“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” –Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is well-known for her extensive research on chimpanzees, but she never exactly wanted to be a famous scientist or a primatologist. It just kind of happened. When Jane Goodall first arrived in the wilderness of Tanzania, she was not all that interested in chimpanzees. Instead, she was fascinated by the romanticized idea of Africa.
Jane Goodall initially wanted to be a naturalist, but after meeting with the curator of a Kenyan museum, her focus shifted to research in chimpanzees. He offered her the opportunity to study a group of chimps in another part of Africa. In 1960 at the age of 26, her work with primates began in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. It was only the second attempt to study chimpanzees in the wild. Her goal was to study the behavior of this somewhat unknown primate. She staked out a spot in the forest and simply observed the chimps in their natural habitat. It wasn’t easy. At first the animals were afraid of her, but after time she gained their trust. After time she grew fond of the animals. She even named some of the chimps, including one she dubbed “David Greybeard.” Her life had become what she had always read about as a child. There she was in the forest, beneath the palm trees, studying a relatively unknown creature.
Jane is now 80 years old and has spent nearly 55 years working with chimpanzees. During this time she has made several very important discoveries about chimps. One of the most important discoveries is that chimpanzees are capable of using tools. Before this discovery it was thought that only humans were capable of this. She also discovered that chimps are omnivores, and they have a similar social structure to humans. In a way, her work not only helped us learn more about chimpanzees, but also about our own species. Before her work nobody truly realized how closely related humans and chimps are.
Jane’s contributions to science still continue today. She travels nearly 300 days a year educating and advocating for the protection of primates and the environment. Jane considers herself to be not only a primatologist, but also a conservationist and philanthropist. Her unconventional approach to science has influenced countless others and has helped shaped the way we view wildlife.