Famed British primatologist and ethnologist Jane Goodall is our second Thoreau Muse.
In 1960, at the age of 28, Jane began her 56 year career studying chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Defying both the dangers presented to a woman in remote Tanzania in those days and the scientific convention of numbering individual animals instead of naming them, she was able to observe social behaviour that broke new ground in how we view these close relatives.
As the only human ever accepted into chimpanzee society, Jane was the lowest ranking female member of a troop for a period of 22 months. She was able to observe unique personalities, basic tool-making skills and complex social interactions both positive and destructive. These findings suggested far closer similarities between humans and chimpanzees than merely genes and revolutionised the way we perceive other animal species’ intelligence and emotional development.
Since the mid 80s Jane has been a leading voice for animal rights and continues to work on promoting greater awareness and education around conservation of biodiversity.
This pioneer, widely considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, not only helped pave the way for women in scientific endeavour, but challenged the deeply held idea of human elitism and changed the way we perceive our co-inhabitants of this world. For this we are profoundly grateful.