By Gavin Aung Than
Feb 1, 2016
Dr. Jane Goodall is an environmentalist, humanitarian, author, UN Messenger of Peace and one of the most famous scientists alive. Her groundbreaking studies of chimpanzees changed our perception of our primate cousins and consequently, how humans looked at themselves.
Goodall was 23 when she first visited Africa and met the famous palaeontologist Louis Leakey. Although she didn’t have a university degree, Leakey was so impressed with Goodall’s knowledge of Africa and its wildlife, he hired her as his assistant. Goodall was the first of Leakey’s ‘Trimates’ who were chosen to study primates in the wild, the other two being Diane Fossey (gorillas) and Birute Galdikas (orang-utans). In 1960, aged 26, Goodall arrived at what is now known as Gombe National Park where she began her painstaking study of chimpanzees, living among them in their natural habitat.
Besides being the first human to be accepted into a chimpanzee community, Goodall made several pioneering discoveries. She was the first to record chimpanzees eating meat (they were previously believed only to be vegetarian) and use tools for finding food. Tool making was previously one of the traits that scientists believed made humans ‘special’, but with Goodall’s discovery that notion was shattered. Leakey famously said “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.” Even though some experts criticised the unscientific methods of Goodall (she later earned her Ph.D in 1965), her findings were hugely important and defined our understanding of chimpanzees.
In 1977, Goodall founded The Jane Goodall Institute, dedicated to protecting chimpanzees, preserving their habitats and improving the world we all share. In 1991, she founded Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, a global youth program dedicated to environmentalism, which now has over 150,000 members in 130 countries. Goodall, at 81 years old, still works tirelessly today as an advocate for the planet and its wildlife, travelling for most of the year and spreading her message.
The passage used in this comic is taken from an article Goodall wrote for Time magazine in 2002. In it, Goodall outlines the reasons for hope she has for our planet despite the overwhelming odds facing us. Thankfully, Goodall has recently updated her article for 2016, which can be read in full here.