Jane Goodall is a world-renowned primatologist who was born in London on April 3, 1934 to Mortimer and Vanne Goodall. Her family decided to move to England when Hitler began invading areas of Europe. She spent most of her childhood on the south coast of England in Bournemouth. She lived with her mother, her maternal grandmother, and sister Judy at the Birches. After high school, at age 19, she attended a secretary training school in London.
In 1956, a schoolmate invited Goodall to visit in Kenya. Goodall had dreamed of Africa since early childhood, possibly as early as 1 year old, when her father gave her “Jubilee,” a stuffed chimpanzee. After a few weeks, Goodall went to Nairobi to work as a secretary and arranged to meet Louis Leakey, who hired her as his personal secretary. Leakey soon invited Goodall to join him and his family for archaeological research at Olduvai Gorge. Leakey then gave her the opportunity to study the chimpanzees of Gombe, despite her lack of university education. He recognized Goodall’s potential, and it was her scientific naïveté that Leakey believed would give her an observational advantage leading to wonderful new discoveries.
Research with the Gombe chimpanzees began in July of 1960 with funding from Leighton Wilke of Illinois and later by the National Geographic Society and others. Goodall arrived in Gombe with her mother, Vanne, two scouts, and their cook, Dominic. She had enlisted her mother’s companionship because the British government did not like the idea of a young English woman alone in the jungles of Africa. During the beginning hardships of setting up the camp and working on getting the chimpanzees to accept her presence, Vanne was a comforting source of support for Jane. She stayed at Gombe with Jane for the first 5 months.
Leakey also did not like Goodall being alone at Gombe. He sent Hugo van Lawick, a filmmaker and photographer for National Geographic, to work with Goodall. They got along well and married in 1964. Goodall and van Lawick also had a child in 1967, Hugo Eric Louis. He is better known as “Grub.” Grub stayed in Gombe with Jane when the couple divorced in 1974.
Goodall received her PhD from Cambridge University in Ethology, in 1965. She is one of only eight people to have earned this degree without first earning a bachelor’s degree. Her thesis advisor thought her research was unprofessional, especially because she named her subjects. Goodall believed it was important to see the chimpanzees in an anthropomorphic light if she was to study their emotional lives.
In 1975, Goodall and the Gombe camp endured one of the most terrible hardships possible when four students working at Gombe were kidnapped. A ransom was eventually paid for their safe return. However, scandal and rumors regarding the situation followed Goodall for many years. For her own safety, it was 2 years before she was able to return to Gombe.
Also in 1975, Goodall remarried to Derek Bryceson, a politician, the only voluntarily elected White official at the time and former head of the national parks in Tanzania. Sadly, Bryceson died of cancer in 1980, after only 5 years of marriage.
Goodall has been the Scientific Director of Gombe Stream Research Center (GSRC) since 1967. Goodall’s research at GSRC directly led to observation of many previously unknown behaviors in wild chimpanzees, including tool use. Among the most startling observations were of intracommunity infanticide and cannibalism in 1971, as well as intercommunity fatal violence as demonstrated by the “Four Years War” (1974-1977). During this period, Goodall observed one of the Gombe chimpanzees troops, the Kasakela group, systematically hunt down and terrorize a smaller splinter troop, the Kahama group, which had recently split from the others. Eventually, all of the members of the Kahama group were killed.
Other important observations made by Goodall include the discovery of elaborate courtship patterns, in which males force females to have exclusive relationships during the female’s estrous cycle, the period when she is sexually receptive and fertile. These consort ships occur in remote spots and last for days or even months. Also, in 1987 Goodall and her field staff observed an adolescent chimpanzee named Spindle adopt a 4-year-old orphaned chimpanzee named Mel. This was startling, because the infant was not a close relative of Spindle’s and would have certainly died without the adoption.
In 1977, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation (JGI), a global nonprofit organization now located in Washington, DC. Along with raising funds to further research at GSRC and other projects, JGI “advances the power of individuals to take informed and compassionate action to improve the environment of all living things.” JGI also began Shoots and Roots, an international program for children that teaches conservation of all creatures.
Goodall has received a multitude of honors, which include the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize in 1984 and the United Nations “Messenger of Peace” presentation in 2002. In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II named Goodall a Dame of the British Empire, and she received the Prince of Austria’s Award for Technical and Scientific Research. As well as receiving honorary doctorates from several universities, Goodall has a list of publications ranging from her scientific research at Gombe to her personal biography.
Today, Goodall still calls Bournemouth home. She continues to travel the world lecturing and sending out a message of hope for the future of conservation of habitat and protection of the African great apes. Goodall is especially fond of encouraging young people to make a difference in the world. She created the Chimpanzee Guardian Project, which allows the public to contribute financially to the care of orphaned chimpanzees living in sanctuaries in Africa. Chimpanzee research and conservation efforts at Gombe continue and are largely carried out by local villagers who have been scientifically trained. The population of wild chimpanzees has declined drastically during the four decades of Goodall’s research. One of her resounding understandings is that it is the local people who must understand and care about conservation in order for efforts to be affective, be it in Gombe or elsewhere in the world.
- Goodall, J. (1986). The chimpanzees of Gombe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Goodall, J. (1999). Reason for hope: A spiritual journey. New York: Warner Brothers.
- Goodall, J. (2000). Africa in my blood, an autobiography in letters, the early years. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Goodall, J. (2000). In the shadow of man. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Goodall, J. (2001). Beyond innocence, an autobiography in letters, the later years. Houghton Mifflin.