Jane Goodall hasn't exactly found the missing link, but she's come closer than just about anyone else on Earth. Her extensive research into the behavior of chimpanzees, which started in Africa in the 1960s and continues today, fundamentally altered scientific thinking about the relationship between humans and other mammals.
Goodall, who founded a research institute in her name in 1977, is an internationally recognized authority on the primate world. She's written books for adults and children, contributed to documentaries, and serves as a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, a United Nations peace messenger, and the president of Advocates for Animals. For her efforts to observe and preserve all species, Goodall has received honors and accolades from governments, nonprofits, universities, and professional organizations, including a medal from UNESCO and the French Legion of Honor in 2006.
In October, 2001, Jane Goodall spoke before a group of teachers at the Wisconsin Education Association Council. She encouraged them to join her in "spreading environmental awareness, and not to let that effort be overwhelmed by the events of September 11th and their aftermath."
She encouraged the teachers to join Roots and Shoots, small groups of young people who adopt projects showing concern for the environment, animals and their communities." One Roots and Shoots participant, sixteen-year-old New York City resident Deland Chan, recently received a David Brower Environment Award.
From a very early age, Jane Goodall showed a keen interest in observing animals. One day, when she was four, she spent hours crouching in a henhouse trying to see how a hen laid an egg. By the time she was eight, Goodall says she’d decided she wanted to go to Africa someday and live among wild animals.
Goodall’s parents divorced when she was 12, and when she graduated high school the family didn’t have the funds to send Jane to university. But her mother, Vanne, recognized her daughter’s fierce intelligence and intense desire to explore the world, so she encouraged Jane to attend secretarial school – because secretaries could find jobs anywhere.
In 1960, after working with paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey, Goodall studied chimpanzees living in the Gombe reserve in Tanzania. The ongoing study that Goodall began 50 years ago showed that chimpanzees use tools, eat meat, and that some chimps that haven’t seen each other for days hug and leap for joy when reunited. After marrying a National Geographic photographer, having a son, going through a divorce, and losing her second husband to cancer, Goodall left Gombe to advocate for the preservation of wild chimpanzees and the forests they call home.
Since then she has broadened her advocacy through the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots youth program. She is a tireless champion for ecological sustainability, traveling some 300 days of the year to speak to audiences around the world about the necessity of wilderness conservation and environmental protection. I met Goodall on a chilly day in a New York City hotel, and she looked remarkably youthful for a person in her mid-70s.