Today is the 87th birthday of the anthropologist Jane Goodall. Her work and activism for chimpanzees has saved them. The world is a better place because she is still in it.
NAME: Jane Goodall
AKA: Valerie Jane Goodall
DATE OF BIRTH: 3-Apr-1934
PLACE OF BIRTH: London, England
Heart of America Foundation Executive Advisory Board
Kyoto Prize 1990
Dame of the British Empire 2004
FATHER: Mortimer Herbert Morris-Goodall (executive)
MOTHER: Margaret Myfanwe Joseph (novelist)
SISTER: Judy (b. 1938)
HUSBAND: Hugo van Lawick (photographer, m. 28-Mar-1964, div. 1974, one son)
SON: Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick (b. 4-Mar-1967)
HUSBAND: Derek Bryceson (Tanzanian politician, m. 1975, d. 1980 cancer)
BEST KNOWN FOR: Dame Jane Morris Goodall DBE, formerly Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall, is an English primatologist and anthropologist.
A British anthropologist and primatologist, Jane Goodall is the world’s leading authority on chimpanzees. Goodall is famous for her work among the chimpanzees of Gombe and for her efforts to raise awareness about the plight of both wild and captive chimpanzees. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute as well as the Roots & Shoots education and activism program for young people. She is the author of numerous books including My Life with the Chimpanzees, In the Shadow of Man, and Reason for Hope . Goodall is a former protégé of famed paleontologist Louis Leakey.
Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall was born 3 April 1934 in London, England. As a young girl she became fascinated with animals and with the natural world. Jane loved to climb trees, often sitting in them to read. Favorite books included the Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, and The Story of Doctor Doolittle. She soon was obsessed with the dream of traveling to Africa to live with wild animals.
Goodall recalls that her mother was in general highly supportive of her passion for animals. On one occasion a frantic family search, involving the police, revealed young Jane crouched down hiding in the hen house, where she had been for long hours, just so she could find out how the chickens laid their eggs. Rather than scolding her, her mother knelt down and explained to her more about the process. Many years later, when Goodall set out to begin her primate studies, stuffy English officials objected to a young Englishwoman travelling into the jungles alone. Jane’s mother agreed to act as escort, subjecting herself to malaria, wild animals, and countless nights in a tent all to support her daughter’s career.
The other great influence on Goodall was anthropologist Louis Leakey. Already well established in the scientific community for his famous work at Olduvai Gorge, Leakey was impressed by Goodall’s knowledge of animals and of Africa. On top of this, she’d been to secretarial school, making her the ideal assistant. She worked as his secretary at museum in Kenya, and she also accompanied him and Mary Leakey on numerous excursions to hunt for fossils. Leakey was impressed with her careful fieldwork, and he became convinced that she was the perfect person to take on a project he’d long had in mind: a field study of chimpanzees. Naturally, Goodall was receptive.
In spite of government objections, and the grumbling of some of Leakey’s colleagues, the young Englishwoman made her way into the jungles around Lake Tanzania (then Lake Tanlganyika), with her mother in tow. The pair lived in a little tent roofed with straw, and Goodall waited for the chimpazees to become accustomed to her presence. She recalled Leakey’s advice that if she were calm and meant no harm to the animals they would sense it, would not harm her. Goodall found a profound peace in the jungle: sitting quietly evolved into a form of meditation, and she began to sense some great power, whose presence was more noticeable there than in the cities stuffed with people. Over time, the chimps became sufficiently used to her presence that she could creep closer, no longer needing binoculars to observe them. With this advance she began to make field observations that soon revolutionized the field of primatology.
Among Goodall’s more significant discoveries were the close-knit social ties and complex relationships within chimpanzee groups, maintained by networks of grooming and food sharing. She noted that the powerful loving bonds between mothers and their offspring, and laterally among siblings, created mother-centric groupings. These, along with sex, food sharing and grooming, were the glue of chimpanzee society. Goodall has also observed chimpanzees hunting pigs and other moderately sized animals and warfare between rival “tribes”. But by far, the most stunning discovery of all was her observation of “tool” use among chimpanzees. Prior to her work it had been asserted that humans were the only creatures that used tools. Goodall repeatedly observed chimps searching for “the perfect twig”, then stripping it of leaves, and patiently dipping and withdrawing it into mounds to consume termites. Since then, other animals including birds have been observed using tools.
Goodall’s Gombe Stream Research Centre is still active today, some forty years after its founding, and is still yielding new information. It has spawned additional research among other populations of wild chimpanzees, as well as among other primates and other great apes as well. Most notable here is the work on gorillas carried out by the late Dian Fossey and with orangutans by Dr. Biruté Galdikas. Nonetheless, the station at Gombe has also drawn a certain amount of criticism, a fact which Goodall readily acknowledges. For example, it is now understood that creating a permanent feeding station (for observation) has changed both patterns of food foraging among Gombe chimpanzees as well as their social relationships. Studies carried out with other wild chimpanzee populations (untainted by feeding station arrangements, etc.) have shown that the Gombe situation has actually drawn out higher levels of aggressive behavior there than is normal. Thus some observations at Gombe may have skewed our understanding of “typical” chimpanzee behavior.
Since 1986, when it became clear that poaching and habitat destruction were increasing at an alarming rate, Goodall has spent less and less time at Gombe. She has become a tireless lecturer within the United States and elsewhere, advocating not only for habitat preservation and tougher poaching laws, but also for more human treatment of chimpanzees in captivity, within both the medical and entertainment settings. The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation, which she established in 1977, has become an important part of these efforts. The Institute has established impressive programs in Africa, involving local people in community-centered conservation and development. Another offshoot of the Institute, Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, works to foster environmentalism and peace consciousness among the world’s children. Roots & Shoots is now located in more than 70 nations, including the U.S. and Canada.
Now in her 70s, Goodall still sees many years of work ahead. Both her aunt and her mother lived well into their 90s, and she sees no reason why she shouldn’t do the same. Her work thus far has been honored by scientists and heads of state alike. Included among her many awards are the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal, the Kyoto Prize, and the Gandhi/King Award for Nonviolence. She was named a United Nations “Messenger of Peace” in 2002. In 2003 Queen Elizabeth II named her a Dame of the British Empire. Goodall’s many books and documentaries have made her so recognizable within popular culture that she has appeared as herself in the animated Wild Thornberrys film and has been the butt of at least one Gary Larson Far Side cartoon.
Being such a public figure presents its own challenges. Goodall struggles with the handicap of prosopagnosia, a condition that makes it very difficult (sometimes impossible) to recognize the faces of those one has already met. Goodall suffered in silence for many years, struggling to smooth over the unintended hurt feelings it caused, until she learned that other people have the same condition and becoming familiar with its scientific name. Her younger sister, Judy, has the condition as well. Fortunately for Goodall, the condition did not prevent her from identifying the various chimpanzees she studied. The apparent reason: chimpanzees do not change their hairstyles, change outfits, or suddenly appear wearing a hat and sunglasses. Their appearance remains steady over time, and thus Goodall was able to tell one from the other with greater ease than she could distinguish fellow humans.
Goodall’s public stature made her the darling of Bigfoot believers everywhere after she announced that she saw no reason why such creatures might not exist. In 2003, a symposium at the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum in northern California hoped to stage a major coup by having Goodall appear to speak directly on this topic. Goodall unfortunately had to cancel her appearance due to conservation developments in the Congo. She instead participated in a videotaped interview which aired at the symposium.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Surviving Progress (11-Sep-2011) as Herself
Author of books:
My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees (1967)
Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters: The Early Years (2000)