Tribute to Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall, the primatologist, well-known for her immersive studies on chimpanzees, has just celebrated her 85th birthday. Here, we take a look back on the career of one of the most inspiring scientists of her generation and an environmental activist, who changed the way we look at our primate cousins and at wild life in general.

By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment.”

This quote from Jane Goodall sums up a lifelong commitment.

Major discoveries for apes and for humans

Nothing predestined this young middle-class London girl to develop such a passion for primates. Jane, who had a keen interest in wild animals and Africa since childhood, trained as a secretary and initially worked as a typist to pay for her first trip to Africa. In 1958, during a trip to Kenya, she met famous anthropologist Louis Leakey. He was impressed by her knowledge and motivation and took her on as an assistant. In 1960, Leakey launched a major research mission into great apes: Jane set off to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat at Gombe National Park in Tanzania.

©Baron Hugo Van Lawick, National-Geographic

Her immersion among primates revolutionised our perception of apes. We thought they were vegetarians. But she saw them hunt and eat meat. We thought they lacked intelligence. She observed a chimpanzee extract insects from a termite mound using stalks of grass. She was thus the first to show that tools are not only used by humans, as was believed at the time. Similarly, she proved that apes also have a complex social life and experience emotions… These discoveries not only challenged our certainties about our primate cousins but also our definition of human beings.


A role model for biodiversity

In 1964, Jane Goodall set up the Gombe Stream research centre in Tanzania to pursue research into chimpanzees. Later, in 1977, the primatologist founded the Jane Goodall Institute in the United States, an international organisation aiming to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable development of local communities and environmental education.

Today, environmental preservation and education, her two lifelong goals, are as relevant as ever: the Jane Goodall Institute has 28 delegations worldwide. She also founded Roots & Shoots, a global network bringing together young people, teachers and participants in environmental awareness projects… At the age of 85, Jane tirelessly travels the world, 300 days a year, to help humans appreciate, understand and respect the animals and nature that surround us.

From studying primates, Jane Goodall went on to become a lesson in humanity all by herself, and has been conferred with the most prestigious international awards. In 2002, she was appointed a “Messenger of Peace” by the United Nations.

©Hugo Van Lawick, National Geographic
©Institut Jane Goodall France
©Hugo Van Lawick, National Geographic


1934: born in London

1958: trip to Africa and first meeting with the anthropologist Louis Leakey

1960: mission to observe chimpanzees in Tanzania

1964: founded the Gombe Stream chimpanzee research centre in Tanzania

1966: PhD in ethology from the University of Cambridge

1977: founded the Jane Goodall Institute for biodiversity

1991: set up the educational network “Roots and Shoots”

2002: appointed “Messenger of Peace” by the United Nations

Find out more

See the trailer National Geographic documentary “Jane” here

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