About Jane

Dr. Jane Goodall first set foot in what is now known as Gombe Stream National Park in 1960 when she launched her pioneering research with wild chimpanzees. She was only 26 years old. Her research project was unlike any other and has taught us so much about our closest cousins in the animal kingdom.

Jane Goodall: A Retrospective | National Geographic

In 1977, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which continues to support the research at Gombe. With 31 offices around the world, Dr. Jane and the Institute are widely recognized for effective community-centered conservation and development programmes in Africa and the protection of wild chimpanzees in Africa’s Tchimpounga and Chimp Eden sanctuaries.

In 1991, after meeting with a group of Tanzanian teenagers to discuss community problems, Jane created Roots & Shoots. This programme is dedicated to inspiring young people to take action in their communities and it has since grown to include approximately 150,000 individuals in nearly 100 countries.

Jane continues her work today by travelling an average of 300 days per year speaking in packed auditoriums, school gymnasiums, and conference centres about the threats facing chimpanzees, other environmental crises, and her reasons for hope that we will ultimately solve the problems that we have imposed on the earth.

Everywhere she goes, Jane urges audiences to recognize their personal power and responsibility to effect positive change through consumer action, lifestyle change and activism.

April 3, 1934

Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall is born in London, England to Mortimer, an engineer and Vanne, an author. Jane loves animals as a child. When she is just over one year old, her father gives her a toy chimpanzee, in honour of a baby chimpanzee born at the London Zoo. Jane loves the toy and names the chimpanzee Jubilee, carrying it with her everywhere.


Jane dreams of living in Africa to watch and write about animals. Although this is an unusual goal for a girl at the time, Jane’s mother encourages her, saying “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.” After the war, Jane’s parents divorce.

1939 - 1945

Jane’s childhood is a happy one with much time spent playing and exploring outside her family’s home in Bournemouth, England. But the Second World War is raging and Jane’s father is in the army as an engineer, disappearing from his daughter’s life for a time.

1952 - 1956

When Jane graduates from high school in 1952, she cannot afford to go to university. So Jane learns to be a secretary and works for a time at Oxford University typing documents. Later, she works for a London filmmaking company, choosing music for documentaries. In May 1956, Jane’s friend Clo Mange invites Jane to her family’s farm in Kenya. Jane quits her London job, moves back home and works as a waitress to save enough money for boat fare.

April 2, 1957

On April 2, 1957, at the age of 23, Jane travels to Kenya by boat. She has a wonderful time seeing Africa and meeting new people. Most importantly, she meet the famous anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis S. B. Leakey. Jane manages to impress Leakey with her knowledge of Africa and its wildlife to the extent that he hires her as his assistant. She travels with Leakey and his wife, archaeologist Mary Leakey, to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania on a fossil-hunting expedition.


When Leakey and Jane begin a study of wild chimpanzees on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, British authorities are resistant to the idea of a young woman living among wild animals in Africa. They finally agree to Leakey’s proposal when Jane’s mother Vanne volunteers to accompany her daughter for the first three months.

July 14, 1960

On July 14, 1960, Jane and Vanne arrive on the shores of Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in western Tanzania.


Studying the chimpanzees of Gombe is not easy. The animals run away from Jane in fear. With patience and determination she searched the forest every day, deliberately trying not to get too close to the chimpanzees too soon. Gradually the chimpanzees accept her presence.

October 30, 1960

Jane observes meat-eating for the first time October 30, 1960. Later, she sees the chimpanzees hunt for meat. These observations disprove the widely held belief that chimpanzees are vegetarian.

November 4, 1960

On November 4, 1960, Jane observes David Greybeard and Goliath making tools to extract termites from their mounds. They would select a thin branch from a tree, strip the leaves and push the branch into the termite mound. After a few seconds they would pull out the termite-covered stick and pick off the tasty termites with their lips.


Tool making becomes one of Jane’s most important discoveries. Until that time, only humans were thought to create tools. On hearing of Jane’s observation, Leakey famously says: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”


Jane’s work in Gombe becomes more widely known and in 1962 she is accepted at Cambridge University as a Ph.D. candidate, one of very few people to be admitted without a university degree. Some scholars and scientists give Jane a cold reception and criticise her for giving the chimpanzees names. “It would have been more scientific to give them numbers,” they say. Jane has to defend an idea that might now seem obvious: that chimpanzees have emotions, minds and personalities.


National Geographic decides to sponsor Jane’s work and sends photographer and filmmaker Hugo van Lawick to document Jane’s life in Gombe. In August 1963, Jane publishes her first article in National Geographic, “My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees.”


Van Lawick and Jane fall in love and marry in 1964. They have one son, Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick, known to family and friends as “Grub.”


Jane earns her Ph.D. in ethology (the study of animal behaviour) in 1965. Also in 1965, National Geographic provides funds for the construction of aluminum buildings at Gombe and with these first permanent structures on the site, the Gombe Stream Research Center is born.


Jane and Hugo divorce amicably in 1974. In 1975 Jane marries Derek Bryceson, member of the Tanzanian parliament and Director of Tanzania’s National Parks.


In 1977, Jane founds the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation.


In 1984, Jane begins groundwork for Chimpanzoo, an international research program of the Jane Goodall Institute dedicated to the study of captive chimpanzees and to the improvement of their lives through research, education and enrichment.


During November of 1986, at a scientific conference in Chicago organized around the release of Jane’s scholarly work The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behaviour, Jane and fellow attendees are stunned as consecutive speakers make clear the extent of habitat destruction across Africa and its threat to chimpanzee survival. Jane leaves the conference knowing that she must leave Gombe behind, and work to conserve wild chimpanzees.


In 1991, Jane and 16 Tanzanian students found Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute's global environmental and humanitarian education program for youth.


The Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education project (TACARE; pronounced "take-care") is launched in 1994. This program helps communities situated around Lake Tanganyika initiate sustainable agriculture, micro-finance initiatives and conservation education as a means to protect local habitat and animal species.

April 16, 2002

On April 16, 2002, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appoints Jane to serve as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

February 20, 2004

Jane is made a Dame of the British Empire (the equivalent of a knighthood) on February 20, 2004 during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.


2015 marked the 55th anniversary of the founding of Gombe Stream National Park, home to the most famous chimpanzees on earth. Because of Dr. Goodall and the dedicated researchers who have since participated in making additional discoveries, the lives of these chimpanzees have been more thoroughly documented, photographed, and filmed than any other wild animals.


Jane continues her work today by travelling an average of 300 days per year speaking in packed auditoriums and school gymnasiums about the threats facing chimpanzees, other environmental crises, and her reasons for hope that we will ultimately solve the problems that we have imposed on the earth. Jane continually urges her audiences to recognize their personal power and responsibility to effect positive change through consumer action, lifestyle change and activism.


The research that Dr. Goodall put in motion so many years ago is as vibrant as ever and now plays an important role not only in helping us understand chimpanzees, but also informing the Jane Goodall Institute's conservation efforts in Western Tanzania, and across the entire chimpanzee range.



Photo credits: (hero image) Hugo Van Lawick/JGI US, (timeline) JGI US

The Jane Goodall Institute does not endorse handling, interacting or close proximity to chimpanzees or other wildlife. This is a historical photograph / video that cannot be cut or shown outside the original context.