Dr. Jane Goodall is known for her groundbreaking studies of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, which changed our understanding of the relationship to the animal kingdom. This transformative research continues today as the longest-running chimpanzee study in the world.
Had it not been for her mother, the little girl born in England, with very little money would not be standing in front of me today 89 years later, and have such a warm welcome.
“It’s extraordinary the only way I can cope with it is to understand that there’s two Jane’s,” said Goodall. “There’s the one talking to you now, just one human being, and then theirs this icon that’s been created by the National Geographic and Discovery channel, and you know media outlets around the world.”
She takes a sip of water and clears her throat before she begins, with stories about her early life, and shares that her love for animals came as soon as she popped out of her mother’s womb.
“When I was growing up in the UK there was no television It wasn’t invented yet, and we had very little money so I was out in nature watching the animals.”Goodall continues. “My mom quickly realized that if she bought me books about animals I would learn to read more quickly because I enjoyed them and so I did.”
Her love for animals was solidified when she read “Tarzan of the Apes” as a child.
“ I used to save up my few pennies of pocket money and on this occasion, I had just enough money to buy it so I took it home climbed my favorite tree, and read it cover to cover,” said Goodall. “So I actually fell in love with this glorious man from the jungle, and what did Tarzan do? He married the wrong Jane,”
Her eyes light up with humor and she smiles remembering her younger self. She begins to describe her earliest observation as a child.
“My first real field work observing animal behavior happened when I was 4 years old And mom took me on a holiday on a farm. We lived in London where they’re clearly aren’t that many animals so it was very exciting for me. So I had the job of collecting the eggs, I would take my little basket and collect the eggs,” continued Goodall. “Apparently I would ask people where is the hole for the egg to come out because I couldn’t see one and nobody answered my question properly. What I do remember is going inside an empty hen house, apparently, I was gone for 4 hours and nobody knew where I was, mom was about to call the police. I came rushing out, so many mothers would have grabbed that child and said ‘Where have you been? Don’t you ever do this again!’ But, she didn’t she saw my shining eyes, she sat down and heard my story about how a hen lays an egg.”
She describes the making of a little scientist having questions, making observations and learning patience. Having all that and a different kind of mother might have crushed that early on scientific curiosity
“I might not have done, what I’ve done, if my mom was a different kind of mom,” said Goodall with a huge smile on her face.
When listening to her speak of her mother, the lingering absence of her father was still in question.
“My father was gone while war broke out and I didn’t really know him, my parents divorced before the end of the war, it was my mother who had this wonderful influence, this supportive influence on my early life.”
Even with an absent father Goddall’s curiosity about animals and Africa was the only thing on her mind.
“And then came the opportunity of a letter from a school friend whose parents had moved to Kenya and invited me to go for a holiday, but again it cost money,” said Goodall. “So I quickly saved money, I worked at a hotel around the corner as a waitress, and it took me about 5 months, maybe even longer to save enough money for a return passage to Kenya.”
Goodall went on to describe the emotions she felt setting foot in Cape Town for the first time and touching African soil.
“I couldn’t afford a plane ticket so I had to go by boat, the first port stop for the boat to refuel was Cape Town, it was the first step I took on African soil, It was so exciting seeing the Africans and how they dressed.”
With Goodall’s mom far away, she still keeps a watchful eye on her curious child overseas.
“Mom had a friend who told her they would look out for me for those two days in Cape Town, and I remember asking them questions, what some of the signs meant and they told me whites only,” said Goodall. “It shocked me because I was never brought up that way, I was never taught to judge people by their skin color, but by who they were, I couldn’t wait to leave Cape Town.”
After experiencing some harsh realities in Cape Town, the discoveries and wonders began in Kenya.
“I met with Dr. Louis Leakey, anthropologist and paleontologist, someone told me if I was interested in animals, I should meet leaky. He was the curator of the natural history museum, I went to see him and I talked about that boring secretarial course. Just two weeks before I met leaky his secretary suddenly says she was quitting, and there I was, now I’m in a world where people can answer my questions about the animals, it was absolutely fantastic, it was a wonderful job,” said Goodall. “He saw how great I was at handling the animals of the Wild, so he decided that maybe I should go and observe the chimpanzees since no one else has done it. He was able to get money for my research for only six months.”
Her dreams finally come true to observe what she loves most in the world, only for the Tanzanian government to put a halt to her plans, they did not want to take responsibility for a woman to be alone, in possible danger, in the jungle. Leakey on her side, pleading with the government, finally grants her access, with the exception of having someone accompany her on this ridiculous venture.
“Who volunteered to come? That same amazing mother,” said Goodall. “She did two special things, she wasn’t a doctor or a nurse but her brother was a doctor, so she brought simple medications just in case we needed them. But a man was injured he had a topical infection that grew, and you could see the bone. Patiently, my mother gave him saline drips, four times a day, he got better and walked out, and that really made great relationships with all the local people. The other thing was a boost to my morale, for four long months the chimpanzee’s runaway as soon as they saw me because they’d never seen a strange two-legged, white, primate walking upright. I would get back frustrated, and my mom would say; Jane you are learning More than you realize you find that peak through you’re binoculars you’re seeing the kind of family groups, you’re seeing how they make nests in the trees at night, so you’re learning more than you think.”
Goodall takes a deep breath before she begins again, she smiles but her eyes looked gloomy as she continues.
“It was really sad that just two weeks after she left, came a great observation just in time in the fifth month of my six-month research,” she said. “Finally the first chimp lost his fear in me and approached me, who I named ‘David Greybeard,’ because he had white hair on his chin.”
It was on this day and this chimp that she observed him making tools out of stripped leaves that they used to dig out termites in a nearby mound. There, Goodall became a scientist who challenged conventional notions about primates and provided evidence for the evolutionary relationship between humans and chimpanzees. By the time she left Africa, she was an activist.
Dr. Goodall continues, as a global icon spreading hope and turning it into a meaningful positive impact, to create a better world for people, other animals, and the planet we share.
“I was really lucky to have a wonderful and supportive mother, I really want to emphasize the importance of having supportive parents for a young child.”
Given her long years of acts of service and activism in bettering the planet, when speaking of retirement she had this to say;
“I have to speed up because I have less time off as the years age me, the response I get from the crowd during the lectures I do is why I can’t give up, I can’t retire, I must keep going.”