Goodall, Jane (1934—)

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Goodall, Jane (1934—)

English ethologist and animal-rights activist responsible for our increased understanding of the chimpanzee. Name variations: Baroness Jane van Lawick Goodall. Born in London, England, on April 3, 1934; daughter of Mortimer Herbert Morris-Goodall and Vanne Joseph Goodall; received Ph.D. in ethology from Cambridge University, 1965; married Baron Hugo van Lawick (a wildlife photographer), in 1964 (divorced 1974); married Derek Bryceson, in 1975 (died of cancer, 1980); children: (first marriage) Hugo Eric Louis, nicknamed "Grub" (b. 1967)

Raised and educated, mostly in Bournemouth, England (1934–52); worked as a secretary in Oxford and London (1952–57); traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, acquiring position as an assistant secretary to Dr. Louis Leakey (1957–60); commenced research of chimpanzee behavior at Gombe Stream Research Center (1960–71); lectured at Stanford University and Yale University in the U.S. (1970–75); founded Jane Goodall Institute (1977); published The Chimpanzees of Gombe, her synthesis on chimpanzee behavior (1986); received the National Geographic Society's prestigious Hubbard Medal and was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II (1995); received honorary doctorates from such schools as Salisbury State University, the University of North Carolina, Munich University, and the University of Utrecht.

In 1935, a one-year-old English girl was given a stuffed chimpanzee by her mother. Friends of the family complained that little Jane would be horrified by "the ghastly creature," but in 1971 the adult Jane Goodall wrote that she still had Jubilee, the much-adored toy named after the first chimpanzee ever born in the London zoo. As a working scientist, Goodall has revolutionized our thinking concerning animal behavior in general, and chimpanzees and human animals in particular. Since the early 1960s, her meticulous field studies have altered human perceptions of chimpanzees as peaceful vegetarians, and of Homo sapiens as the only creature capable of making tools and having learned culture. Her work at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania on the shores of Lake Tanganyika has undermined false assumptions that nonhuman animals are mechanisms of instinct without complex feelings or the ability to project conscious goals. Together with Konrad Lorenz, Dian Fossey , and other early pioneers, Jane Goodall literally created the modern field of ethology, or the study of animal behavior in a natural setting.

Jane Goodall was born in London on April 3, 1934. By her own account, she was "fascinated by live animals" from the time she was an infant. Her father was a businessman and race-car driver named Mortimer Morris-Goodall, but it is her mother, Vanne Joseph Goodall , who has remained a focal point in her life. While she was a child, her parents divorced, and she was then raised by her mother in the English town of Bournemouth. Goodall records one of her earliest memories as sitting in a henhouse at the age of four to observe egg laying. Missing for five hours, the youngster frightened her mother into calling the police. Then, at eight, she remembers determining to "go to Africa and live with wild animals." More interested in the animals themselves than the niceties of human academic hierarchies, Jane Goodall achieved her life's goal in a very unconventional way. A childhood reader of the Dr. Dolittle stories, she followed her desire to communicate with other animals like the fictional Dolittle. This was far more important to her than attaining any academic degrees in zoology which might have trapped her in tired paradigms. Such conclusions were usually drawn from observing animals like chimpanzees in artificially created laboratory settings, and they were emphasized at the world's major universities. Later describing her perspective on formal schooling as a "somewhat truculent attitude," Goodall left school at 18, received vocational training as a secretary, and continued to long for Africa.

While working as a secretary in London, she received an invitation to stay with a school friend at her parents' farm in what was then the British colony of Kenya. Despite the fact that Kenya had just experienced the anti-British Mau Mau insurrection (1952–56), Goodall left her job at a documentary film studio the same day she received the invitation and returned to her hometown of Bournemouth to work as a waitress, serving vacationers and tourists during the busy summer season. By her account, London was too expensive to save any money, and nothing was going to stand in the way of this opportunity to travel to the continent of her dreams. Within a month of arriving in Kenya in 1957, at age 23, she met the mentor who would change her life—the famed anthropologist Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey.

An opinionated and even controversial giant in the field of human evolution, Louis Leakey, together with his brilliant wife Mary Leakey , founded much of the science of paleoanthropology with their work at Olduvai Gorge. Louis Leakey's legacy also includes finding the initial funds for Jane Goodall to live among the chimpanzees of Gombe and helping the late Dian Fossey to establish her work with the gorillas of the Zaire (now Republic of Congo)-Rwanda border. Of her first encounter with Louis Leakey in 1957, Goodall has written that she had already started a "dreary office job" so as not to overstay her welcome at her friend's farm, when someone told her that she should introduce herself to Leakey if she was interested in nature. She went to see Leakey at Nairobi's natural history museum, where he was curator: "Somehow he must have sensed that my interest in animals was not just a passing phase, but was rooted deep, for on the spot he gave me a job as an assistant secretary."

