National Geographic News

David Quammen

for National Geographic

Published April 2, 2014

On April 3, Jane Goodall turns 80. Her work in behavioral primatology, for which the world first came to know her, focused on the chimpanzees of Gombe, a small forest reserve (now a national park) on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, in Tanzania.

She began her chimp studies there in July 1960 and continued until 1986. By then she had become acutely aware of the threats facing wild chimpanzees and of the sufferings of chimps held in captivity for medical research. (See "Being Jane Goodall")

So she left the satisfactions of doing field biology and became an activist. For almost three decades now she has spent most of her time on the road, lecturing, speaking with schoolchildren, testifying in public, using her gentle but forceful suasion on government officials, world leaders, other scientists, and anyone else she might meet.

Much of her effort is channeled through the Jane Goodall Institute and its programs, such as Roots & Shoots (involving young people especially in efforts to mitigate the human impact on the natural world) and TACARE (promoting conservation-related development in villages surrounding Gombe and elsewhere). She also continues to write—her new book is Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants. (Related: "Happy 80th Birthday and Thanks Jane Goodall!")

But sometimes even a dinner conversation with a key decision-maker (as she explains below) can yield important results. National Geographic spoke with Jane shortly before her birthday.

Q: Eighty years old. It seems a good time for looking forward.

A: [Laughs.] Somebody asked me the other day at a lecture—they said, "Your life has gone into these neat phases. What do you think the next phase is?"

What do you think the next phase is?

I said, "Well, I suspect it's death."

No, no, the next phase is something . . . else. What are the things you most hope still to get done?

Well, growing Roots & Shoots. I'm really passionate about that. It's in 136 countries. As far as we can estimate, it's approximately 160,000 active groups.  We got a commitment yesterday to form an adult group among the staff of the World Bank.

And the TACARE program?

All around Gombe the villagers put land aside to be a buffer. The chimps apparently have three times more forest now than ten years ago. Some of the trees are 30 feet high. Other villagers have put land aside to make a corridor toward this other group [of chimps] in the south.

This is how it was originally conceived. Taken a long time, but you mustn't give up. Now the villagers are our partners instead of our competitors, and they're realizing the value of the forest to them. Better water supply and no more erosion. No more silting of the valleys, no more mudslides—which killed a few people a while back.

And now coffee?  Some of the villagers are growing forest-friendly coffee?

Coffee is going super well. Over 2,000 individual farms, and they've got this cooperative. It's amazing.

So Gombe National Park is less isolated now, and the chimps aren't necessarily doomed to isolation effects, such as inbreeding?

Yes. Getting towards that. We're still not sure if it's going to work. But it's all we can do. We've tried, and it looks as though it might be working.

About chimps in captivity, and their use in medical experiments: You began working against that years ago, yes? As it was then practiced within agencies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health?

1986, '87, I suppose, was the first interaction with the National Institutes of Health about the conditions they were keeping their chimps in. We had the first conference, funded actually by HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] and NIH. It was the first time that lab people and veterinarians had sat down with [animal] welfare people and field people. Ever. I got a lot of flak for that. Sitting down with the enemy. You don't talk to the enemy, nothing can change.

And that sort of dialogue, that engagement with "the enemy" toward better treatment of chimps, has continued?  Have you pressed it with them recently?

Just last year, maybe the year before. Francis Collins is the director of the NIH. I sat next to him at dinner, and he said he didn't know much about the chimps. Because I asked him. So of course I spent the rest of dinner telling him all about it. Bless him, he got together a committee. And at first it was very biased toward the lab people, but he let me look at it. So we added in some field people, and there was a hearing on the Hill, and I testified at it. And this committee, their finding—do you know what it was? Not one single [research] protocol involving chimps being done today is useful to human health. And so Francis Collins said that they would retire almost all the NIH chimps to sanctuary. He has been wonderful! It's taken all that time, but we got there.

40 comments
Caroline Gould
Caroline Gould

Jane Goodall--you are absolutely amazing!  It seems that you change the world in a positive way every time you have a conversation!  Just imagine what could happen if you were really in charge of how things work -- like the world bank, nations at war, poverty, human rights, animal rights, and so on.  I am glad to have shared this time on earth with you.  You STILL make a big difference in my life!  Thank you for all that you so tirelessly do to make the world a better place.

Terri Walker-Frankeny
Terri Walker-Frankeny

Jane .....who has inspired so many....to find and hold onto their own destiny....

Happy 80th Birthday....


Thaís Frias
Thaís Frias

I am fond of her work. She is a person who gave us reasons to fight and believe. Happy birthday Jane <3

FRANCES HASER
FRANCES HASER

Happy Birthday Dr. Jane, you are an inspiration to us all.  God Bless You!!

