Jane's Biography

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In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall traveled from England to what is now Tanzania and bravely entered the little-known world of wild
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chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her unyielding patience and characteristic optimism, she won the trust of these initially shy creatures, and she managed to open a window into their sometimes strange and often familiar-seeming lives. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day.

Jane's Early Years

As a child, she’d dreamed of living among wild animals and writing about them. Jane decided she wanted to go to Africa after reading The Story of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting. It’s about a doctor who can talk to animals and who travels to Africa. Jane also loved the books about Tarzan, though she thought Tarzan’s Jane was rather silly and that she herself would be a better partner for Tarzan. African wildlife adventures were an unlikely calling for a little girl in the 1930s and 1940s. But from the beginning, Jane’s mother, Vanne, was encouraging. “You can do whatever you set your mind to,” she said.

For information on Jane's childhood and life before she went to Africa click here.

Gombe Years

In the summer of 1960, Jane arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanganyika (later to become Tanzania), East Africa. The British government (which controlled Tanganyika) had insisted that Jane have a companion. It was unheard of for a woman to venture into the African forests alone. So Jane’s mother, Vanne, shared the adventure for a couple of months.

National Geographic produced magazine articles and TV specials about Jane, and many people came to know about her work. But to be taken seriously by scientists, Jane would need a doctorate. In 1962 Jane entered Cambridge University as a Ph.D. candidate, one of very few people to be admitted without a college degree. Some scholars and scientists at the university gave Jane a cold reception. They criticized Jane for giving the chimpanzees names; it would have been more scientific to give them numbers, they said. Jane had to defend an idea that might seem obvious to you – that chimpanzees have emotions, minds and personalities. She earned her Ph.D. in ethology (the study of animal behavior) in 1966.

For information of what life was like at Gombe for Jane click here.

Jane Today

Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this cannot be accomplished without a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of local people who are critical to chimpanzee survival.

For information of what Jane is doing today click here.

Profound Contribution

Jane’s work taught so many people about chimpanzees. It was as if she opened a window onto their world. Because of her books, particularly In the Shadow of Man and Through a Window, people all over the world knew the chimpanzees of Gombe. When one of the chimpanzees, old Flo, died in 1972, the London Times even printed an obituary.

In the mid 1980s, Jane finished a lengthy scientific book about chimpanzees titled Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. At a conference in Chicago where many scientists gathered to discuss the book and chimpanzees in general, Jane saw how rapidly forest was disappearing across Africa. In all the countries where chimpanzees lived, people were destroying the forest for different reasons -- in many cases people were just trying to survive. Jane realized right then and there that she would have to leave her beloved Gombe forest and work to save the chimpanzees. Today she travels more than 300 days per year talking to audiences about their power to help other people, animals and the environment. Her Institute, which she founded in 1977, has programs designed to benefit people who are living in poverty in Africa, and to spread the word about the importance of conserving the forests and animal populations.

To see how Jane's work has impacted the world click here

Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots

In 1991, the Institute founded the Roots & Shoots global youth program, which helps young people to learn about problems in their communities and the world and then take action toward solving those problems. Young people give Jane great hope for the future. She loves to talk with children in Roots & Shoots and other youths about the work they’re doing to change the world.

In her book, My Life With Chimpanzees, Jane writes a special message to children: "The most important thing I can say to you -- yes, you who are now reading this -- is that you, as an individual, have a role to play and can make a difference. You get to choose: do you want to use your life to try to make the world a better place for humans and animals and the environment? Or not?" It's all up to you. Says Jane: “Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. They are changing it already.”