Dr. Jane Goodall: Making Childhood Dreams a Lifelong Reality
Think back on what you most loved as a child. What dreams inspired you? Did you love to swim, play school, read certain books that you couldn’t get enough of? As an adult, are you still engaged in those activities, interests, or dreams?
Dr. Jane Goodall, a world-renowned primatologist, activist, ethologist, anthropologist, conservationist, and humanitarian, followed her childhood passion for wild animals and Africa. She became a recognized leader in the effort to save and protect chimpanzees and their habitats.
As a young girl growing up in Britain in the 1930’s and ‘1940’s, Goodall was inspired by Dr. Dolittle, the classic fictional physician who could “talk to the animals,” and loved reading Tarzan of the Apes. Her favorite toy was Jubilee, a stuffed animal chimp that her father gave her that she still owns today. Her passion for animals and Africa has lasted her lifetime and at 78, Goodall has the endurance of a 20-year-old, traveling approximately 300 days a year speaking around the world.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, when people didn’t know much about wild chimps, anthropologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey gave Goodall the opportunity to begin her begin her childhood dream—studying chimps in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in what is now Tanzania. She arrived in the forest that became her home when she was twenty-six with no formal training although she later went on to earn a Ph.D.
Rather than numbering the subjects of her study, Goodall named the chimps she studied. She developed close bonds the chimps whose personalities she translated to the world, such as David Greybeard, Goliath and Flo, and is said to be the only human being ever to be welcomed into chimpanzee society. Early films and photos show captivating images of Goodall on her observation hill with binoculars and a notepad, and then on to playing with the chimps, and the world’s favorite—a baby chimp reaching out to touch Goodall’s face. In 2010, 60 Minutes went back to the African forest with Goodall where she recalls, “It was amazing to be able to have that relationship with wild animals!
Scientists and even some of her teachers at Cambridge were skeptical and critical, not believing that chimps had different personalities, or were capable of thoughts of feelings—or agreeing with her methods of research.
Goodall introduced the world to the surprising similarity of chimps to humans in revealing the true nature of chimps—both their kind side as well as their aggressive side. She made astounding discoveries such as learning that chimps, like humans, used and made tools. In 1965, National Geographic put young Goodall and her chimps on its cover and filled its pages with images of the playful, curious and affectionate animals and the young woman they had come to trust captivated the world.
In 1971, Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man became a bestseller and was translated into forty-eight languages. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, published in 1986, earned Goodall several awards as well as the respect of scientists. That same year, Goodall turned her attention to helping her animal friends who were in danger of becoming extinct and losing their homes.
She has written over twenty additional books for both adult and children and created over 20 films including works produced by National Geographic and Animal Planet. Goodall has won prestigious awards many countries. They are too numerous to list, but include being appointed the United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002 and the French Legion d’honneur (Legion of Honor).
Regardless of whether she is in the halls of Congress, in a remote village, or delivering the keynote in The Geneva Lecture Series, Goodall begins each talk with the traditional greeting you would hear in the morning at Gombe—the place she called “home” for so long. Her rendition of chimps saying “hello” is spellbinding and accurate. At a lecture in Hong Kong, Goodall said, “I introduce that voice for a reason—because we tend to forget that on this planet we’re not the only inhabitants…who matter.
Goodall’s pioneering research has given way to her new mission to help others create positive change and to give people hope. She wants schools to do more and her Roots & Shoots (see sidebar) initiative is encouraging kids to be leaders who help people, the environment, and animals.
At The Geneva Lecture Series at the Palais des Nations in Switzerland in December 2010, Goodall delivered “Nature’s wake-up call: why we must heed the warning.” She said, “When I think about how we have harmed the planet…I feel this desperation and shame…But it’s not true that there’s nothing that can be done about it.”
Goodall made her childhood dreams a reality in a time when women worked in only very limited jobs—they did not become animal scientists or travel on dangerous adventures and live with great apes. She ignored early criticism by researchers and went on to become one of the most honored and respected scientists in the world. Goodall’s sense of adventure and early fascination with wild animals has changed the way we think about both humans and animals. She is a remarkable example of her conviction that everyone at any age can make a difference.
For more information, go to www.janegoddall.org
In 1991, the Jane Goodall Institute formed “Roots & Shoots,” whose mission is “To foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs and to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.”
Kids do fun projects to learn about issues in their local communities and how to help solve these problems.
Its own roots are unique. A dozen local teens met with Goodall on her back porch in Tanzania motivated to learn more and to take action on a variety of problems such as deforestation and pollution. The first Roots & Shoots projects, by these twelve founding members involved teaching villagers more humane treatment of chickens. Now the Roots & Shoots network includes tens of thousands of members in about 100 countries.
How did Roots and Shoots get its name? Goodall says, “The reason that Roots & Shoots has its name, it’s symbolic. So I always ask people to imagine their favorite big tree—and then to think about how that tree began. It began its life as a little seed.
“So I think of an English Oak, an acorn. And when that acorn began to grow, little white roots appear and a little tiny shoot. And you can pick it up and it seems so tiny, so frail, so weak—and yet there is a magic, a life force in that seed so strong, so powerful that those little roots to reach the water can break through rocks and eventually knock them aside. And that little shoot to reach the sunlight can work its way through cracks in a brick wall and eventually knock it down.
“So we see the rocks and the walls as all the problems we humans have inflicted on poor little planet Earth—environmental and social. Roots & Shoots is about hope. Hundreds and thousands of young people around the world can break through and can make this a better world.”
For more information, go to www.rootsandshoots.org