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Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dr. Jane Goodall that hasn’t already been written in short biographies hundreds of times is the fact that she’s still working. Well into her octogenarian years, she has a living legacy to her name and mark on the planet that would have easily warranted retirement decades ago. On Earth Day 2020, National Geographic aired a documentary on her life entitled “Jane Goodall: The Hope.” What more could indicate a life well-lived?
And yet, Goodall is as busy as ever, running the Jane Goodall Institute, a community-led conservation organization as well as her Roots & Shoots program, which educates and empowers young changemakers. She’s a UN Messenger of Peace lends her wisdom in speaking engagements and interviews whenever she can.
Her stories of her early years in Gombe, Tanzania, where she conducted her famous work on the behaviors of chimpanzees in the 1960s, never cease to fascinate: her first epiphany moment seeing human-like understanding in the eyes of one chimpanzee she named David Graybeard, or her soul-level connection with another, Old Man, who she claims at one point saved her life.
“Animals like us – chimpanzees not only, but also baboons and pangolins and all the rest – they are sentient beings,” she said at a Global Landscapes Forum event last year. “They have a role to play.”
But equally engrossing are the moments along her path that led to her being one of the most impactful and influential scientists and activists of our generation: working tirelessly as a waitress and secretary to save enough money to travel to Kenya, her first time to Africa at age 23; impressing acclaimed paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey enough to place her studying wild chimpanzees, despite no higher education at the time; dictating her first book to her mother at the age of five, about a giraffe with a neck that reached to the moon.
The values, skills and dreams that make Jane Goodall Jane Goodall are now the backbone of her Roots & Shoots program, which aims to provide youth the resources and support to be empowered in creating change in their communities for people, other animals and the environment – a movement which exists in over 60 countries worldwide. The work of the Jane Goodall Institute exemplifies this philosophy through innovative community-led conservation, known as ‘Tacare,’ pioneered by Jane to see local people own the process of sustainable development and conservation.
And this, if nothing else, is comforting – to know that her life was so well-lived that it will live on through a generation of others too.