Jane Goodall: 'The Woman Who Redefined Mankind'

April 17 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Save the Wild

When little things in your life start to bug you, it’s always helpful to be reminded of how big the world is, and how we’re all in this together. As kids, we learn about biodiversity, and that if one living thing goes extinct, it can affect a host of other living things. In a memorable example, an anthropologist talks about how nearly all of India’s vultures are disappearing. (NBD, right? Who needs those creepers?) Well, they’re like garbage disposals, cleaning up as many as 10 million animal carcasses every year. See, everything’s connected. It makes me wonder if letting vultures annoy me affects other aspects of our lives that we don’t even realize.


That same anthropologist mentioned something called “mourning fatigue,” and girl, I’ve got it. We hear bad news every single day, from breaking news notifications sent to our phone to late-night tweets. It makes sense, then, that we barely have enough energy to care about our environment and spaces that seem far removed from us, like wild forests. But here’s the thing: Only 28 percent of Earth’s wild forests are left. From absorbing carbon to regulating regional climate to providing jobs, forests are important, y’all.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Jane Goodall, Animal Rights Activist & Scientist

Today, we’re discussing a woman you may have heard of but may not know much about. Jane Goodall is an animal rights activist and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her remarkable life’s work. When Jane shares the story of how her career studying wild chimpanzees came about, she says it begins when she was only five years old.

Jane visited a farm and asked, “Where do eggs come from?” She says no one’s answer satisfied her, so she ventured out on her own to the henhouse and waited for a chicken to come in. Hours later, Jane’s mother, distressed by her missing daughter, sees Jane running in with glee. Her mother doesn’t get upset and instead listens to Jane recall what she saw in the hen house.

That story colors all of Jane’s life, because it was her mother’s support that helped her raise funds to travel to the African forest of Gombe in 1960 to study primates in their natural habitat. Jane’s discoveries changed the scientific community’s beliefs regarding humans and monkeys. Human beings were often described as elite, in a way, because unlike animals, humans make and use tools. But Jane made a remarkable observation: Chimpanzees used tools, too. They’d strip a twig of its leaves and “fish” for termites (an afternoon snack) from a mound.

The National Geographic described Jane as “the woman who redefined mankind.” As you can imagine, male scientists weren’t pleased. Jane wasn’t a college graduate, wasn’t a formal scientist of any kind, and yet she made one of the biggest achievements in history when she was just in her mid-20s.

In 1977, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute to support research and conservation efforts. One of its programs is Roots & Shoots, aimed at young people as the world’s next generation of conservationists. Working with 100 countries around the world, the program—and Jane— recognizes that change doesn’t happen overnight or alone.

The scientists who scoffed at Jane did so not only because she didn’t hit the books in a traditional manner (though she’d later go on to get her PhD), but because she made science seem accessible. Jane would give her chimpanzees names, the first being David Greybeard, and she wrote her first book for the general public. Even back then, Jane understood that if we’re to save and protect the world around us, every global citizen must learn and lend a helping hand.


As Jane Goodall said:

"The greatest danger to our future is apathy."

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