971's In the Shadow of Man, which details her early chimpanzee research. Another text often referenced is 1990's Through a Window, which is cited as a sequel to In the Shadow of Man and explores more of her observations. It also chronicles her conservation efforts and her work as an animal activist.
In the book, she outlines her position on studying animals and how important she thinks it is to promote their ethical treatment. She writes, "The more we learn of the true nature of nonhuman animals, especially those with complex brains and corresponding complex social behavior, the more ethical concerns are raised regarding their use in the service of man — whether this be in entertainment, as 'pets,' for food, in research laboratories or any of the other uses to which we subject them. This concern is sharpened when the usage in question leads to intense physical or mental suffering as is so often true with regard to vivisection."
Jane also discussed her stance on animal advocacy and the role each person can play in creating a healthier, safer place for all species to coexist. In the 2014 National Geographic video, Jane says, "If you think globally, you become filled with gloom. But if you take a little piece of this whole picture — my piece, our piece, this is what I can do here, I'm making a difference... gradually the pieces get filled in and the world is a better place."
Since the '80s, Jane has traveled the globe and lectured extensively on chimpanzees. She has spoken to children about her findings, and has even met with government officials and world leaders to share her observations. She taught at Stanford University and in Tanzania, and has initiated a number of organizations to protect chimpanzees and other animals. For example, the Jane Goodall Institute strives to defend the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park (located on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika) from impending threats. She also spearheaded Roots & Shoots, which is a global and humanitarian youth program for young people; and TACARE, which encourages conservation in villages near Gombe and in other locations.
For her unrivaled work, Jane was named a Messenger of Peace in 2002 by the United Nations and in 2003, a Dame of the British Empire.
Her breakthroughs and advocacy work have long caught the attention of filmmakers. She is credited with a “thank you” in the 2012 Disney documentary Chimpanzee, which she helped promote. A percentage of the profits from the opening weekend were donated to the Jane Goodall Institute to help protect chimpanzees and their habitats. She is also included in a special feature on the DVD for 2015's Monkey Kingdom, a documentary narrated by Tina Fey.
Speaking about Monkey Kingdom with the Toronto Sun in April 2015, Jane said the film is "meant to awaken an interest in young people and their families in the natural world around them."
In January 2016, it was announced that a new documentary would be produced about Jane's research in Gombe. With rediscovered archived footage, the film will be written and directed by Brett Morgen, who told NationalGeographic.com that the documentary "promises to be a truly immersive cinematic experience." ~Matthew Pariselli