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Impact Magazine

Celebrating Women in Science: Jane Goodall

An illustrated portrait of Jane Goodall holding a monkey with a green background.
Photo by Emily Tribe

A notebook in one hand and binoculars in the other, twenty-six-year-old Jane Goodall left England and arrived in modern-day Tanzania to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Her arrival in the Gombe Stream National Park was intimidating for her as she set out to study the huge, furry chimps by living in harmony with them. Even now at eighty-seven years old, Goodall still studies chimpanzees and advocates for wildlife conservation around the world.

Since childhood, Goodall always wanted to study animals in Africa. When a close friend invited her on a trip to Kenya, Goodall worked feverishly as a waitress to pay for her dream journey. When she arrived in Kenya in 1957, she met anthropologist and archaeologist Louis S. B. Leakey. He hired Goodall as a secretary at first but later invited her to study chimpanzees in Tanzania. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for Goodall. She accepted Leakey’s invitation in 1960 and embarked to the great forests of Gombe.

To begin her studies, Goodall observed chimpanzees for days on end from a hilltop she dubbed “The Peak.” Over time, she earned the trust of one of the chimpanzees. She took an unconventional step in the field of science by naming her new animal friend rather than assigning him a number. Thus, David Greybeard became Goodall’s first chimp friend. The other chimpanzees she interacted with soon had names as well, including Fifi, Goliath, and Frodo.

Living as one of the chimps, Goodall observed humanlike behaviors and personalities that went against the scientific communities’ expectations. She saw that chimps can be bold, mischievous, and friendly. She saw the chimpanzees hug and kiss each other, forming family and community bonds that could last through their entire lives.

Goodall made yet another groundbreaking discovery when she observed the chimps using tools to hunt for termites. She describes David Greybeard and Goliath sticking blades of grass into termite holes and pulling out the makeshift forks to eat the termites. The chimps soon became more innovative, snapping twigs off trees and stripping them of their leaves for more effective utensils. This innovation shows the humanlike behavior of the chimpanzees and, combined with the chimps’ common aggression in hunting colobus monkeys, disproves the previously believed theory that chimpanzees are vegetarians.

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Fun Fact
Jane's father gave her a lifelike toy chimpanzee named Jubilee when she was one year old, and she still has it to this day.
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Dr. Jane, as she is affectionately called by her peers, has researched chimpanzees for over sixty years. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 to carry on her conservation efforts and protect wild chimpanzees. Her youth program, Roots & Shoots, was established in 1991, encouraging kids and teenagers in one hundred countries to make a difference in their communities. Roots & Shoots works with individuals, schools, and youth organizations to serve others and take care of the planet. Dr. Jane currently travels around the world to speak, promoting conservation efforts and environmental activism. Goodall’s non-traditional methods for studying chimpanzees revolutionized the way humans interact and study with animals, and her programs have impacted conservation efforts and community work around the world.

Notable Contributions

  • Revolutionized the way animals are perceived and studied by naming chimpanzees rather than numbering them.
  • Founded the Jane Goodall Institute, a conservation organization that carries on Dr. Jane’s work to protect chimpanzees.
  • Created the Roots and Shoots program, offering a variety of community projects for youth.
  • Speaks all around the world promoting environmental activism.