I remember: Dr Jane Goodall

BY Jack Watkins

12th Feb 2019 Celebrities

I remember: Dr Jane Goodall

Renowned primatologist and anthropologist, Dame Jane Goodall, 84, is the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and an environmental activist

…Being bought a toy chimp as a toddler. It was made to mark the first chimp born at the London Zoo, called Jubilee (right). People said it would give me nightmares, but he became my favourite toy. I took him everywhere. I still have him now, though he’s in his eighties, and rather delicate, so he doesn’t travel.


…My mother supported my ambition to work with animals. She was the only one who didn’t laugh at my ridiculous dream of going to Africa. She said I’d have to work very hard, take advantage of all opportunities, and never give up. That’s the message I tell young people around the world, particularly in disadvantaged communities. I wish she was alive to know many people have told me that I taught them that because I did it, they could too.

"In Cape Town there were signs saying ‘Whites Only’ everywhere, which was horrible"

…Rusty, a black mongrel, taught me animals have personalities and feelings. I had other pets like guinea pigs and tortoises, and I knew they all had personalities, but Rusty was special. He was highly intelligent, and I thought of him when academics later told me that only humans have personalities, minds and emotions.

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Jane poses with her beloved dog Rusty in 1954
…My first trip to Africa in 1957. A friend invited me to her family’s farm in Kenya. There were no tourist planes then, so I went by sea. It was the time of the Suez Crisis so the ship went all round the Cape and the first town I set foot in was Cape Town. It was beautiful but had “Whites Only” signs everywhere, which was horrible. On landing at Mombasa, a train took me past herds of wildebeest, which you don’t see now. Then, as a car drove me up towards the farm an aardvark passed ahead of us. There was a giraffe at the side of the road, looking down with those long, curly lashes. The first morning when I woke up, outside my very own window were the fresh paw prints of a leopard. I’d finally arrived in the Africa of my dreams.


…Louis Leakey gave me my first work in Africa. There wasn’t enough money for me to attend university, but I went on a secretarial course. A friend said that if I wanted to work with animals in Africa I should contact Leakey, a distinguished palaeontologist. By chance he needed a secretary, and allowed me to accompany him, his wife and one other English girl, Gillian, on his annual fossil hunting trip to the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.

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In her early days at Gombe Jane spent hours sat on high peaks, searching the forest for chimps


…Being followed by a lion. After each day’s work, Gillian and I were allowed to go out on the African plains in the evening. One time we looked round and a young male lion was following us. Scary, but exciting. Gillian said we should head down into the forest, but I said we must stay in the open, because in the thickets he’d know where we were, but we wouldn’t know where he was. The lion eventually gave up, and Leakey told me I’d done the right thing. I think that convinced him to give me the job of studying wild chimpanzees.


…Leakey thought women made the best observers. He also wanted a mind uncluttered by reductionist scientific thinking. He felt that learning about our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, would help him better understand the behaviour of the Stone Age humans whose fossils he was digging up.


…David Greybeard saved my observation project. We only had six months’ funding to begin with, and when I first arrived at the Gombe Stream Reserve, the chimps just ran away. They’d never seen a white ape before. It wasn’t until July 14, 1960, an event now commemorated annually as World Chimpanzee Day, that the chimp I’d named David Greybeard became the first one to lose his fear of me, enabling me to observe him making tools to catch termites. If you saw that today, it wouldn’t be remarkable. We know lots of animals use tools, but then it was thought that only humans did it.

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…Naming the chimps was deemed controversial in the scientific community. But I couldn’t have imagined calling a chimp by a number. When the proof came back for my first scientific paper on nature—when I finally got a chance to do a PhD—all my “he’s”, “she’s” and “who’s” were crossed out for “it” and “which.” I was furious. I reinstated them all and refused to back down. And I won the argument.