At the museum, Goodall engaged in enthusiastic conversations with the professional staff, and she was given an opportunity to accompany Louis and Mary Leakey to Olduvai Gorge on the Serengeti Plain, where she participated firsthand in digs uncovering fossils millions of years old. In short, she learned archaeology through field experience and actual digging. Her transformation from secretary to working scientist had already begun under the Leakeys' tutelage. Then, toward the end of the expedition to Olduvai Gorge, Louis Leakey began to talk to Goodall about his conviction that much could be learned about the prehistoric behavior of human ancestors by studying the contemporary chimpanzee.

By the late 1950s, it was already known that chimpanzees and bonobos (i.e., "pygmy chimpanzees") are the living animals most closely related to people. It is now known that the human and chimpanzee lines diverged between five and ten million years ago, and that the chimpanzee and Homo sapiens share a little over 98% of their DNA. A study of chimpanzees in their natural environment would therefore point to natural animal traits in humans if any parallels or comparisons could be drawn. Professor Henry W. Nissen had spent two-and-a-half months among the chimpanzees of French Guinea, but Louis Leakey knew that this was too brief a study, and that many years of careful observation would be required. He had already targeted the subspecies of chimpanzee labeled Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi. A group of them lived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, and Leakey was especially interested in this environment since prehistoric human remains were often found on a lakeshore. Leakey surprised Goodall when he asked her if she "would be willing to tackle the job." According to Jane, he felt that university training might be disadvantageous and wanted someone unbiased by prevailing academic theories, "someone with a sympathetic understanding of animals." Goodall enthusiastically volunteered.

Human nature: cunning, selfish, and full of self-righteous intolerance on the one hand; wise, compassionate, and loving on the other. Which side will gain the upper hand? The question is desperately important to those of us who care about the future of the world.

—Jane Goodall

Leakey then went about securing the funding for a Goodall expedition, and he was able to raise enough from the Wilkie Foundation of Des Plaines, Illinois, to cover supplies for a sixmonth field study, small boat, tent, and air fares. Goodall was visiting her mother in England when she heard that the arrangements had been made with one caveat—British colonial officials insisted that she could not live in the bush alone without a European companion. Her mother, Vanne Goodall, who had already visited Jane in Africa, promptly volunteered.

Jane and Vanne Goodall reached Nairobi, Kenya, in 1960. They were then prevented by British officials from proceeding to the town of Kigoma in what was then the British colony of Tanganyika. (Granted independence on December 9, 1961, Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar on April 26, 1964, to become the United Republic of Tanzania.) The delay was because of growing tensions on the eve of independence between the British imperial administration and the African fishermen of Lake Tanganyika on the periphery of the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve (now the Gombe National Park). Rather than sit idly by, mother and daughter traveled to Lake Victoria where Jane started a three-week study of Lolui Island's vervet monkeys so as to hone her observational and note-taking skills. Above all else, she began to recognize the marked individuality of different members of a vervet monkey troop. Rather than following the same mechanical program, each vervet exhibited unique personality traits. When Goodall was finally permitted to make the 800-mile journey to Kigoma, the underpinnings of her methodological approach to animal behavior were already clearly set.

Upon arriving at Gombe, however, Goodall had to deal with human territoriality and competition. A game ranger named David Anstey arranged for her to meet with local African notables so as to allay their suspicions that she was a British spy. It was agreed that the son of the chief of Mwamgongo, a fishing village north of the chimpanzee reserve, should accompany her to make sure that she did not unduly inflate the chimpanzee population in her notes and reports. In 1971, Goodall would write, "Later I realized that the Africans were still hoping to reclaim the thirty square miles of reserve for themselves: if I stated that there were more chimpanzees than in fact there were, the Africans felt the government could then make a better case for keeping the area a protected reserve." Just as her scientific work was about to begin, the forces which would lead her to become an animal-rights advocate were also taking shape.

