Jane Goodall loved animals even as a child. When she was just over one year old, her father gave her a toy chimpanzee, which she named Jubilee. She carried Jubilee with her everywhere. Today, more than 73 years later, Jubilee – now completely bald from so many hugs – sits on Jane’s dresser in England!
"Quite apart from Jubilee, I have been fascinated by live animals from the time when I first learned to crawl,” says Jane. “One of my earliest recollections is of the day that I hid in a small stuffy henhouse in order to see how a hen laid an egg. I emerged after about five hours. The whole household had apparently been searching for me for hours, and mother had even rung the police to report me missing.” But when Jane’s mother saw how excited Jane was, she didn’t scold her. Instead she sat down and listened to Jane tell the wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg.
Jane also spent a lot of time with a wonderful dog, Rusty, who taught her that animals have minds, personalities and emotions. You can read more about Rusty and all of Jane’s life in her book, My Life with the Chimpanzees.
A Dream of Traveling to Africa
Jane decided she wanted to go to Africa after reading The Story of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting. It’s about a doctor who can talk to animals and who travels to Africa. Jane also loved the books about Tarzan, though she thought Tarzan’s Jane was rather silly and that she herself would be a better partner for Tarzan!
Jane’s dream to live in Africa and watch and write about animals stayed with her. Although this was an unusual goal for a girl at the time, Jane’s mother encouraged her, telling her she could make her dreams reality if she worked hard and believed in herself.
Jane’s childhood was a happy one with much time spent playing and exploring outside her family’s home. Her house in Bournemouth had a name – “The Birches.” But even though Jane’s family was content, there were troubles back then that affected all families. The world was at war. Jane’s father was in the army as an engineer. He served his country in Europe and the Far East, and, sadly, disappeared from his daughter’s life for a time.
Jane’s family had to build a bomb shelter and rush into it whenever there was an air raid. Like everyone, they had to ration food, gasoline and other goods. During these war years, Jane liked to listen to the reassuring words of Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England, on the radio. After the war ended, Jane's parents divorced. Jane continued to live with her mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncle, although she also spent time with her father who lived in London.
When Jane graduated from high school in 1952, her mother could not afford to send her to university. So Jane learned how to be a secretary and worked for a time at Oxford University typing documents. Then she got a job with filmmakers choosing music for their documentaries.
In May, 1956, Jane’s friend Clo Mange invited Jane to visit her family’s farm in Kenya. Jane was thrilled! She quit her job in London and moved back to Bournemouth so she could waitress and earn the fare she needed to get to Africa and back.
Jane left London on the Kenya Castle and arrived in port in Mombasa three weeks later. She was 23 years old. Jane had a wonderful time seeing Africa and meeting new people but the single most important event of her time in Africa was meeting Dr. Louis S. B. Leakey, famous anthropologist and paleontologist. Leakey hired Jane as his assistant and secretary at the Coryndon Museum and soon Jane and another young student were in the Olduvai Gorge digging up fossils with Dr. Leakey and his anthropologist wife Mary Leakey.
Louis had been looking for someone to go to Tanzania and study the chimpanzees there. Not much was known about wild chimpanzees at that time. Studying them would be fascinating. And it might give clues about our human evolution. Louis could see that Jane had a lot of stamina, was resourceful and patient, and of course was extremely interested in wild animals. He decided she was just the person to do his study. Jane readily agreed to take the job, and Louis set out to find funding.
Early days at Gombe
In the summer of 1960, Jane arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanganyika (later to become Tanzania), East Africa. The British government (which controlled Tanganyika) had insisted that Jane have a companion. It was unheard of for a woman to venture into the African forests alone. So Jane’s mother, Vanne, shared the adventure for a couple of months.
At first, the Gombe chimps fled whenever they saw Jane. But she persisted, watching from a distance with binoculars, and gradually the chimps allowed her closer. One day in November 1960 she saw chimps David Greybeard and Goliath strip leaves off twigs to make tools for fishing termites out of a termite mound. Up until this time, scientists thought humans were the only species to make tools, but here was evidence to the contrary!
When Louis Leakey heard of Jane's observation that the chimpanzees made tools, he said: "Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans." This discovery would be one of Jane's most important.
Also in her first year at Gombe, Jane observed chimps hunting and eating bushpigs and other small animals. This was an important discovery because scientists thought that chimpanzees were primarily vegetarians.