…Meeting Hugo van Lawick. He’d come to film and photograph me on behalf of National Geographic. This took the story of Jane and the chimps into the outside world. We fell in love and married in 1964. We set up the Gombe Stream Research Centre, the first of its type, which is still going strong today and discovering new things about chimps. Sadly, Hugo’s photography took him to the Serengeti while I remained at Gombe, and we drifted apart. We divorced amicably in 1974.


…Our son “Grub” didn’t like chimps. He knew they could eat him. Chimps have been known to take human babies. Today, he finds them more interesting, but he still doesn’t like them.



…“Feminists” criticised me. It annoys me that people despise women if they stop their career to look after children. Chimps teach us that, for the first two years of life, it’s really important to have a nurturing three or four people who are stable, supportive, and always there. It doesn’t have to be the biological mother. But although I never saw myself as a feminist per se, I support women’s rights.

My favourite line came from the chief of a South American tribe, which he described as an eagle with one wing male, the other female. Only when the two wings are equal will the tribe fly.


…Experiencing a spiritual awakening in the cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris. I walked in one morning just as the sun was coming through the great rose window. A couple were getting married and the organist was playing Toccata and Fugue. It just hit me. I thought of all the people who’d built the cathedral, who’d worshipped there, and of Bach who’d created that music. The world couldn’t have happened by chance. Interestingly, although mainstream science doesn’t support the idea of God, cutting edge scientists are increasingly backing the idea of the intelligent design of the universe.


…Going through a bleak period. It was difficult when my second husband, Derek Bryceson, director of the Tanzania National Parks, died in 1992. It didn’t shake my faith, but I was grieving, wanting to be out in the forest. For me, it’s the most healing, rewarding place, where you realise that everything is connected, and that every single species has a role to play.

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Binoculars are her favourite tool

…My priorities changed after the publication of my book, The Chimpanzees of Gombe. On the back of that, published in 1986, I helped organise a conference in Chicago on the subject. I walked into it as a scientist, and left as an activist. I’d been so isolated in Gombe but getting together with others who were studying chimps elsewhere in Africa was a shock. Each of us had the same stories, of falling chimpanzee numbers, the loss of the forest cover they depend upon, the growth of commercial hunting, the bush meat trade, the shooting of mothers to steal baby chimps, and the training of them for entertainment. It was a shocking insight.


…Flying over Gombe and realising that poverty was causing Africans to destroy their own environment. Gombe was once part of a great equatorial forest belt from East Africa to the West African coast, but by 1994 it was an island of forest surrounded by bare hills. There are more people than the land can support, and they’re too poor to buy food from elsewhere so they cut down trees for new farmland.

Tanzania now only has about 2,000 chimps left, and the population across Africa is about 300,000. A century ago it was close to 2 million. Through my Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation, we run a community programme that helps villages to grow plants and timber, allowing deforested areas to regenerate naturally.


…School children and students telling me we’d compromised their future, making them feel angry and depressed. And [our generation] has. There’s a saying, “we haven’t inherited this planet from our parents, it’s borrowed from our children”. But we’ve been stealing, and we are still stealing. We have a tiny, tiny window of time to do something about it, but if our youth lose hope, that’s it.

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…A chat with teenagers in Dar-Es-Salaam inspired me to set up Roots and Shoots. It’s now in 80 countries, from nurseries to universities and everything in between. The programme’s message is that every individual can make a positive impact on the environment, animals and people every day. It’s very strong in China, India and North America, and we are in 1,700 school in Britain. But we are short of funds and need all the support we can get.


…Climbing the beech trees at my Bournemouth home. The house has been in the family since I was five years old. My sister lives there now with her daughter’s family, and in between tours it is my home, my roots and my stability.

I am travelling for 300 days a year. I don’t like it. I have no zest for travel, sitting in airport lounges and hotels, but how else can I get the message across? And I know that my words have an impact.

A man recently approached me after I had given a lecture in Hong Kong and told me that he’d intended to buy a sports car, but had given up the idea and was giving the money to Roots and Shoots instead.

It was Gandhi who famously said the planet could provide enough for human need, but not enough for human greed.