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Who is Jane Goodall?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Jane Goodall is a notable British primatologist who is often credited for her major efforts in the field of chimpanzee research and protection. Her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees in Tanzania uncovered a great deal of interesting information about chimpanzee society, culture, habits, and lifestyle, earning her a number of academic, scientific, and international honors. In 2003, Jane Goodall was made a Dame of the British Empire, the female equivalent of knighthood, by Queen Elizabeth II.

Goodall was born in 1934, and in her early years, she didn't have very much interest in animals. By the 1950s, this had changed, and she found herself working in Kenya alongside Louis Leaky, an anthropologist who has been credited with the discovery of the earliest known hominid remains. In 1964, Jane Goodall became Doctor Jane Goodall, with a degree from Cambridge, and she returned to Africa to study chimpanzees.

In Tanzania, Goodall embarked on an ambitious research product to follow chimpanzees for an extended period of time, learning a great deal more than researchers who had previously only observed primate groups for short periods. She named her research subjects, and gradually grew very familiar with them. Goodall noted that chimpanzees made and used tools, used a variety of physical gestures to express affection and communicate, and made war, much like humans. By humanizing chimpanzees, she raised a number of questions about primate evolution and the dividing line between people and animals.

Some critics claim that Dr. Goodall became too intimate with her subjects, failing to maintain a proper scientific distance. Others argue that her work would not have been possible without a deep affection for her subjects. Goodall certainly established herself as a brave researcher, lingering in Tanzania even after other primate researchers were kidnapped and threatened, or even murdered, in the case of Dian Fossey.

In 1977, Dr. Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute, an organization which promotes protection for chimpanzees along with research on chimpanzee culture. She is a noted animal rights advocate, speaking out about the use of chimpanzees in research and entertainment, and she has also promoted conservation programs which raise orphaned chimpanzees and create nature preserves which allow animals to live in peace.

Jane Goodall's work has been published in numerous books and scientific publications, and she has traveled the world as a visiting professor and lecturer to promote the cause of chimpanzee conservation. As part of her conservation work with chimpanzees, she has also championed a number of environmental protection issues, especially in the tropics.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By Speechie — On Sep 22, 2011

I think Jane Goodall did a wonderful job at representing herself and the chimpanzee's with the utmost respect and care. I know she made some mistakes along the way, but who doesn't?

Also, she is one of the only scientists I know solely by name, and not also what they were famous for doing or researching.

She spent most of her life dedicated to advocating for the safety of these animals, which was/is important because they can not advocate for themselves.

She also spent a lot of her life in the rain forest's of Africa. She gave up many luxuries and royalties to do what she was passionate about. I think people are inspiring who give up so much for their passion.

I remember when I was in elementary school learning about different animals, I started to become interested in chimpanzee's because of some of Jane Goodall's findings. Like that chimpanzee's use tools like we do!

She made me interested in learning how these and other animals use their knowledge and limited resources to survive and communicate.

By snickerish — On Sep 21, 2011

When I was in college I bought a Jane Goodall book, and thought it was worth every penny.

It was quite a bit ago that I read the book, that I do not remember the name of the book, maybe something about "hope" but although the title did not leave an impression the rest of the book had.

The saddest part of the book was when Jane Goodall described the apes fighting, and went so far as to call it war as this article noted. But this was just one part of the book, even if you don't consider yourself overly interested in these animals, you can still learn and engage with this book.

By Misscoco — On Sep 20, 2011

I admire Jane Goodall for her persistence in spending such a long period of time in Tanzania, with her chimps that she knew so well. They were like her family.

If you can stay in a jungle setting for as long as Jane did, she must have gotten some amazing data about the habits, learning, communication and lifestyle of the chimps she was studying.

Jane apparently enjoyed her life with the chimps. She was also very pro-active in encouraging humane treatment of chimps, whether in research projects or the entertainment business.

By sweetPeas — On Sep 19, 2011

In my opinion, I think that Jane Goodall achieved a good balance between following scientific research methods with animals and her persistent attempts to keep the chimps comfortable in their natural habitat so she could observe them doing ordinary things in their ordinary zones.

Her work has been so fascinating and there's hardly anyone who hasn't read about her and watched her on television. She noted many similarities between what a chimp can do with tools and what a human can do. And then her observations about how the chimps use their brains compared to human. That knowledge shows the difference between chimp and human.

By Moldova — On Sep 19, 2011

@Jholcomb - I have to say after reading the Jane Goodall bio she definitely sounds like a remarkable woman. I don’t know too many 26 year olds who want to leave the comforts of their own home and go live in the African jungle and study chimps.

I wonder what her thoughts are on people that have chimps as pets? I know that she cared for these animals deeply, but what would she say about taking them out of their habitat and having them in someone’s home.

I personally think that these are wild animals that belong in the jungle where they are the most comfortable. I think that this is why there have been accounts of chimps attacking people because these are not domesticated pets like dogs and cats.

I think that it is even a little cruel for people to have them in their homes because it is so foreign to them.

By jholcomb — On Sep 18, 2011

@MissDaphne - Far be t from me to dispute the awesome-ness of Jane Goodall and her apes. From an academic standpoint, though, she's a mixed blessing.

She revolutionized the study of chimps, and in some ways it needed to be done. Giving them names instead of numbers is now standard, for instance. There were three of them, actually, all sent out of Louis Leakey with his idea that young women without scientific training could really advance primate research. They called them the "trimates": Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Birute Goldikas, who studies orangutans.

But she made some errors that have tainted her research. For one thing, especially in the early years, she flooded her camp with bananas to attract the chimps. That changed their behavior significantly - in other areas, female chimps depart their groups at puberty and find a new home, but in the chimps she stuffed with bananas, the young females stayed around and hung out with their moms.

Whew! Until I started writing this, I had no idea how much I remembered from my biological anthropology class in college. Go ape!

By MissDaphne — On Sep 18, 2011

Jane Goodall is awesome! I saw her live once at a Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds concert, of all things. It was a benefit to support her institute, I think. Jane Goodall had a monkey (ape?), a cute little stuffed thing she called Henry. She came out on stage. She was closer to 80 than 70 but looked very fit and trim with her long gray ponytail.

She's also involved in animal welfare work, I believe, particularly the welfare of apes who are the subjects of medical experiments. Since the body, whether human or chimpanzee, undergoes all sorts of changes under stress, you can't get very good research from stressed-out chimps anyway. She suggests simple measures like giving them PVC pipes stuffed with marshallows and raisins for the chimps to poke out with a stick. Keeps them from getting so bored.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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