A Cambridge graduate, world-renowned primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist, Dame Jane Goodall will be 84 years old on April 3rd. She has written more than 25 books, and published her research on Chimpanzees in well-respected scientific journals. What began as a love for animals when her father gave her a stuffed chimp named Jubilee, has become her passion and her life’s work.
She arrived in Kenya in the late 1950’s and managed to get an appointment with famed archaeologist and paleontologist, Louis Leakey. She started as his secretary (she had no formal degree), but by 1960, she was sent off to the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to study and document the behavior of wild chimpanzees. Her mother went with her on this first trip as it was the only way the game warden deemed the trip safe and would agree to have Jane there. This early research became her thesis study for her PhD in ethology. Jane Goodall is one of a handful of people allowed to obtain a PhD from Cambridge without an undergraduate degree! Her observations and research have been criticized by some who deem her language and her approach too anthropomorphic. She has persisted, however, in defending her position that our similarities to chimpanzees far outweigh our differences. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees and we are descended from a single ancestor species which lived six million years ago. Thanks in great part to Jane Goodall, we now have a better understanding of just how alike our social interactions, family dynamics, facial expressions, and communication are to chimpanzees. We rejoice in the birth of family members and mourn their deaths. We feel anger, pain, and suffering. We both plan, use tools, and have a capacity for deception. Due to poaching, habitat loss, and disease, the wild chimpanzee population is decreasing and they attained endangered status in 1990. Jane Goodall continues to write and speak out about the welfare of chimpanzees and the importance of maintaining wild habitats for threatened and endangered species around the world. So, let’s celebrate her birthday, not with candles and cake, but with education and action.
“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.” – Jane Goodall
I highly recommend reading “In the Shadow of Man.” This book is first and foremost about her early research on the Chimpanzees of Gombe Stream. However, it is so much more than that! It is a beautifully written account of her life alongside these amazing animals, gaining their trust, and understanding their complex relationships. It is a window into another world where entire days were spent observing and noting the daily lives of non-human primates. This book has beautiful photographs as well, taken by Hugo Van Lawick, a dutch photographer who later became Jane Goodall’s first husband and the father of her only child.
“Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe,” was published in 2010 and brings readers up to date on the lives of the non-human residents of the Gombe Stream National Park. This is another scientific masterpiece and a well-written historical perspective of her life’s work.
One of my favorite coffee table books is “Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe.” Full of beautiful, full-color photos of the chimpanzees and of Goodall and her family in Tanzania.
And to inspire and ignite curiosity and wonder in your children, pick up a copy of “Me…Jane,” by Patrick McDonnell. While there are many picture book accounts of Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees, I don’t think any come as close to capturing her story as this one does. McDonnell is the author and illustrator of “The Mutts” cartoons and this book showcases his sweet, endearing style. Also included in the story are childhood drawings created by Jane Goodall herself!
Finally, kids of all ages will enjoy Jeanette Winter’s “The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps.” Winter is a picture book biographer who truly captures Goodall’s story from her childhood growing up in London, through her fieldwork in Tanzania.
To learn more about Jane Goodall and her continued work on behalf of endangered species, visit her website at janegoodall.org.