Ann McMaster
Ann McMaster

Happy Birthday Jane! Hope you have a wonderful day filled with friends, family, and frolic. :)

Kalegaless Ad
Kalegaless Ad

Happy birthday,Jane.May the Aimighty add another another 20 to blow a centenary candles!!!

lucky dharmayanti
lucky dharmayanti

Happy Birthday Jane Goodall,

Thank you for all you have done...

If "thank You " is a things, I can't count how many thank you that I 'll give to you.

Nancy Lee
Nancy Lee

Happy Birthday Jane Goodall,

I have followed you almost since the beginning, and heard you speak in the 70's at UC Berkeley.  Not too many people on the planet have such a stellar record of making such a huge difference, and bettering life on this planet.  Bless you, and thanks for all your hard work and persistence.  (The animals thank you, too!)

Ani Peters
Ani Peters

Happy birthday lovely lady and thank you for all the invaluable work you have done and continue to do to save our beautiful chimps and for promoting conservation...Blessings

Michaela Lucna
Michaela Lucna

Bless you Jane, my biggest inspiration. And happy birthday :)

Joaquin Aja
Joaquin Aja

Happy Birthday Jane.  Through your communication with chimps you have given THEM a voice for all of the animal world.  

Louise Baddeley
Louise Baddeley

I truly hope she realises how much good she has done in the world and how much she has inspired a new generation of scientists, because she is always so humble when she talks about the success of her work - "We're still not sure if it's going to work. But it's all we can do. We've tried, and it looks as though it might be working." Happy birthday and thank you for being the woman who inspired me to do what I love.

Glenn Johnson
Glenn Johnson

Beautiful, you really are a hero. Thank God we have people like you and people who will follow in your foot steps.


Bless you all.

Carol Khan
Carol Khan

Thank you for your stand against the torture and imprisonment of our cousins, for having a clear mind and a unshakable purpose.

Isabel Hediger
Isabel Hediger

You are our Gandhi in the feminine... "Be the change which you want to see in the world"

With a great Respect and admiration, Happy Birthday Mrs. Goodal ! Long and Good-life!

Keshava Pavan
Keshava Pavan

salutes to one of the greatest and inspiring scientists ever

MJ C.
MJ C.

Happy birthday and God Bless for all you have done! I was lucky enough to once meet Ms. Goodall at a luncheon held by the ASPCA in New York City.  It was very informative and I thank Ms Goodall for everything she has done for the animals.

Patricia Walsh
Patricia Walsh

Blessings! For all you have been and all that you will be. Joy!

Rosie Lee
Rosie Lee

an amazing lady that has done invaluable work. Happy Birthday to you. x

Gwen Bilek
Gwen Bilek

Thank you and the happiest of Birthdays to you!

Eric Wuest
Eric Wuest

Happy Birthday, Ms. Jane Goodall. You've changed the world for the better.

If science is the light in the darkness,

Andthe Universe a religion,

You are a candle-bearer

In my pantheon.

All the best.

Eric Wuest
Eric Wuest

Happy Birthday, Ms Goodall. You've changed the world.

Maas WEERABANGSA
Maas WEERABANGSA

Thank you Ms Jane Goodall. It is really heartening to find there are people of your nature who do their most for the good of some of the worlds endangered species. If more and more got together and did their research such as this, I am sure there will not be a chance for the chimps to be an endangered species. May your research work progress well !   

Nurlia Magitha Mey
Nurlia Magitha Mey

Happy Birthday 80th Jane, you are such an inspiring woman, Thank you so much for you work and dedication to our fellow species.
 The word needs more  people like you  ! 

"I hope that people will understand that they matter as an individual. Every single day the choices they make will have either negative or positive impacts on the environment, on animals and on human health. So it's really, really important to live each day knowing you make a difference." - Jane Goodal -

Yasmin C.
Yasmin C.

Yay, she and I share the same birthday!! What an honor!

Kendall Virus
Kendall Virus

Thank God for you Jane and your good work ..Happy Birthday!

GERALD JAEGER
GERALD JAEGER

Beautiful woman who did great work and still continues. God bless and happy B-Day.

Carol Manka
Carol Manka

Jane Goodall has inspired generations of young women and men to enter the field of conservation and preservation of habitats and species. She represents the acme of activist scientists who have impacted our natural world in positive way.  Happiest of Birthdays, Jane. 80 is the new 60 this day and age! 

robert clapp
robert clapp

For me to care anything for Homo sapiens is due to those like you.   THANKS!!!!

MARK B.
MARK B.

I have good news Jane Goodall! There are chimps in Heaven thanks to you...I'm certain of it.

pamela letstalkaboutcorsica
pamela letstalkaboutcorsica

Respect and admiration. A life dedicated to our fellow species, with growth and expansion. A life of understanding - a life worth living. Bravo.

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