20th century / Science

Jane Goodall

By Harriet Dalrymple.

Jane Goodall is one of the most famous, celebrated and inspirational figures in Science today, however it is not only her academic work that has made her so successful. Few scientists have the charisma needed to entertain the public on TV quiz shows, and win round comedians such as Jon Stewart. Her kind and witty character has undoubtedly made her one of the most important figures in the conservation effort.

Not only has Jane made many advances in our understanding of primate behaviours, but she has gained recognition worldwide amongst a diverse range of people for her work in conservation, education and sustainable use of our natural resources. Her successes have been recognised with many awards, and Jane is now a UN messenger of peace. Her enthusiasm for her subject and compassion for local people and the needs of communities, have allowed many of her projects to be very successful. However the unconventional research methods used in much of her research has provoked many negative reactions. The Jane Goodall institute set up by Jane in 1977 has been of paramount importance in promoting conservation amongst people of all ages and from all countries.

Jane showed an interest in wild life from an early age, and this enthusiasm was recognised by the anthropologist Louis Leakley. He hired her as a research assistant in 1960, to work on a dig in the Olduvai Gorge in Eastern Africa. Soon after, she was sent to the Gomber Stream national park, where she first came into contact with the chimpanzee colony that she would study for over 40 years.

Jane Goodall’s study on Chimpanzees in the Gomber Stream national park in Tanzania is one of the longest of its kind and has revealed much about social structure of chimpanzee groups, cognition, and tool use. These studies have led to a new way of thinking about chimpanzees. Her studies led to the realisation that chimpanzees are far more similar to humans than previously thought, and the discovery of tool use in another species led to a reclassification of what it is to be human. The similarities seen between humans and chimps have been instrumental in the success of the conservation and education programmes, encouraging empathy for wildlife and the environment. This research is controversial due to the unconventional research methods used on the chimpanzees. Instead of numbering the chimpanzees (as is common in most research), Jane named them all and became quite attached, which could have skewed the results of her studies. She also placed feeders in the study grounds, as an aid for attracting the chimps, which was seen to provoke unusual behaviours such as aggression over the food source. Many scientists worry about the impact of human interference and presence on the studies. She herself has recognised the flaws in her studies, and the difficulties incurred when projecting her own feelings on the chimps. Many of her successes can be attributed to this aspect of her character and her ability to recognised flaws and wrongdoings.

During her chimpanzee studies the threats to her subjects became more apparent and more serious, prompting Jane to set up the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977. Goodall created this charity to raise awareness about the plight of many chimpanzees in the wild, and to help ensure their conservation and survival into the future. Human pressures such as hunting and illegal capture have caused serious declines in many chimpanzee populations.

The institute has conservation projects in four main areas: three natural conservation areas, where research and other community projects take place, and also several sanctuaries housing the victims of the bush meat trade, which orphans many individuals. Another serious threat to chimpanzee populations, and indeed to all plants and animals occurring in tropical regions, is deforestation.

Millions of hectares of tropical rainforest habitat are being destroyed every year, and this is certainly one of the biggest problems mankind has ever been faced with. Slash and burn techniques used to clear land for farming and cattle ranches have caused untold damage to standing tropical forest. Not only does this destroy the habitats of many plants and animals, but deforestation and fire cause by humans contributes around 40% of the global greenhouse gases per year. This is a significant contribution to the problem of global warming, and affects many people in many different countries. Solving this problem is far from simple, as tropical rainforest countries are amongst the poorest in the world, and for many local people exploiting the forest is the only means of making a living. Simply protecting the rainforest without providing any benefit for the local people causes as many problems, and is as unsustainable as deforestation.

The Jane Goodall institute was one of the first wide scale conservation programmes to offer benefits to the local communities, and this is one of the things that have made it such a success. The JGI projects all aim to bring benefits to the local communities, by providing employment and a source of income. Local people are employed in sanctuaries, and the institute supports local sustainable farming by buying local produce to feed the chimpanzees. The institute also invests heavily in education of local young people teaching them about the value of their forests, their importance for human survival, and methods of sustainably using their resources with minimum impact of the wildlife. Roots and shoots is an initiative set up by Goodall to educate children in the UK about the issues affecting rainforests and the environment in a wider context, and promotes sustainable use of the worlds resources, so that people and wildlife can coexist in harmony. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is the next step forward in this type of conservation, as had taken many elements of the JGI conservation programmes to the next level. Paying local people for “ecosystem services” such as carbon sequestration could be the answer.