Jane Goodall is primarily known for her 30 years of work with chimpanzees in Tanzania. She was nominated by paleontologist and archaeologist Dr Louis Leakey of Nairobi Kenya. Her brief, furthering Leakey's own studies on Africa (not Asia or Europe) being the the crucible of humanity, was to explore the link between chimpanzees and humans.
However, there were elements in her earlier life which ensured that the meeting with Leakey was more than just a lucky break for her. She was born in London, England in 1934, just before World War II. Her family moved to France at the outbreak of the war in 1939, but the stay was short. Hitler invaded France and the Goodalls moved to the seaside town of Bournemouth, back in England. Jane adored the outdoors, loved Tarzan stories and was fasinated by the jungle. After all, her father had been stationed with the military in the Singapore jungles. He had some stories to tell.
By the age of 11, Jane made it well known she wanted to live in Africa. She grabbed the opportunity to visit a girlfriend who had moved to Kenya. She needed work and applied to be Dr Louis Leakey's secretary. In fact, it was Louis' lucky break to find Jane. She accompanied Louis and his wife on treks for fossils in the Serengeti plains. Jane had grown up in a Christian household, so she and Louis empathised in their quest to find a link between science and religion. It was then that Louis selected her, based on her meticulous sense of recording details, to do a particular study of chimpanzees.
And so began an incredible adventure for Jane, and for those of us who have learnt of her discoveries. With no credentials other than passion and enthusiasm, she accepted Louis' suggestion to complete a PhD in ethnology from Cambridge University in 1965. She is only one of 8 people to earn such a degree without a bachelor's preceding it. The year before, she had married a Dutch photographer from National Geographic, but the marriage was brief. In 1975, she remarried. He was the director of National Parks in Tanzania. But he died of cancer a few years later. It seemed, her life was her work with the chimpanzees. Her spiritual needs found peace there too.
Today, she has an institute named after her, she supports animal rights and conservation and emabarks on lecture tours. She still lives in her childhood home in Bournemouth, as well as in Tanzania. Jane has been awarded the Albert Schweitzer Award 1987, the Encyclopedia Britannica Award 1989, and the Kyoto Prize for Science 1990.
Some people confuse Jane Goodall with another primatologist, Dian Fossey, who studied the gorillas in Rwanda. Dian was two years older than Jane; she was murdered in 1985. Both women were initially supported by Dr Louis Leakey. In fact, there was a third woman. She was Birute Galdikas, who researched orang-utans in Borneo. They are often referred to as "Leakey's Angels".
But it is Jane Goodall's work that has reached far beyond just a study of chimpanzees. Jane has used her knowledge to help and teach the world to appreciate animals and nature. There are "Wildlife Awareness Weeks" which aid conservation by providing jobs and supporting local economies. Her "Roots and Shoots" program introduces children to respecting and understanding all living things.