Jane has been described as a conservationist, ethologist, primatologist and educator to name but a few. Born in London in 1934, Jane’s passion and curiosity for animals first became evident when she hid in a henhouse, eager to see how a hen lays an egg, unaware that her family had been frantically searching for her for hours.
Jane’s family could not afford for her to go to university to study. Instead she worked as a secretary, until in 1957, she was invited by a friend to visit Kenya. It was during this trip that the 23 year old Jane met anthropologist Louis Leakey. He was impressed by her passion for wild animals and asked her to conduct a study of the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania.
In 1960, Jane returned to East Africa with her supportive mother as a companion. Within a year, Jane recorded chimpanzees hunting and eating meat which dispelled the widely held belief that chimps were vegetarian. She also observed chimpanzees fashioning tools from sticks to extract termites from the ground, tool use behaviour that was thought to be a defining human trait and one that prompted the definition of homo sapien to be reconsidered.
Jane’s work was gaining recognition and in 1963 cameraman Hugo Van Lawick was sent to the Gombe reservation to photograph and later to film footage for National Geographic’s first ever film, Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees. Hugo and Jane were soon married, and alongside gaining her PHD in ethology in 1965, she collaborated with Hugo on films about baboons, wild dogs, lions, hyenas and a thirty year study of chimpanzees.
In 1977 amidst growing concerns for the environment, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation. She embraced this role in conservation, campaigning for forest preservation, the end of animal cruelty and promoting ethical consumerism. She founded Roots and Shoots, an environmental youth education programme in 1991, and the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education programme in 1994.
Amongst a wealth of honours, Jane was presented in 1980 with the Order of the Golden Ark, World Wildlife Award for Conservation. In 2002, Jane was appointed the United Nations Messenger of Peace and she was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2004.
There have been several biographical documentaries made about Jane’s fascinating life and work, and she has also published 24 books, many of them aimed at children in the hope of encouraging people from a young age to respect and care for animals and preserve the environment.