Jane Goodall

(b. 1934) English zoologist

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(1934–) British primatologist

In 1957 Goodall, a Londoner, approached Louis Leakey for a job of some kind as she “wanted to get closer to animals.” Leakey employed her, initially as a secretary, and took her with him to Olduvai. He told her that he had long been searching for someone sufficiently interested in animals to be prepared “to forego the amenities of civilization for long periods of time without difficulty.” More precisely he wanted someone to observe the 160 chimps of the Gombe Stream Reserve on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika at close quarters over several years. After some initial training at the Royal Free Hospital and the London Zoo, Goodall was installed at Gombe in 1970. She has remained there ever since; under her direction it has become a world-famous and much-respected research center.

In her first full account of her work, In the Shadow of Man (1971), Goodall presented what now seems to be a somewhat idealized picture of chimpanzee society. They were seen as mainly vegetarian, living in a relatively peaceful community and spending the bulk of their lives socializing with each other. They were also shown as toolmakers and users, adept at fashioning blades of grass into probes to be inserted into mounds to extract termites.

Her later work, however, presented in Through a Window (1990), revealed a darker side of chimpanzee society. The Gombe Reserve was home for three communities of about 50 chimpanzees each. Males will routinely attack and attempt to kill adult females of another group. In 1974, Goodall witnessed the outbreak of war within a single community. At that time the band split into two groups, which she called the Kahama and the Kasakela. Over a period of four years, Goodall noted that the Kasakela systematically and deliberately killed the entire Kahama group, males, females, and infants, presumably to take over their territory. It took several years for Goodall to come to terms with this picture. Goodall also rejected her earlier account of vegetarian chimpanzee bands. She found that they hunted monkeys, baboon infants, bushpig, bushbuck, and other small mammals. Hunting is undertaken by males and always in groups. Cannibalism took place on a number of occasions and the meat, as at other times, shared within the group.

Because of her prolonged observation Goodall has been able to document the social development of the individual in the community as well as the histories of a number of families. Males establish a dominance hierarchy and protect the group, while females remain with their mothers until they reach sexual maturity at about the age of ten. Young males leave a few years earlier to establish their place in the male hierarchy. Sibling and maternal ties, however, remain strong.

In more recent years Goodall has campaigned vigorously for the conservation of chimpanzees in the wild and for a less barbarous confinement of the many held in research institutions and zoos. To this end she has set up the Jane Goodall Institute for Research Education and Conservation with centers in America, Canada, and Britain. She has reported on her life's work at Gombe in a number of popular and often moving books, most recently in The Chimpanzee (1992).


Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Arts and Humanities.

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