From the very start, in 1960, Jane Goodall insisted on recognizing the individuality of the chimpanzees. This allowed her to realize that the lieutenant of her chosen troop's alpha male, a chimpanzee she named David Greybeard, "was less afraid of me from the start than were any of the other chimps." While the alpha male Goliath maintained his distance, David Greybeard allowed Jane to observe him so that she made two of her most startling discoveries during her first year at Gombe. First, she saw David Greybeard eat a baby bush pig, disproving once and for all

that chimpanzees were strict vegetarians like the gorilla:

For three hours I watched the chimps feeding. David occasionally let the female bite pieces from the carcass and once he actually detached a small piece of flesh and placed it in her outstretched hand. When he finally climbed down there was still meat left on the carcass; he carried it away in one hand, followed by the others.

Later, Goodall would learn that chimpanzees actually organize hunts as well as eat meat. This pointed to a level of goal-oriented action among the chimpanzees which was reinforced by Jane's observing David Greybeard deliberately trim a wide blade of grass, moisten it, and insert it into a termite nest to extract another important food source. This 1960 discovery has since been joined by numerous other observations of similar activity at Gombe and other sites throughout Africa. Not only do chimpanzees consume meat and termites, in far-West Africa some chimpanzee communities use stones and stumps as hammers and anvils to crack nuts. Until Goodall's initial discoveries, however, humans were considered the only tool-making animals. When she told Louis Leakey of her observation in 1960, he immediately said that it would be necessary to redefine "man" in a more complex manner or accept the chimpanzee as human. He also used the significance of these findings to secure Goodall's first funding from the National Geographic Society in the United States.

Goodall's scientifically significant observations continued to accumulate, though traditionally trained scientists would argue that she was guilty of anthropomorphizing her subjects—among other things, giving them individual names instead of subject numbers (Fossey suffered through similar criticisms). Nearly 40 years later in the 1990s, the refusal to recognize chimpanzees as individuals is no longer dominant—with the preponderance of evidence demonstrating chimpanzees' tool-using capacity, self-recognition in a mirror, and ability to learn and teach each other American Sign Language. This vector of research developed from the boldness of Jane Goodall's sympathetic vision, and the majority of the initial evidence came from Gombe.

In 1964, a male named Figan demonstrated deliberate planning skills. He abducted his sibling Flint to coerce their mother Flo and the entire troop to move to a new location. Likewise, the extent to which Gombe chimpanzee society was influenced by old Flo, who may have been close to 50 years in age (ancient for a chimpanzee), became apparent. Flo, an aggressive female, respected by the males, was the mother of Figan (alpha male in the 1970s) and grandmother of Freud (alpha male in 1995). It was also 1964 that saw Mike usurp leadership from Goliath. This was in fact done by means of intelligence rather than brawn. Goodall had classified Mike as a relatively weak subordinate, but he began to use discarded kerosene cans from her camp to intimidate larger males by banging them together. It has since been learned that alpha males must also demonstrate an ability to settle disputes among subordinates and to share some surplus food like David Greybeard did. Their rulership must be supported by subordinate coalitions, as Goliath was supported by his David, and they must be much more than mere bullies.

Throughout this period, the Gombe Stream Research Center grew with funding from the National Geographic Society and other sources. In August 1962, Goodall had been joined by Baron Hugo van Lawick, a Dutch photographer and filmmaker who had impressed Louis Leakey. From that day on, Hugo filmed Jane Goodall's interactions with the chimpanzees of Gombe, compiling the footage for her first National Geographic television special, "Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees" (shown in the U.S. in 1965). In March 1964, Goodall and van Lawick married in London. It was also in 1964 that Goodall's first two research assistants joined her at Gombe. By 1972, there would be as many as 20 students there under her direction—graduate students from around the world and advanced undergraduates from the interdisciplinary human biology program at Stanford and the zoology department of Tanzania's University of Dar es Salaam.

Already a world-renowned authority by 1964, Jane Goodall in fact only earned her doctorate in ethology from Cambridge University in 1965. Her admission to Cambridge was in itself a tribute to the work she had done as early as 1960, for it is extremely rare to be allowed to study for a Ph.D. without having received an undergraduate degree. Due to her continued work at Gombe, which was the subject of her dissertation, her attendance at Cambridge lectures was quite erratic—six terms scattered over four years—and she herself admits to having had little desire to acquire the degree, though she did love learning and felt an obligation to Louis Leakey and others who had written for her admission. Still, her independent spirit could not be enchained by the academic dogmas of her day:

The editorial comments on the first paper I wrote for publication demanded that every he or she be replaced with it, and every who be replaced with which. Incensed, I, in my turn, crossed out the its and whichs and scrawled back the original pronouns. As I had no desire to carve a niche for myself in the world of science, but simply wanted to go on living among and learning about chimpanzees, the possible reaction of the editor of the learned journal did not trouble me. In fact, I won that round: the paper when finally published did confer upon the chimpanzees the dignity of their appropriate genders and properly upgraded them from the status of mere "things" to essential Being-ness.

