Inspiring Individuals: Jane Goodall
by Sarah Griffiths
Sarah Griffiths highlights the amazing work of primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall. She has spent decades studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, tirelessly raising awareness and educating people on the importance of protecting them and their natural habitat.
Often welcoming her audience by realistically mimicking the sound of a chimpanzee greeting the day, Dr Jane Goodall is an extraordinary individual. With your eyes closed, her rather unusual introduction may create a sense of feeling that you’re stood among the hills of Tanzania’s Gombe National Park at sunrise. No doubt this is her wish – to connect those attending her talks with the primates she so loves and if anyone is qualified to perform this impersonation, it’s Jane. Renowned for her pioneering research on chimpanzee behaviour, she is a globally respected primatologist, conservationist, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace.
Living the dream
Inspired by the story of Tarzan, and a chimpanzee stuffed toy given to her by her father as a child, Jane dreamt of studying animals in the wild from a young age. “Everybody laughed at me, because back then, girls certainly didn’t do that sort of thing,” Jane admitted during an interview with Cambridge University back in 2011. Finally, during her twenties, her big break arrived. Working as an assistant in a London film studio, she received an invitation to visit her friend’s family farm in Kenya. Seizing the opportunity, she dropped everything and returned to her home town of Bournemouth to prepare for her trip. Pouring energy into research at the Natural History Museum and saving up her waitress wages allowed Jane to pursue her passage across the sea.
In Kenya she forged an important connection with anthropologist and palaeontologist, Louis S B Leaky. Impressed by her passion and knowledge, Louis travelled with Jane to Tanzania and encouraged her to begin the study of chimpanzees in the wild – her childhood dream had finally come true! On the shores of Lake Tanganyika – what is today Gombe National Park – persistence and patience were needed to get the chimps to accept her presence among them. Slowly, she began to make some amazing discoveries. At the point where money was running out, and she was concerned that she would miss something groundbreaking, a situation caught her attention. She saw the seminal development of chimps using and making tools – the news of which brought in the National Geographic. Jane also observed that chimpanzees were not vegetarian as previously believed, and she began to witness that chimps had minds, emotions and distinct personalities. Her work gained notoriety when National Geographic travelled to Gombe to film her. The light Jane had shed on chimp behaviour raised the question of what exactly it meant to be ‘human’ and altered the way in which we viewed our ancestors – waves, not ripples were being made in the pools of scientific research.
Strength to strength
Jane’s success continued; with no prior degree, she was accepted into Cambridge University to study for a doctorate in ethology and to carry on her studies within Gombe. In a world which was back then very male-dominated, she said: “It’s never been any barrier to me, being a woman. I was not trying to compete... I was out there doing my own thing”.
The Gombe Research Centre went from strength to strength and out of this, Jane founded the Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation. Beginning in 1977, its mission has remained the same: to empower individuals to make a positive difference to all living things. Deforestation of precious chimpanzee habitats in the 1980s motivated Jane to shift her focus onto conservation. On a flight over Gombe and its surrounding communities in 1994, she witnessed some harsh realities. “The land was losing its fertility, the soil eroded... that led to our TACARE program,” said Jane. TACARE (pronounced ‘take care’), focuses on ‘improving the lives of villagers around the park in a holistic way’ and this includes helping them grow more food, providing better education for their children and better health facilities. Since launched, the programme has been replicated in over 32 African villages – all of which have dedicated conservation areas. Upon arrival, most of the inhabitants would pose the question: ‘Why didn’t you come before?’.
Empowering the next generation
Roots & Shoots sprouted from a discussion in 1991 between Jane and 12 local teenagers on her back porch in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It resulted in an education programme for young people which has now expanded globally. Members work in a variety of settings, to educate groups on how they can make a positive difference. Once able to identify problems in their community, students can then take action. Just this month, Roots & Shoots group in Austin, Texas, collected old t-shirts and spent a day transforming them into reusable shopping bags. With Jane at the helm of the organisation, its ethos mirrors her own – ‘we CAN change the world’. Roots & Shoots aims to do just that.
Today, at the age of 79, Jane travels on average 300 days per year; her agenda is to educate about the threats imposed on wildlife, the environment, and what we must do to prevent them. No doubt an exhausting schedule, but one that Jane follows with passion and purpose. If Jane’s story has one main message, it would be that when it comes to our planet and the effect we, as humans, have on it, there are no absolutions. On the Jane Goodall Institute’s website, Jane states: “Every individual counts. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference”. This message is as profound as the evidence which demonstrates that we must heed it – 100 years ago there were over 1 million chimpanzees in the wild in Africa, today there are just 200,000. In response to the possibility that chimpanzees may some day become extinct in the wild, Jane replies with calm determination... “We must not let it happen”.