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Meet Dr. Jane Goodall, Goldman Prize Ceremony Speaker

May 3, 2022

Many famous doctors are fictional—from Doctor Who to Indiana Jones and Dr. Zhivago—but our real world has a living legend in Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE. Sixty years into a trailblazing career, she is the world’s most-beloved conservationist; a UN Messenger of Peace; an author; an international spokesperson; a world-renowned ethologist; an activist; and a global icon.

With decades spent inspiring in us a greater understanding of the natural world, we couldn’t be more honored to have Dr. Goodall join us in May at the 33rd Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony. To understand the importance of her global contributions, let’s dive into a little background on Dr. Goodall’s truly wild—and wildly impressive—story.

Dr. Jane Goodall and Rebeca Atencia release orphan chimpanzee Wounda on Tchindzoulou Island (Photo: Jane Goodall Institute/Brice Ngomo)

Becoming Dr. Jane Goodall

Born in London in 1934, Dr. Goodall was raised reading storybooks like Tarzan and Dr. Dolittle. She dreamed of living among wild animals and writing books about them. After saving for years as a waitress and through other jobs, at just 23 her curiosity got the chance to leap off the page: a friend in Kenya provided the opportunity to finally visit Africa. There, as fate would have it, Dr. Goodall met Dr. Louis Leakey, a famed paleoanthropologist who studied early humans and wanted to better understand their behavior. His work led him to the study of our closest living relatives, the great apes, including chimpanzees. Three years later, he would invite Dr. Goodall to Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania) to conduct field research at what was then known as the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve.

A woman and without a college degree, Dr. Goodall broke the mold and broke ground in the world of ethology (the study of animal behavior). Among many other incredible observations, she noticed that chimpanzees make and use tools, a concept that entirely redefined our understanding of chimpanzees and ourselves. Previously, tool-use was what was believed to define humans as separate from the rest of the animal kingdom; her work changed everything. Armed with little but a notebook and binoculars, Dr. Goodall integrated herself into chimpanzee communities in ways no scientist previously had—and she did much of her groundbreaking research in sneakers or barefoot.

With impressive field experience under her belt, Dr. Goodall would then enroll at the University of Cambridge in 1962—by 1963, she’s on the cover of National Geographic; by 1965, she’s completed her first National Geographic documentary. Despite her fame, she continued researching chimpanzee communities for decades. Today, the Gombe Stream Research Center through the Jane Goodall Institute maintains the longest-running wild chimpanzee study in the world.

Jane writing up her field notes in her tent at Gombe. (Photo: Jane Goodall Institute)

Building a Legacy: the Jane Goodall Institute

Dr. Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in 1977 to continue her research on a wide-reaching scale. Although she wished to continue her idyllic life as a field scientist, she realized that this would be impossible without healthy ecosystems. Dr. Goodall saw how poverty and other inequities put pressure on human communities, which in turn overused natural resources out of necessity. She knew that she needed to do something. Dr. Goodall and JGI began advocating for animal welfare, spurring innovative science and technology, and pioneering programs in community-led conservation, an approach that focuses on sustainable development to tackle the drivers of conservation threats. JGI would be one of the first institutions to address the central role humans play in the well-being of animals and the natural world.

In 1991, when a group of Tanzanian teenagers voiced their environmental concerns to Dr. Goodall, she encouraged them to use their passions to make a difference. Roots & Shoots was born. JGI’s work through Roots & Shoots focuses on empowering young people to create positive change in their communities—for people, other animals, and the environment. Fast forward 30 years, and JGI’s Roots & Shoots program can now be found across over 60 countries, working with the next generation to build a better world for tomorrow. The program highlights one of Dr. Goodall’s most beloved practices: hope in action.

A young fan in Malaysia patiently waits for an autograph from Dr. Jane Goodall. (Photo: Roots & Shoots Malaysia)

Dr. Goodall: Hope for Today

With decades spent advocating for chimpanzees and the environment at large, Dr. Goodall believes that there’s a secret to real change: When we have reason to hope, we have reason to act. Her newest book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, and her podcast, the Jane Goodall Hopecast, both deliver inspirational messages.

In 2021, Dr. Goodall received the lauded Templeton Prize in recognition of her work merging science with spirituality and compassion. Other notable honors include the Medal of Tanzania, the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal, the Kyoto Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, and the UNESCO 60th Anniversary Medal.

Today, Dr. Goodall works tirelessly across the globe, raising public awareness and understanding to advance climate action and ecosystem protection. We’re honored to have her deliver remarks for the 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony—tune in on Wednesday, May 25, at 5:00 pm PDT / 8:00 pm EDT to hear her message of hope and action.

Header image: Dr. Jane Goodall beside a waterfall in Gombe National Park, Tanzania (Photo: Jane Goodall Institute/Bill Wallauer)

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