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Jane Goodall, Oldie Queen of The Jungle, turns 90 - by William Cook

Blog | By William Cook | Apr 03, 2024

JANE GOODALL by Neil Spence Photography


In 1957, a 23-year-old Englishwoman called Jane Goodall boarded a ship bound for Kenya, to visit a friend who lived on a farm near Nairobi. It was her first trip to Africa - it was a journey which would change her life.

In Kenya, Jane met the renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr Louis Leakey. Impressed by her strength of character and her passion for wildlife, Leakey sent her to Tanzania to study chimpanzees. The pioneering research she did there transformed our understanding of those noble animals - and ourselves.

Living in close proximity with these extraordinary creatures, in a remote part of Tanzania, Goodall discovered that chimpanzees aren’t vegetarians – they’re omnivorous and hunt for meat. She found out, too, that they make and use tools. Above all, she established that they’re unique individuals, with complex personalities, and a wide range of emotions comparable with our own.

Her research bridged the gap between popular science and academia. She wrote a best-selling book, My Friends, The Wild Chimpanzees, and earned a doctorate at Cambridge University - one of only a few students to be awarded a PhD without first having studied for a BA or BSc. Yet rather than resting on her laurels, she returned to Tanzania, where she spent the next 20 years studying chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park.

She was born Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall in 1934, in London, and grew up in Bournemouth. Her mother was an author; her father was an engineer. Throughout her childhood, she dreamt of going to Africa to study wildlife – as a toddler, her favourite companion was a toy chimpanzee called Jubilee.

Through her long and restless life, she’s remained a tireless innovator. In 1977, she established the Jane Goodall Institute, a worldwide conservation programme. In 1991, she set up Roots & Shoots, an organisation which helps young people to participate in projects which protect the environment. Flying over her beloved Gombe, she witnessed the dramatic deforestation of the region. She realised that working with local communities to preserve the native flora was just as vital as supporting the chimpanzees themselves.

90 today, she still travels the world, giving lectures about her ground-breaking work and the importance of ecology. Her remarkable, inspirational career is a triumphant vindication of the sound advice her mother gave her as a child: ‘Jane, if you really want something and if you work hard, take advantage of the opportunities and never give up. You will somehow find a way.’

There is an Institute and Roots & Shoots programme in the UK, please see : www.janegoodall.org.uk and www.rootsnshoots.org.uk