Eschewing the careerism and comfortable traditions which so often limit academia, Goodall's desire to live among chimpanzees and learn about their world continued to be the focus of her life. Indeed, this lack of conformity with the academic pack and its methods has assured her status as an innovative and historic investigator rather than as a follower of revealed authority. Until 1975, she continued to direct the daily research efforts at Gombe personally—even while raising her son Hugo, nicknamed "Grub," born in 1967. From the start, Grub accompanied his parents into the bush, and Jane Goodall's work has indeed proved to be a family passion. Her mother Vanne Goodall, who had helped Jane to found the Gombe research center, developed a career as an anthropological writer, coauthoring Unveiling Man's Origins with Louis Leakey in 1969 and editing The Quest for Man, a collection of essays by her daughter Jane, as well as the German ethologist Irenäus Eibl Eibesfeldt, and other scholars in 1975. In 1967, the National Geographic Society published Jane Goodall's own book, My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees. In 1971, her second book, In the Shadow of Man, appeared. Its most captivating passages include an account of the deadly polio epidemic of 1966 which eventually killed six chimpanzees:

When we realized that the disease was probably polio, we panicked, for Hugo and I and our research assistant Alice Ford had not received a full course of polio vaccine. We got through to Nairobi on the radio telephone and spoke to Louis [Leakey]. He arranged for a plane to fly down to Kigoma bringing sufficient vaccine for ourselves, our African staff—and the chimpanzees.

Oral vaccine was administered to the chimpanzees in bananas, and nine afflicted chimpanzees survived this disease which was devastating to both chimpanzees and their human cousins. Another great trial in this period was the death of Flo in 1972. London's Sunday Times even published an obituary of Gombe's famed matriarch, citing that "Flo has contributed much to science.… But even if no one had studied the chimpanzees at Gombe, Flo's life, rich and full of vigour and love, would still have had a meaning and significance in the pattern of things."

In 1974, Jane Goodall divorced Hugo van Lawick, and in 1975, she married Derek Bryceson, the director of Tanzania's National Park System and a member of that country's Parliament. Mary Smith , a long-time friend and former National Geographic editor, has described the marriage as "a real love match." Unfortunately, Bryceson would die of cancer in 1980, leaving Jane with her son Grub, her mother Vanne, and the chimpanzees of Gombe.

Like the 1960s, the 1970s proved to be a rich and fruitful time for Goodall's research. With her research assistants, she continued to discover new facets of chimpanzee behavior—and even some individual aberrations. In 1970, chimpanzees were observed to perform spontaneous dance-like displays before a waterfall, leading Goodall to hypothesize that such expressions of wonder may resemble the emotions which led humans to initiate religious observance. In 1974, she witnessed a war break out between the males of her prime study group (the Kasakela community) and the males of a splinter community (Kahama). It lasted four years, with the Kahama community (seven males, three adult females and their young) being annihilated. Single-file patrols and the vicious slaughter of solitary stragglers were observed during this Four Year War—a period of increased tension and violence which also saw cannibalism break out at Kasakela from 1975 to 1977. A female named Passion and her daughter Pom killed and ate ten infants during this time. Finally, the mobility of chimpanzee females, as they migrated from community to community, was noted, and the importance of male coalitions became even more apparent as Figan (alpha male for ten years) proved most formidable with his brother Faben and his protégé Goblin at his side. The chimpanzees of Gombe continue to inform primatology with evidence of intercommunal technology transfer in the use of twigs, and the use of aspilia (a medicinal plant which seems to relieve stomachache), coming to the fore. In 1986, Jane Goodall completed a monumental scholarly work, replete with tables, statistics, and graphs. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior has been described by the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould as "one of the Western world's great scientific achievements." It is the current capstone of Goodall's groundbreaking scientific life, even as that state of being recedes into the background, for in recent years, Jane Goodall has spent much of her time as an animal-rights activist.

