Armed with a notebook and binoculars

Monday, June 14, 2010 - 3:34pm

Jane had come to East Africa from England in 1957, to pursue a dream she'd had since she was a child: to study and write about animals in Africa. In Kenya, legendary anthropologist Louis Leakey hired her as his assistant. He was eager to organize field studies of all the great apes in the wild, for they could teach much about human evolution. Never mind that Jane did not have a university degree: Leakey wanted to send someone to Tanzania who had a mind "uncluttered" by theories. He recognized Jane's combination of stamina, curiosity, patience and daring as qualification enough for the job. He finally got funding for 6 months fieldwork.

But the authorities would not allow a young woman to venture into so remote a place alone, so Jane's amazing mother, Vanne, volunteered to accompany her for the first couple of months.

On July 14, 1960, Jane, Vanne and their Tanzanian cook, Dominic, pitched their tents in an oil-palm grove near the beach. Jane, armed with notebook and binoculars, almost immediately began to look for the chimps. Today there are well-marked trails, but when Jane began the undergrowth was thorny and the ridges rugged (and steep!). But Jane was tough and she managed well.

The chimps, however, were not cooperative. They fled whenever they saw Jane.

As the days went on, she began to become frustrated. But soon she would find the perfect vantage point.

Photo: Louis Leakey wanted to send someone with a mind "uncluttered" by theories.

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