After these discoveries, National Geographic decided to sponsor Jane’s work, and sent a photographer and filmmaker, Hugo van Lawick, to document Jane’s life in Gombe. He and Jane fell in love and in 1964 married. They would have one son, Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick, born on March 4, 1967.
National Geographic produced magazine articles and TV specials about Jane, and many people came to know about her work. But to be taken seriously by scientists, Jane would need a doctorate. In 1962 Jane entered Cambridge University as a Ph.D. candidate, one of very few people to be admitted without a college degree. Some scholars and scientists at the university gave Jane a cold reception. They criticized Jane for giving the chimpanzees names; it would have been more scientific to give them numbers, they said. Jane had to defend an idea that might seem obvious to you – that chimpanzees have emotions, minds and personalities. She earned her Ph.D. in ethology (the study of animal behavior) in 1966.
In 1965, Jane and Hugo started the Gombe Stream Research Centre, which meant graduate students and others could come and assist with the chimpanzee observations. The Centre became a place where students could learn about wild chimpanzees and how to study them. The Centre still trains primatologists to this day. Jane visits Gombe every year and is very involved in the research, but she no longer does the actual day to day field work. That work is done by a skilled team of researchers and assistants, many of them from Tanzania.
Jane and Hugo gave their son a nickname, “Grub.” When Grub was little, Jane cut down on her work with the chimps. She went to visit the researchers and the chimps every morning, and then would spend several hours writing articles and trying to raise money for the research centre. In the afternoon, she played with Grub and gave him school lessons.
When Grub was seven years old, Jane and Hugo divorced. The demands of Hugo’s work as a wildlife photographer who traveled all around Africa and the demands of Jane’s work at Gombe had hurt their marriage. Both Jane and Hugo later remarried. Jane married the head of the Tanzanian National Park, Derek Bryceson, in 1975. They would be very happy together for five years, but, sadly, Derek became ill with cancer and died in 1980. Jane’s heart was broken, but she eventually found healing by turning to her family and friends and spending time at Gombe.
As the research went on at Gombe, it became clear that chimpanzees had a dark side just like human beings. Jane and the other researchers were surprised when the female chimpanzee Passion and her daughter Pom killed and ate several infant chimpanzees, ripping them from their mothers’ arms. They also observed a period of conflict between different chimpanzee groups. Beginning early in 1974, members of the Kasakela group attacked and killed members of the "Kahama" group until all the Kahama chimps were gone. The Gombe researchers call the event the “four-year war.”
Chimpanzees may be capable of cruelty, but they also demonstrate cooperation, affection, happiness, sometimes even seem to help each other just for the sake of helping, not to get a reward. In 1987, when little Mel was orphaned without any siblings to care for him, Jane and her field staff were surprised when the male adolescent Spindle "adopted" the three-year-old. Spindle shared his night nest and food with little Mel, allowed Mel to ride on his back and even clinging to his belly, and would come to Mel’s defense when he got in the way of the big older males behaving aggressively. There is no doubt that Spindle saved Mel’s life.
Jane’s work taught so many people about chimpanzees. It was as if she opened a window onto their world. Because of her books, particularly In the Shadow of Man and Through a Window, people all over the world knew the chimpanzees of Gombe. When one of the chimpanzees, old Flo, died in 1972, the London Times even printed an obituary.
In the mid 1980s, Jane finished a lengthy scientific book about chimpanzees titled Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. At a conference in Chicago where many scientists gathered to discuss the book and chimpanzees in general, Jane saw how rapidly forest was disappearing across Africa. In all the countries where chimpanzees lived, people were destroying the forest for different reasons -- in many cases people were just trying to survive. Jane realized right then and there that she would have to leave her beloved Gombe forest and work to save the chimpanzees. Today she travels more than 300 days per year talking to audiences about their power to help other people, animals and the environment. Her Institute, which she founded in 1977, has programs designed to benefit people who are living in poverty in Africa, and to spread the word about the importance of conserving the forests and animal populations.
Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots
In 1991, the Institute founded the Roots & Shoots global youth program, which helps young people to learn about problems in their communities and the world and then take action toward solving those problems. Young people give Jane great hope for the future. She loves to talk with children in Roots & Shoots and other youths about the work they’re doing to change the world.
In her book, My Life With Chimpanzees, Jane writes a special message to children: "The most important thing I can say to you -- yes, you who are now reading this -- is that you, as an individual, have a role to play and can make a difference. You get to choose: do you want to use your life to try to make the world a better place for humans and animals and the environment? Or not?" It's all up to you. Says Jane: “Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. They are changing it already.”