As a child she played with a toy chimpanzee her father gave her. Little did she know that when she grew older her life’s work would be spent playing with real chimpanzees in the wilds of Africa.
Jane Goodall went into a remote jungle in Africa and followed the chimps. At first they did not trust her but soon they began to treat her like just another chimp. As a result, she was able to learn more about the chimps than anybody before. She learned so many things: How they worked and played; the way the mothers cared for the infants; and what’s more, she saw how alike humans they were.
Jane was born in London but was far happier in the countryside. It is said that when she was young, she slept with worms under her pillow, so much did she love the wild! She loved to be outdoors, exploring. In particular, she loved animals. She like to read about them but that was never enough. The real way to learn about animals, the real way to learn about anything is to look and observe for yourself.
A real strength of Jane’s was that she was patient. She once waited for five hours for a hen to lay its eggs. She stayed perfectly still and alert, finally getting to see the act she had hoped for.
Her father went off to war at a young age and the rest of the family moved to Bournemouth. There she made friends with a local dog and started a nature club. Jane loved to read stories about animals. She read about Dr. Doolittle who went to Africa and talked to wild animals. Jane dreamt of doing this someday. In fact, even when she was still really young, she knew what she was going to do with her life. She also loved the Tarzan films about a human who was raised by apes in the jungle. This excited Jane!
When she finished school, Jane did not have enough money to go to college. She took a job as a secretary in London but she found the work boring and it made her miserable. Eventually she got a job at a company that made documentary films. That was better. She still held tight to the dream of one day living in Africa, studying animals in the wild.
The odds were against this happening. For starters, it had never really been done before. Animals were studied in zoos not in the wild. Jane had no education either that would be needed to do this. It was also very difficult for women to be successful in these fields.
A friend of Jane’s had moved to a farm in Kenya and invited her to visit. It was expensive to go so Jane moved back in with her mother in Bournemouth and worked as a waitress to save up. Eventually, after a long boat journey, followed by a train from the port town of Mombasa, she arrived. While out in Africa Jane met a man call Louise Leakey who was passionate about protecting animals. Leakey gave Jane a job working as his secretary at a museum in the city of Nairobi. She was also given the opportunity to dig for fossils.
She loved this time in her life. She saw all sorts of animals like Rhinoceros, lions and gazelles. She heard from Leakey that there were wild chimps living in the forests in Kenya. They could be found nowhere else in the world. Only one study had been done on the chimps before. Despite not having much education Leakey believed Jane would be perfect for the job. In July 1960, she moved to the Gombe stream game reserve.
She settled on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Vast mountains rose up around the lake and between these mountains were valleys filled with great dense forest. Jane was completely isolated here. Even the closest town was an hour boat journey away.
The officials in Africa had refused to let Jane go off on her own because she was a woman. So, Jane took her Mum with her! They lived together, with a cook called Dominic, sharing a tent by a small stream. Jane’s mum was fifty at this stage so these conditions would have been even more testing for her.
While Jane was out all day exploring, her mother, Vanne, set up a clinic, providing health care to local families.
At first Jane had to have a scout accompany her as she moved into the forests. But this was unhelpful, as the sound of two people approaching was more likely to scare away the chimps. So, after a while the scout allowed Jane to head off on her own. She rose before dawn and roamed at her own pace throughout the day. A lot of her work relied on patience. Just sitting and watching and waiting. She found different vantage points, lying on the ground or perched up in a tree like a chimpanzee! Being alone meant there was a better chance of finding chimps.
Jane carried binoculars and wore camouflage clothing. She had to crawl through vines, got bitten by flies and had to contend with poisonous snakes. But Jane was not afraid, she trusted that she would be fine. There was one animal she was afraid of though: Leopards. She was able to catch their scent in the forest which meant she could mostly avoid them. One time she had to climb a tree to get away from a Leopard!
In order to find the chimps Jane had to be like a hunter or a tracker. She got familiar with the sounds the chimps make and began to follow these noises. When she was close, she would pick out a spot and sit and wait. For hours she would sit and observe. She felt that not only was she watching them but they were watching her. Some days she didn’t see the chimps at all.
It was a difficult task. Whenever she got close, they would become wary of her and she could learn nothing about their behaviour. If she was far away looking through her binoculars it was equally difficult to learn anything. Many would have given up. But Jane had a steely resolve and a determination to succeed. She would never give up on the task.
At one point, both Jane and Vanne got very sick with Malaria. For two weeks they were laid up in their tent with high fever, unable to move. As soon as she felt well again, Jane was back at her work.
After a while the Chimps got used to Jane. She was able to get close, observe and really learn about them. She also started to develop bonds with the animals. She even gave them names! Flo, Fifi, Faben, Figan, Olly. Normally, animals got numbers, not names, when they were being studied. But Jane saw them all as individuals who she valued. They all had different traits. Some were fearful, others were aggressive. One chimp, called Frodo, attacked Jane a number of times and threw her over the edge of a small cliff! Luckily, she landed in a bush, but was fairly beaten up.
Jane learned that the chimps were quite like humans. They communicated and had their own language. They groomed and cared for each other. Gradually Jane learned what the different noises they made meant, like a deep grunt or a loud scream. They expressed their feelings through gestures. When showing respect, they bowed. They hugged to show affection. When angry they banged their fists.
Her favourite Chimp was ‘David Graybeard’. His eyes caught her imagination. They were great and big and seemed to express his whole personality. He was calm and seemed to accept Jane. She also learned from him that chimps could make their own tools when she observed him eating termites from a great big long blade of grass.
When word got back of all Jane’s discoveries the National geographic sponsored her to stay there for another year. This was great news. In 1963, Jane’s first article appeared in the Magazine with pictures. It was called, “My life among wild chimpanzees”.
Due to her work with the Chimps, Jane was allowed to study for an advanced degree in Cambridge. She took students to her camp in Africa to learn. Jane got married to a man called Hugo who also studied animals and they had a son. They wrote books together and made films. After writing books and appearing on TV, Jane became famous for her work. When the chimp, ‘Flo’, died, Jane wrote of her love for her. The chimp’s youngest, ‘Flint’, stopped eating and travelling. He stayed in the spot where his mother died, gazing at the place where she once was. There was nothing Jane or her students could do for him and eventually, he died.
In 1977 the Jane Goodall institute was founded which aimed to continue to study the chimps and to protect them and other animals. It became clear that the future of wild chimps was under threat. Their forest homes were being destroyed to make space for new towns. The number of chimps had dropped from a million to three hundred thousand since Jane had been in Africa.
Jane started a programme called TACARE. The programme planted millions of trees and also helped the people living near the chimps. She had another project called Chimpanzoo which was designed to improve the lives of chimps in zoos. Jane spoke out against any practices that mistreat animals and toured the world giving talks and raising awareness.
It was Jane’s mother, Vanne, who always encouraged her to follow her dreams even when others said it was unrealistic. Having this support made all the difference to the path she chose in life. Jane wanted to do the same for all children growing up. She started a ‘Roots and shoots’ club for kids who want, like she did, to learn about animals and ways to protect them.