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Jane Goodall: 40 Years in Africa

A photograph in the first National Geographic featuring Jane Goodall shows the 29-year-old washing her hair in a Tanzanian creek. The caption reads: "In a wilderness boudoir, Miss Goodall lathers her blond hair."

When Goodall first reported from Africa, National Geographic readers were almost as interested in the small, soft-spoken young woman as they were in the chimpanzees she was studying.

Forty years after she first came to Tanzania, Goodall continues her work with the country's chimpanzees.
Photograph by Michael Nichols

More than 40 years after she left England for Africa, Goodall is just as soft-spoken, but now when she speaks, the world listens.

"I'm basically rather a private person," said Goodall in an interview with National Geographic Today. But, she added, "there is this interest, and if it's taking me to be a celebrity…it can only benefit the cause that I'm fighting for."

Goodall: A Consummate Conservationist

Goodall's cause has grown beyond chimpanzees in the last four decades. She now lectures around the world arguing for the preservation of natural resources.

When she began to see the forests of Africa disappearing, Goodall said, " my first goal was to visit some of those countries, maybe talk to some of the leaders and see if we could have perhaps some greater conservation efforts."

It is important, she added to look beyond Africa to solve some of the continent's environmental problems. "A lot of these ills are being visited on Africa by the developed world," she said, "which is still raping some of the last treasures of Africa's natural resources."

Goodall has also spoken out against medical experiments performed on chimpanzees and other animals. She said she believes there are alternatives to animal testing.

"I think it was terribly arrogant and wrong of us to think that we had the right to cut up and basically torture animals for our own good," she said. "And if we hadn't done it that way we would have progressed very much further."

Another concern of Goodall's is that, "children around the world are losing hope." To inspire these children, Goodall began a program called Roots and Shoots, which teaches children how to help the environment in their own backyard.

"Its main message is that every individual makes a difference," she explained. "Every individual has a role to play."

In the Chimp: A Mirror of Humanity

Although Goodall's own role has expanded in the past 40 years, her first love will always be chimpanzees. First given a stuffed chimp called Jubillee at age two, she traveled to Africa at age 23 and was chosen by anthropologist Louis Leakey to study chimpanzees.

"I cannot remember a time when I did not want to go to Africa to study animals," she wrote in a 1963 National Geographic article.

Goodall's research in Tanzania showed that chimps shared many other traits with humans: they eat meat, make and use tools, express awe, form coalitions, and fight wars.

The study of chimpanzees has given humanity a window on itself, Goodall said. "There's this rich emotional life, and they show, sadly, a side of brutality and cruelty as we do. But also they show compassion, and love, and altruism."

After nearly half a century of living among chimpanzees, Goodall said there is still much to learn about the animal, which differs genetically from humans by only 1.4 percent.

"They can live to be to be 60 years," she said, "I've still only done 40."

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