Jane Goodall

Jane's Story

Jane Goodall was born in England in 1934 and grew up with an insatiable curiousity for nature. In 1957, having worked as a waitress to pay for her ticket, Jane took a ship to Africa, where she worked for paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey at Olduvai Gorge (in present-day Tanzania), where he was conducting his research. Before long Dr. Leakey asked Jane to go into the wild to study chimpanzees as part of his work on the origins of humankind. Although she wasn't a qualified scientist, he thought Jane's enthusiasm, perseverance, and passion made her the perfect researcher. He was right.

In 1960, she began her groundbreaking research at Gombe Stream, observing the behaviour of chimpanzees in their natural habitat. It was there that she discovered that chimpanzees fashion and use tools. This is an astonishing discovery because, until that moment, humans had been defined by that particular skill, as “Man the Toolmaker”. On hearing her amazing discovery, Dr. Leakey sent her a now-famous telegramme, saying: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as human.” History had been made.

Jane took an unconventional approach to her research, viewing each primate as individuals with distinct personalities, minds, and emotions. She felt it was the differences between individuals that made them fascinating. This approach didn't go down well in the scientific world at that time. When she first presented her discoveries to a scientific audience, they dismissed and ridiculed her for giving the chimpanzees names and talking about their individual characteristics. But she persevered, graduating from Cambridge University with a Ph.D. in ethology, the study of animal behaviour.

Though she contributed significantly to the world of science as an academic, she gradually became more involved in conservation and activism, having seen the many and growing problems facing not just her beloved chimpanzees but other wild animals and the environment at large. In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Conservation, and Education (JGI).

Jane Today

Dr. Jane Goodall now travels more than 300 days a year and speaks to audiences around the world about threats to chimps and their habitat, as well as other environmental crises. On any given day, she could be on any continent, speaking to a group of students, meeting with government officials to discuss conservation issues, sitting before television cameras being interviewed, or meeting with donors to raise money for JGI.

In particular, Dr. Jane has a special connection to young people and makes it a point to prioritise reaching out to them. She hears firsthand voices of young people across the world speaking of their hopes, and their determination to make a better world, and she carries their message to audiences all over the world.

This is Jane’s life today – sometimes exhausting, but always driven by purpose. Despite the hectic schedule, she is constantly pushing to save chimpanzees and empower people to do what they can for a better world.

Jane's Reasons for Hope

"It is easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as we look around the world. We are losing species at a terrible rate, the balance of nature is disturbed, and we are destroying our beautiful planet. We have fear about water supplies, where future energy will come from – and most recently the developed world has been mired in an economic crisis. But in spite of all this, I do have hope. And my hope is based on four factors.

1. The Human Brain

Firstly, we have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Surely we can use our problem-solving abilities, our brains, to find ways to live in harmony with nature. Many companies have begun "greening" their operations, and millions of people worldwide are beginning to realize that each of us has a responsibility to the environment and our descendants. Everywhere I go, I see people making wiser choices and more responsible ones.

2. The Indomitable Human Spirit

My second reason for hope lies in the indomitable nature of the human spirit. There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow. The recent presidential election in the U.S. is one example. As I travel around the world I meet so many incredible and amazing human beings. They inspire me. They inspire those around them.

3. The Resilience of Nature

My third reason for hope is the incredible resilience of nature. I have visited Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb that ended World War II. Scientists had predicted that nothing could grow there for at least 30 years. But, amazingly, greenery grew very quickly. One sapling actually managed to survive the bombing, and today it is a large tree, with great cracks and fissures, all black inside; but that tree still produces leaves. I carry one of those leaves with me as a powerful symbol of hope. I have seen such renewals time and again, including animal species brought back from the brink of extinction.

4. The Determination of Young People

My final reason for hope lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of young people around the world. As they find out about the environmental and social problems that are now part of their heritage, they want to right the wrongs. Of course, they do -- they have a vested interest in this, for it will be their world tomorrow. They will be moving into leadership positions, into the workforce, becoming parents themselves. Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. We should never underestimate the power of determined young people.

I meet many young people with shining eyes who want to tell Dr. Jane what they've been doing, how they are making a difference in their communities. Whether it's something simple like recycling or collecting trash, something that requires a lot of effort, like restoring a wetland or a prairie, or whether it's raising money for the local dog shelter, they are a continual source of inspiration. My greatest reason for hope is the spirit and determination of young people, once they know what the problems are and have the tools to take action.

So let’s move forward in this new millennium with hope, for without it, all we can do is eat and drink the last of our resources as we watch our planet die slowly. Let’s have faith in ourselves, in our intellect, in our staunch spirit, and in our young people. And let’s do the work that needs to be done, with love and compassion."

--Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE (2000)