(1934 - )

Compiled by Brooke Davis (December 1999)

Goodall Biography
Time Line

Jane Goodall was born in London, England, on April 3, 1934 and grew up on the southern coast of England in Bournemouth. She was interested in animals from a very early age. When she was four years old, she hid in a henhouse all day just to see how a hen lays an egg. However, that was only the beginning of her exploration into the animal kingdom. Goodall dreamed of living in Africa with the animals. Contrary to the widely accepted opinion in those days that women would not do well on the “Dark Continent,” her mother encouraged her. She told her, “Jane, if you really want something, and if you work hard, take advantage of the opportunities, and never give up, you will somehow find a way” (URL3).

In London, Goodall earned her school certificate with matriculation exemption in 1950 and her higher certificate in 1952 (URL6). During her childhood and adolescence, she did not give up on her dream of traveling to Africa. When a school friend invited her to Kenya, her dream began to come true. After saving for years, at the age of 23 she traveled to Kenya by boat. It was during her time in Kenya that she heard about Dr. Louis Leakey, a prominent anthropologist who is now famous for his discoveries of early human remains at the Olduvai Gorge (URL4, URL7). Goodall made an appointment with Dr. Leaky, and after answering many of his questions about Africa and its wildlife, he hired her as an assistant. She traveled with Louis and Mary Leakey to Olduvai Gorge for a fossil-hunting expedition. After three months at Olduvai Gorge, she and Dr. Leakey began discussing the possibility of studying chimpanzees on the shores of Lake Tanganyika (URL4).

Dr. Leaky chose Goodall to begin a study of wild chimpanzees on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. The British authorities were resistant to the idea of a young woman living among wild animals. However, they did agree after Goodall’s mother volunteered to accompany her for the first three months. In July 1960, Goodall and her mother arrived at Tanganyika, which is today Gombe National Park (URL5).

Observing the chimpanzees was frustrating at first. The chimpanzees feared and fled from her. Everyday Goodall would search the forest with a determination not to get too close. Some days she would watch from a high overlooking peak, but she did not lose her determination to get closer (URL5). Her techniques were sometimes unorthodox and controversial. For instance, she assigned the chimps names instead of numbers and even set up a banana-laden feeding station to lure the chimps into the open (URL7).

In 1965 National Geographic did a television documentary about Goodall, which promoted her international prominence and quieted her doubters. During the same year, England’s Cambridge University awarded her an honorary doctorate. Goodall is one of a select few to earn such a distinction without having completed four years of college (URL7).

Goodall has written books and made films. One of her popular books about chimpanzees is In the Shadow of Man (1971). She has also written Innocent Killers (1971), which is about the social and predatory behavior of the spotted hyenas. In 1977, Jane founded The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation (Encarta). Among her many honors, Jane was awarded the National Geographic Society’s prestigious Hubbard Medal for distinction in exploration, discovery, and research in 1995 (URL6).

Today Goodall is a professor-at-large with Cornell University and focuses her attention on a passionate campaign for chimpanzee conservation and research. She speaks against the nonessential use of chimps for medical research. While traveling the world, she gives speeches and raises money for the half-dozen chimpanzee refuges she has established in Africa (URL7). Goodall also lectures to school groups about Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute’s environmental education and humanitarian program for youth (URL1).


Through her observations Jane Goodall has uncovered many aspects of Chimpanzee behavior and shown that chimpanzees are more like us than we originally suspected. In October 1960, she observed tool use by chimpanzees. The chimpanzees made and used sticks as tools for fishing for termites. This discovery challenged the idea that man was the only toolmaker (URL5).

She studied the stages of chimpanzee development and found similarities between it and human development. Just as human children do, some chimpanzees develop faster than others do and the mother has a marked effect on that development. Mother chimps can be permissive or restrictive just as human mothers are. She observed the facial expressions and calls of the chimps, which are used to convey emotion just as they do in humans (van Lawick-Goodall, 1971). She observed chimps using objects in their environment for aimed throwing, investigation probes, weapons, feeding on ants and termites, toolmaking, sponges, toilet paper, and levers among other uses.

Goodall found chimps to be omnivores just like humans. They eat vegetables, insects, birds’ eggs and fledglings, and meat (van Lawick-Goodall, 1971). She discovered that seemingly peaceful chimpanzees systematically hunt other animals, such as bushbucks, bushpigs, baboons, red colobus monkeys, and occasionally a redtail monkey or a blue monkey (URL8, van Lawick-Goodall, 1971). Her discovery of chimpanzee omnivorous behavior has led others to find that lower-ranking males often trade meat for mating privileges (URL8).

Goodall found that dominant females sometimes killed the young of other females in an effort to maintain their dominance. She documented the reproductive success of specific females and uncovered their use of “pant-grunts” to indicate rank. The higher-ranking chimps got better access to food, which translated into increased survival of their young, therefore increased direct fitness (URL8).

Goodall & Chimp

Goodall’s research has “highlighted striking similarities in the behavior of chimpanzee and man, notably communication patterns … Eventually the detailed understanding of chimpanzee behavior that will result from [her] long-term research at the Gombe will help man in his attempts to understand more of himself ” (van Lawick-Goodall, 1971). The research that she has already compiled through her “practice of following individual chimps for decades has yielded an unprecedented wealth of information for current researchers” (URL8).

Time Line
1934 Birth
1950 School Certificate (London) with Matriculation Exemption
1952 Higher Certificate (London)
1957 Traveled to Kenya
1960 – present Studies the behavior of free-living chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania
1960 Observed tool use in chimpanzees
1962 Entered Cambridge University, England as Ph.D. candidate in Ethology
1965 National Geographic documentary
1965 Ph.D. degree awarded (London)
1967 - present Scientific Director of the Gombe Stream Research Centre, Tanzania
1968-1969 Social behavior of the Spotted Hyena
1970 Published Innocent Killers
1971 Published In the Shadow of Man
1977 Founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation
1995 Awarded The National Geographic Society Hubbard Medal for Distinction in Exploration
1996 - present A.D. White Professor-at-large, Cornell University, USA
1999 Published Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey
1999 Travels the world educating others about chimpanzees

Jane Goodall (1998) Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation.

URL1. Jane Goodall, Ph.D. (1999) http://www.wcsu.ctstate.edu/cyberchimp/DRJANE.html/.

URL2. The Jane Goodall Institute. (1999) Biography: A Day in the Life of Jane Goodall http://www.janegoodall.org/jane/jane_bio_day.html.

URL3. The Jane Goodall Institute. (1999) Biography: Childhood http://www.janegoodall.org/jane/jane_bio_child.html.

URL4. The Jane Goodall Institute. (1999) Biography: Early Years In Africa http://www.janegoodall.org/jane/jane_bio_early.html.

URL5. The Jane Goodall Institute. (1999) Biography: Gombe Stream. http://www.janegoodall.org/jane/jane_bio_gombe.html.

URL6. The Jane Goodall Institute. (1999) Curriculum Vitae. http://www.janegoodall.org/jane/jane_curr.html.

URL7. Nature Website. (1999) Jane Goodall’s Story. http://www.wnet.org/nature/goodall/html/body_intro.html

URL8. Nature Website. (1999) Our Closest Relatives. http://www.wnet.org/nature/goodall/html/body_chimps.html

Van Lawick-Goodall, J. (1971) In the Shadow of Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Van Lawick-Goodall, Jane and van Lawick H. (1970) Innocent Killers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; London: Collins.

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