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­Kids Connect! Scientific Greatness: Dr. Jane Goodall

By Christine DePetrillo
November 22, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Conservation, Education, Research, Wildlife

There are many people who have changed our world with their discoveries. Dr. Jane Goodall is one of those people. Here’s why.

Even at an early age Jane Goodall loved nature. In 1957 she went to Africa for the first time. There she met Louis S. B. Leakey, famous archaeologist and paleontologist. Impressed with her interest and knowledge, he hired her as an assistant then asked her to study a group of chimpanzees in Tanzania with the hope of learning more about our own evolutionary past.

Her first weeks at Gombe were frustrating. The chimpanzees shied away from her, so she had to study them from a peak where she could observe what they did with her binoculars. Her notes revealed many things formerly unknown about chimps. For example, it was thought that chimps were vegetarians. Goodall saw them hunting and eating small mammals. It was also thought that what separated humans from chimps was the use of tools. Goodall, however, witnessed a chimp she named David Graybeard using a stick, stripped of its leaves, to probe a termite mound. When she reported this information to Leakey, he wrote, “Now we must redefine ‘tool,’ redefine ‘man’ or accept chimpanzees as humans,” emphasizing the importance of Goodall’s discovery.

Goodall made many observations in Gombe that were published in National Geographic, with captivating photos by filmmaker/photographer Hugo van Lawick. As the level of support for the Gombe study increased, the pair was able to build a permanent camp with chimp-proof buildings and to hire more researchers. The Gombe Stream Research Center was born.

Chimpanzees, Goodall found, were emotional creatures, exhibiting both kind and violent behaviors similar to humans. She continued to study chimps at Gombe even as she traveled worldwide promoting conservation. Her book, The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, was published in 1986 and documents her 25 years worth of research.

Goodall started as a scientist and made the shift to activist. Today, she is on the road more than 300 days a year! She lectures, meets with government officials, makes television appearances, does interviews, and raises money for conservation causes. Reaching out to young people is of particular interest to Goodall. She views them as the key to protecting the planet. She developed a special program, Roots & Shoots, to get young people involved in global issues and to empower them.

Jane Goodall is a true example of a woman of achievement. She has made a difference in the lives of many, both human and chimp. Her energy is contagious. Her message powerful. We can learn a great deal from someone with her spirit.

Assignment: There are many people who have made important contributions to conservation. Check out some of them below.

Rachel Carson

John Audubon

Jacques Cousteau

Aldo Leopold

Julia Butterfly Hill

Ecology Hall of Fame

Challenge: Make a plan to do something environmentally friendly this week. Some ideas include conserving energy, recycling, and fundraising for a nature organization. I’m sure you can think of something to do that will help the planet!


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