Women Who Inspire Us: Jane Goodall

Chimpanzee expert Dr. Jane Goodall took an interest to animals as a young child. This love of wildlife led Goodall to spend nearly six decades researching chimpanzees and advocating for their protection. Her groundbreaking discoveries – and the research methods she used – paved the way for a deeper understanding of wild animals and their habitats.

Goodall’s early career

Goodall started her career in 1960, when she went to work in Tanzania for a Kenyan scientist named Louis Leakey. He was studying primates to as part of his research on early humans. Recognizing Goodall’s promise as a researcher, he sent her to University of Cambridge for further studies. She earned a Ph.D. in ethology – the study of animal behavior – in 1966.

Breakthroughs in chimpanzee research

Goodall’s approach to studying chimpanzees went against research traditions of the time. While most researchers believed it was best to stay emotionally distant from the animals, Goodall bonded with the chimpanzees and became part of their society. Common practice was to give the animals numbers to identify them. Goodall instead gave every chimpanzee a name.

Jane Goodall, 2015

In the end, her skill and style led her to become the world’s top expert on chimpanzee behavior. She made several important discoveries:

  • Chimpanzees are omnivores. Previously, researchers believed they were vegetarians, but Goodall noted they eat smaller primates.
  • Goodall and many other researchers at one time believed chimpanzees were gentle creatures, but Goodall observed violent and sometimes brutal behavior at times.
  • Chimpanzees have complex social structures and rich communication systems. However, they do not have their own languages.
  • While many once believed humans were the only creatures to use tools, Goodall observed chimpanzees using twigs or blades of grass to eat termites.

Activism and chimpanzee conservationism

Goodall has received many awards over the years for her role as a scientist and activist. She also set up the Jane Goodall Institute to advance chimpanzee research and protect their habitat. The organization also works to empower young women in local communities through access to education and health care.