Besides breaking the glass ceiling for women in her field, Ethologist and conservationist, Jane Goodall, is certainly a rare gem among primatologists.
For more than 60 years, she has been one of the fiercest advocates and champions for animal conservation.
According to a report by National Geographic, Explorer Jane Goodall has dedicated her life not just to chimpanzees but conservation, globally.
Goodall’s journey to greatness can be traced back to 1960, when she made her reputation with her famous studies of chimpanzees, in Gombe Stream National Park, at the western border of Tanzania.
It must be noted, primatology was an almost entirely male-dominated field.
The stereotypes attached to girls back then were absurd, Goodall told Time, in an interview.
“I remember a very funny time in my life just before I got to Africa. My paternal uncle was Sir Michael Spens, son of Lord Patrick Spens. Michael was keen to present me at court as a debutante.
“In those days, society girls had a season of dances and balls — a kind of marriage market. Obviously to me, this was completely absurd, but I had to humor Michael, and so I lined up in Buckingham Palace to shake hands with the Queen.
“I remember being surrounded by girls who said to me, ‘Don’t you dream of being a lady-in-waiting?’ I replied, ‘Absolutely not—I want to live among wild animals.’ They recoiled in horror. They thought I was very weird, but then I thought they were very weird, too.”
In another interview with The Huffington Post in 2010, Goodall believed she made a difference.
“Judging from the number of young women who’ve wanted to follow in my footsteps, I should think it has changed it a lot!”
“This has happened to me all over the world, certainly all around America, young women have said, ‘You really helped me break out of the mold, you really helped me realize it could be done.’ And kids write and say, ‘You taught me that because you did it, I can do it.’ Those are the letters I love the most.”
View this post on Instagram
To add to the complexity to the situation, Goodall had no university degree and no formal training as a scientist or primatologist. She only had desire and unconditional love for animals which gave her the determination to succeed.
Goodall in 1957, was hired as a secretary to Leakey, a paleoanthropologist who with his wife Mary was touted to have uncovered evidence that the earliest humans lived in and migrated out of Africa.
It was a few years later after receiving a grant from the National Geographic Society, Goodall began her mission to Gombe, where her work would redefine our understanding of primates.
Her observations have been described as “prolific”, but there was one that stood out and forever changed the foundations of primatological and anthropological thought.
While observing a chimpanzee, Goodall noticed him using pieces of grass to “fish” for termites while feeding. Up to this point, the scientific consensus was that tool-making separated humans from their primate cousins, but her observations disproved that.
Leakey was quoted to have responded to that, “we must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human.”
View this post on Instagram
Her work in Gombe continues. The Gombe Stream Research Center (GSRC), now run mostly by Tanzanians, is one of the longest field studies of an animal species in history, according to National Geographic.
Goodall has since focused on animal conservation, the Jane Goodall Institute, which was founded in 1977, has worked for decades to secure the habitats of chimpanzees and other species, while Goodall has become a global ambassador for conservation efforts.
In May 2021, Goodall received the prestigious lifetime achievement award, 2021 Templeton Prize, valued at $1.56 million.
Forbes also reported that she pledged to use the prize money towards the furtherance of her work.
“It’s magical to win this Templeton Prize. I can use it to do so much more for all of the projects that I am passionate about,” she told Forbes.
The Templeton Prize, is the largest single award of her highly decorated career and is granted to those individuals whose life’s work embodies a fusion of science and spirituality.
Previous recipients include Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.