Dame Jane Goodall is a British ethologist, best known for her revolutionizing work and long-term research on the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Although, as I’ll discuss later, her methods have been considered unorthodox, there is no doubt that she is the world’s foremost expert in chimpanzees. Her contributions to primatology, conservationism, and anthropology have brought humans and apes closer together.
1. A lifelong love for Africa: Having received a stuffed animal monkey for her very first birthday, Goodall always had a special place in her heart for the African wildlife. When she accepted an invitation to visit a friend in Kenya at age 23, she took on work as a secretary, a filmmaker’s assistant, and server, so she could afford the journey.
2. New discoveries: After meeting British archaeologist Louis Leakey during her travels in Africa, Jane was offered a job to study chimpanzees. While her subsequent work in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania is widely known and recognized for its brilliance, not everyone knows how much of our current knowledge about primate behavior is a direct result of Goodall’s research. Her findings include being the first to discover that primates are omnivores, instead of herbivores, as was the previous assumption. She also uncovered their complex tool-wielding abilities, bridging the gap between man and ape.
3. A phd without a college degree: Although Goodall dropped out of school at 18, in 1966, the University of Cambridge awarded her a Ph.D. in ethology for her remarkable work studying chimpanzees. She has since then received several other noteworthy titles, such as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and UN Ambassador for Peace.
4. Controversy: In her use of feeding stations to attract the primates, as well as her naming her research subjects, Goodall garnered a lot of criticism from fellow primatologists. They accused her of disrupting the primates’ natural feeding patterns, and even claimed she had trained her tool-wielding chimps. Over time, these critics were silenced, as more and more researchers agreed with Goodall’s revolutionary findings.
5. Still going strong: To this day Goodall’s speaking engagements, conferences, and work with the Jane Goodall Institute has her traveling a remarkable 300+ days per year. Even though she just turned 84 this April, she’s showing no signs of slowing down. If you want to read more about what the organization is working on currently, visit the website at www.janegoodall.org.