In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute, a nonprofit organization which now coordinates her worldwide efforts to save and learn about the threatened chimpanzee. Around 1,900 chimpanzees were found in 25 African countries. By 1990, they had disappeared completely from four countries, while in at least five others the species is so small in numbers that it cannot survive. In 1990, the Committee for Conservation and Care of Chimpanzees, supported by the Jane Goodall Institute, estimated the total African population of chimpanzees to be about 197,150. Zaire had the largest population of Pan troglodytes, with some 90,000, and it also had all the world's bonobos, or Pan paniscus, at approximately 17,000. Tanzania had 2,000 chimpanzees, while Rwanda, with only 150 individuals, was one of the countries with chimpanzees on the verge of extinction. The small, dwindling populations across Africa all face such a loss in genetic diversity that inbreeding will begin to threaten their sustainability.

Jane Goodall is blunt about the human causes leading to the endangerment of the genus Pan. As impoverished human populations grow, she notes, "forests are razed for dwellings and for cultivation." Likewise, the growing cities of an increasingly urban Africa generate the same demands as urbanized areas in Europe and the Americas. Logging and mining threaten chimpanzees' forest habitats, and adults are often killed so as to capture infants for sale to international dealers who deposit them in Europe and the United States to entertain in zoos and circuses, and to be used for experimental purposes in pharmaceutical labs. The Jane Goodall Institute tries to salvage chimpanzee habitat in Africa, care for orphans, and decrease the demand for captive chimpanzees in the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Where there are laboratory and zoo chimpanzees, pressure is placed upon scientists and zookeepers to improve the quality of life for captives by increasing confinement spaces and allowing for interaction with other chimpanzees. By 1993, the Institute was on the verge of bankruptcy, but Goodall hired a Texas political consultant named Don Buford to supervise its revitalization. As of 1995, the Institute had seen a doubling of contributions and a sevenfold increase in membership.

Since $500,000 alone was required to run the Institute's sanctuaries for chimpanzees, much of Jane Goodall's work in the 1990s was of a fundraising nature. She lectured across North America annually on tours that numbered as many as 15 cities. At the same time, she tried to maintain her ties with Africa and launched an environmental education program for African schoolchildren called Roots and Shoots. Started in 1991, and since then duplicated elsewhere, Roots and Shoots depends on a growing seedbed of environmental awareness among many educated Africans who are struggling to save Africa's biodiversity and introduce environmentalism to its school-age children. Goodall herself notes the heroism of such African efforts, and of researchers like Dr. Geza Teleki, who "got river blindness, an incurable disease, when he worked for the government of Sierra Leone to set up a national park there specifically for chimpanzees."

During the 1990s, Jane Goodall maintained a concrete-block house at Gombe, but her main residence was in Tanzania's capital of Dar es Salaam, 675 miles east of Gombe. There, her son Grub runs a sportfishing business in the house next door. She also sometimes shared a Victorian home in Bournemouth, England, with her Aunt Olly and her mother Vanne, who was nearly 90 in 1995. In actuality, Jane spent much of her time traveling as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of environmentalism, animal rights, and the earth's dwindling population of chimpanzees.

Jane Goodall desperately tries to save chimpanzees, the closest living biological relatives of humanity, from "human arrogance, human greed, and human cruelty," which "have helped create a sick planet and a great deal of suffering, human and nonhuman alike." In the December 1995 issue of National Geographic, she wrote:

We love to point fingers when we try to deal with difficult problems such as the environment, to lay the blame on industry or science or politicians. And there is no question that industrialization has polluted our surroundings. But who buys the products? We do, you and I, the vast amorphous general public. Each of our actions has a global impact.

Struggling as she did against the conventions of science in the 1960s, Jane Goodall argued for the individual initiative of chimpanzees who, by extension, could serve as mirrors of our own behavior. A scientific innovator, Jane Goodall continues to see a role for individual initiative within the human species, even as she has seen it within the genus Pan.


Goodall, Jane. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.

——. Through a Window: Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.

Green, Timothy. The Restless Spirit: Profiles in Adventure. NY: Walker, 1970.

Miller, Peter. "Crusading for Chimps and Humans… Jane Goodall," in National Geographic. Vol. 188, no. 6. December 1995, pp. 102–129.

Peterson, Dale, and Jane Goodall. Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Van Lawick-Goodall, Jane. In the Shadow of Man. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

suggested reading:

Goodall, Jane, with Phillip Berman. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. Warner, 1999.

Abel A. Alves , Assistant Professor of History, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, and author of Brutality and Benevolence: Human Ethology, Culture, and the Birth of Mexico (Greenwood Press, 1996)