Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist and conservationist, opened her address at Lafayette College with a greeting she knows better than anyone else: a chimpanzee call.
Her love of wildlife started in her earliest days. As a toddler she took a handful of earthworms to bed with her, only to quickly return them to the dirt outside after her mother’s explanation that the worms would die because they needed the earth. At age 7, she discovered Dr. Doolittle, and then Tarzan, which first inspired her interests in Africa, despite some disappointments they held for her.
“What did [Tarzan] do? He married the wrong Jane,” Goodall said in her speech.
Goodall’s charm only further enticed the crowd as she started unfolding the story of her career. Goodall’s parents could not afford to send her to college, so instead she went to secretarial school. On her mother’s wise advice to use her secretarial degree to get to Africa, she got a job as a secretary first in London and then in Kenya to Louis Leakey after taking a trip to Africa with a school friend. Leakey was researching apes and soon asked Goodall to become his research partner.
She spent many years thereafter developing her world famous research on chimpanzees in the Gombe forest. She noticed how they used leaves as tools to scoop up food, how they kissed and tickled and hugged each other, how their family structure was so dependent on the quality of the mother. She saw personalities in these wild animals.
“Why am I not in Africa now?” Goodall asked the crowd. “Why did I leave my dream job in the wild? I had to leave and do anything I could for the chimpanzees.”
In 1986 Goodall went to a conference of wildlife researchers in Africa where she became aware of the gross effects deforesting and the bush meat market were having on the wild.
Aware of the inconsistency of seeking help for animals in Africa when people were suffering, Goodall started Tacare in hopes of improving the lives of people living near the Gambe forest not by being arrogant white people but by having local Tanzanian representatives work with the program to create successful water projects, sanitation and microcredit opportunities.
She later started the Roots and Shoots program, which blossomed from 12 high school students to now participants of various ages in 130 countries, to give youth the tools they need to bring change to the world.
Throughout all of Goodall’s actions, we can see her main goal: to prove to all of us, over and over again, that change is possible, that it is not too late and that if we all act together, we can create a positive cumulative effect.
Goodall answered student and faculty questions after her speech in a session moderated by Provost Wendy L. Hill, who had also introduced Goodall to the crowd. Goodall held a book signing at the back of the lecture hall afterwards.
Goodall’s speech Thursday night was part of the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Visiting Lecture Series.