A primatologist, anthropologist, conservationist, and activist, few people have had as profound an impact on scientific study and knowledge as Jane Goodall.

To anyone who knew Jane as a child, her future career path could not have come as much of a surprise. From a very early age, she showed a tremendous affinity for the study of animals. When she was four years old, she disappeared, frightening her parents so much that they decided to file a police report. She was found, hours later, watching a group of chickens in an effort to better understand how they laid eggs.

We should have respect for animals because it makes better human beings of us all.

Her fascination with Africa began a few years later with a reading of Dr. Doolittle, and Jane soon began to fall in love with the idea of moving to Africa and living amongst the animals. It was her dream, and at 20 years of age, it became a possible reality. A childhood friend moved to Nairobi and offered Jane a place to stay. Jane spent the next two years raising money for her voyage, and finally, at the age of 22, she began the month-long journey to the continent that would change her life.

Two months after moving to Africa, Jane connected with a paleontologist named Louis Leakey who was serving as a curator at the natural history museum. He soon hired Jane to be his secretary, but he had other long-term plans for her. Leakey was looking for someone who had the right temperament and skill set to study chimpanzees in the wild — to live with chimpanzees in the wild— and he thought Jane might just be that someone. In July 1960, on Leakey’s recommendation, she set off for what is now Tanzania.

The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Once there, she set up in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve, an area that, prior to Jane’s arrival, had previously been completely uninhabited by humans. Jane stayed in the Gombe Reserve for a decade, studying and living with the chimps. Two years in, the chimpanzees accepted her as part of their group, allowing her to feed them and even touch their young. She had unprecedented access to these wild chimpanzees, and that access allowed her to make groundbreaking discoveries that not only forced us to rethink the things we thought we knew about chimpanzees, but also the things we thought we knew about humankind. When Jane first arrived at Gombe, it was believed that human beings were the only animals who used tools. However, thanks to her discovery that chimpanzees use twigs as a tool to help them catch termites, we now know that’s not true. Jane also discovered that when a chimpanzee is grieving, another chimpanzee may offer an embrace in an attempt to provide comfort. Her discoveries were so profound, and so important, that she was admitted to the PhD program at Cambridge University without even so much as an undergraduate degree. She is one of only eight people in history to have been awarded that opportunity.

Jane continued studying the chimps during the 1970s, but during this time she also began shifting her focus more toward activism. She wrote books for the public alongside her academic articles.  She gave lectures and traveled and did everything she could to encourage others to protect the continent she loved so much. In 1977, she opened the Jane Goodall Institute, which, to do this day, partners with the communities surrounding Gombe, alongside conservationists and activists across the world, to preserve the chimpanzees’ habitat, both in Gombe and in other parts of Africa.

There are so many ways in which we are destroying this planet. And once we understand, once we care, we have to do something.

In the 1980s, Jane began working almost exclusively in conservation and activism, and she continues down that path today. At the age of 82, she is still actively travelling the globe, fighting for the environment and encouraging others, particularly students, to join her in the fight. To date, she has recruited almost 150,000 children and young adults from more than 130 countries to join her efforts through the Goodall Instutite’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program. She is a United Nations Messenger of Peace, a dame of the British Empire, a sought-after speaker, and an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of aspiring activists, conservationists, and scientists around the world.

©The Heroine Collective 2015 – Present, All Rights Reserved. References include: Live Science, NY Times, JaneGoodall.org, One Green Planet.


Amber Karlins

Written by Amber Karlins

Amber works as a professor in Florida, teaching writing, literature, and theatre. Her first book, a work of creative non-fiction, was published in 2011. She also enjoys academic writing and has published papers in such places as the African American National Biography and the Journal for the Society of Armenian Studies.

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