Jane Goodall is a noted humanitarian, environmentalist, and has spent many years observing the behaviour of Chimpanzees in their native habitat.
“Chimpanzees have given me so much. The long hours spent with them in the forest have enriched my life beyond measure. What I have learned from them has shaped my understanding of human behaviour, of our place in nature.”
– Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall was born on, 3rd April 1934 in London, England. Her childhood ambition was to spend time with animals in the wild. In particular, she was drawn to the African continent and the dream of seeing wild animals in their native habitat. It was an unusual ambition for a girl at the time, but it was an ambition supported by her parents, especially her mother. After the war, Jane left school and found work as a secretary at Oxford University. In 1956, Jane jumped at the opportunity to travel to a friend’s farm in Kenya.
“Just remember — if you are really and truly determined to work with animals, somehow, either now or later, you will find a way to do it. But you have to want it desperately, work hard, take advantage of an opportunity — and never give up.”
My Life with the Chimpanzees (1996), p. 113
It was here in Kenya that Jane met the famous anthropologist and palaeontologist, Dr Louis S.B. Leakey. Leakey was impressed with Jane’s enthusiasm and knowledge of Africa and wildlife. As a result, he decided to take Jane to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania on a fossil-hunting expedition.
In 1960, Leakey and Jane began an important study of wild chimpanzees by Lake Tanganyika in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve.
With great patience and perseverance, the chimpanzee’s slowly revealed some fascinating habits to the group. These included meat eating – (Chimpanzees had assumed to be vegetarian). Also, Jane saw Chimpanzees making a ‘tool’ out of tree bark to use when extracting termites. This was an important discovery because, at the time, it was assumed only humans made tools. As Jane’s companion, Louis Leakey said at the time:
“Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”
The study of chimpanzees in their native habit was a groundbreaking event, leading to many new observations. It let to Jane’s first article published in National Geographic 1963 “My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees.” Some aspects of the study were criticised, for example, Jane’s decision to give the Chimpanzees names rather than numbers. Also, some feared her decision to feed the animals may have distorted their behaviour and made them more aggressive. But, other studies had similar effects. After her study, she was invited to participate in a PhD program at Cambridge University – an unusual occurrence for someone without a degree. She earned a doctorate in ethology from Darwin College, the University of Cambridge, in 1964.
In 1977, Jane set up the Jane Goodall Institute which promotes initiatives to look after Chimpanzees and their environment. The institute has many local networks and programs such as Roots and Shoots which have over 10,000 groups in 100 countries.
“The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. “
– Jane Goodall
In the past few decades, Jane has been increasingly concerned about the damage to the environment, which is especially a problem in Congo and West Africa. Since then she has devoted her time to campaigning and acting as an advocate for environmental charities and concerns. She has an exhaustive travelling schedule and speaks on average 300 times a day, encouraging people to do what they can to create a better world.
For her humanitarian work and environmental charities, she has received numerous awards including being made a Dame of the British Empire, on February 20th, 2004; and in 2002, she was made a United Nations Messenger of Peace by UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan.
In recent years, she has expressed concerns about the changing climate. She was very critical of Donald Trump for pulling America out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. From her time in Africa and Asia in the 1960s, she saw first hand how overconsumption of resources can cause direct environmental problems, such as pollution. She currently sees the biggest challenges to solving global warming as the following:
Goodall is vegetarian and believes adopting a vegetarian diet can make a contribution to reducing harmful methane and carbon emissions. Her vegetarianism also stems from her close connection and affinity to the animal kingdom.
Despite the grave challenges facing the world, Goodall remains optimistic because of the resilience of nature and the potential wisdom of humans.
“It’s crazy to think that we can have unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources and a still-growing human population. Something’s got to give,”
– Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall on religion and spirituality
Goodall does not follow a particular religion but has held a long-standing faith in a higher spiritual power, which she feels is strongest when she is out in the wild. Asked about whether she is religious, she replied that whilst a committed scientist, she also believes in the mystical, spiritual dimension of life.
“Thinking back over my life, it seems to me that there are different ways of looking out and trying to understand the world around us. There’s a very clear scientific window. And it does enable us to understand an awful lot about what’s out there. There’s another window; it’s the window through which the wise men, the holy men, the masters of the different and great religions look as they try to understand the meaning in the world. My own preference is the window of the mystic.” (2016, 2)
She married twice and had a son Hugo Eric Louis ‘grub’ with her first husband Baron Hugo van Lawick. Her second husband was Derek Bryceson, who died of cancer in 1980.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Jane Goodall”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net, 28th Dec 2010. Last updated 3 November 2019.
Humanitarians – Famous people who have offered charitable service to others, including Mother Teresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale and Princess Diana.
People who made a difference. Men and women who made a positive contribution to the world – in the fields of politics, literature, music, activism and spirituality.
Women who changed the world – Famous women who changed the world. Features female Prime Ministers, scientists, cultural figures, authors and royalty. Includes; Cleopatra, Princess Diana, Marie Curie, Queen Victoria, and Joan of Arc.
Famous Environmentalists – A list of famous environmentalists including conservationists, writers, political activists and those who have taken a lead in promoting a more caring approach to the environment.
Vegetarians – Famous people who have adopted a vegetarian diet. Including Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks.