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Dame Jane Goodall and the Chimpanzees

Dame Jane Goodall in 2015What a fabulous woman she is. Dame Jane Morris Goodall was born Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall on 3 April 1934 in London.

She is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. Goodall is best known for her 55-year study of the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program, and she has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues. She has served on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project since its founding in 1996

Her father, Mortimer Herbert Morris-Goodall, was a businessman, and her mother, Margaret Myfanwe Joseph, a novelist who wrote under the name Vanne Morris-Goodall.

As a child, little Valerie’s father gave a lifelike chimpanzee stuffed animal named Jubilee ; her fondness for the toy began her love of animals. Jubilee still sits on her dresser in London. As she writes in her book, Reason for Hope: “My mother’s friends were horrified by this toy, thinking it would frighten me and give me nightmares.” 

Dame Goodall has a sister, Judith, who shares the same birthday, though the two were born four years apart.

Her life long passion for animals, and Africa, brought her in 1957 to the farm of a friend in the Kenya highlands. From there, she obtained work as a secretary, then acting on her friend’s advice, she telephoned Louis Leakey, the notable Kenyan archaeologist and palaeontologist, with no other thought than to make an appointment to discuss animals. Leakey, believing that the study of existing great apes could provide indications of the behavior of early hominids (great apes), was looking for a chimpanzee researcher, though he kept the idea to himself. Instead, he proposed that Goodall work for him as a secretary. After obtaining his wife Mary Leakey’s approval, he sent Goodall to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where he laid out his plans.

Then in 1958, Leakey had Goodall return to London to study primate behavior with Osman Hill and primate anatomy with John Napier. On July 14, 1960, with the necessary funds having been raised by Leaky, Goodall  found herself off to Gombe Stream National Park, accompanied by her mother, whose presence was necessary to satisfy the requirements of Chief Warden David Anstey. He was concerned for their safety; Tanzania was “Tanganyika” at that time and a British protectorate.

After again raising funding, in 1962, Leaky sent Goodall (who had no degree) to Cambridge University. She attended Newnham College, where she obtained a PhD in ethology. She became only the eighth person to be allowed to study for a PhD at the school without first having obtained a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. Her thesis, completed in 1965 was titled “Behaviour of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee”, detailing with her first five years of study at the Gombe Reserve.

Goodall has been married twice. On 28 March 1964, she married a Dutch nobleman, wildlife photographer Baron Hugo van Lawick, in London, and became known during their marriage Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall. The couple had a son, Hugo Eric Louis (born 1967); they divorced in 1974. The following year, she married Derek Bryceson (a member of Tanzania’s parliament and the director of that country’s national parks); he died of cancer in October 1980. With his position in the Tanzanian government as head of the country’s national park system, Bryceson was able to protect Goodall’s research project and implement an embargo on tourism at Gombe while he was alive.

In her early randomly timed attempts at direct observation of Chimanzees, if she came closer than 500 yards they would run off. Finally she tried showing up at the same time every morning, consistently on the high ground in the proximity of a feeding area of theirs along the Kakaombe Stream valley. The chimpanzees got used to this pattern and gradually came to accept her there. Her patience and endurance brought the desired results. Within a year they were allowing her to move to within 30 feet of the feeding area. And after two years of seeing her every day Goodall hit the pay dirt she’d been working relentlessly for. The Chimanzeez were no longer  afraid of her. In fact they would actually come to her looking for bananas.

Goodall has also expressed fascination with Bigfoot.

She has received numerous awards for her work. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program, and she has worked tirelessly on conservation and animal welfare matters. She has served on the board of the “Nonhuman Rights Project” since its founding in 1996. 

When asked if she believed in God, Goodall said in September 2010: “I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.”

We and the Chimpaneez are lucky to have her!


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