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.
It was here in Kenya that Jane met the famous anthropologist and paleontologist, 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 ground breaking 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.
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.
She married twice and had a son Hugu Eric Louis ‘grub’ with her first husband Baron Hugo van Lawick. Her second husband was Derek Bryceson, who died of cancer in 1980.