After more than 50 years studying chimp behavior, the famous scientist discusses her legendary work in our backyard
by Kendra Hartmann
Published - 09/20/12 - 09:50 AM | 213115 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud.
© Michael Neugebauer
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More than 50 years ago, a young British woman with no formal scientific training ventured into the jungle in Tanzania (then Tanganyika) to observe some chimpanzees. What she discovered over the next several decades turned the scientific community on its head.

Jane Goodall, now a world-renowned primatologist, blurred the lines between human and ape with her research. She discovered that chimps make tools, wage war, are omnivores and sometimes adopt unrelated youngsters. Behaviors and traits that were previously thought to be unique to humans were found in the tribes of chimps that Goodall observed during her years at what is today Tanzania’s Gombe National Park.

On Sept. 28, Goodall will bring her life’s work to La Jolla for a dinner to benefit the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global nonprofit that empowers people to make a difference for all living things. Goodall will discuss the work of JGI, which continues her pioneering research and efforts to protect chimpanzees and their habitats. The institute, which celebrates its 35th ann-iversary this year, is widely recognized for establishing innovative community-centered conservation and development programs in Africa, as well as Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, a global environmental and humanitarian youth program.

Goodall, at 78, is still very much active in her work, both as a primatologist and as a conservationist. She travels at least 300 days a year, visiting every corner of the earth to raise awareness about the state of chimpanzees and the current threats to the planet. Though Goodall, who calls Gombe her favorite place on earth, would love to spend more time at the national park, she feels her time is better spent empowering youth to be better environmental stewards, said Mary Humphrey, CEO of JGI. Goodall still manages to return to Gombe twice a year, Humphrey said, to “observe the ongoing field work, visit with old friends — chimp and human — and recharge her batteries.”

The work at Gombe, meanwhile, continues on without too many changes from Goodall’s first efforts there starting in 1960.

“In some ways, the work is very much the same,” Humphrey said. “Field staff, the majority of whom are Tanzanian, go into the forest each day and track select chimps and record their behavior.”

What’s different, however, is how technology has aided research. When Goodall first ventured into the jungle, she had little more than binoculars and a notepad. Today, the field staff uses geographic information system (GIS) technology and high-resolution satellite imagery to track chimpanzee populations and the impact human settlements are having on their environment. Data collected are scanned and sent digitally to the Jane Goodall Institute Center for Primate Studies at Duke University, where the information is entered into an archive of more than 50 years of data to be used by scientists from around the world. Additionally, Humphrey said, “The institute is working with Google Earth Outreach on a pilot climate-change effort that is enabling local communities to take a leadership role in protecting the restored forests surrounding Gombe and the larger nearby ecosystems where additional chimpanzee populations live.”

Using Google technologies, Hum-phrey explained, forest monitors collect the data to prove their efforts are protecting the forest, “An essential requirement if the area is to participate in the global program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) — which will qualify the communities for financial support for sustainable development plans,” she said.

Since beginning her studies, Goodall’s efforts have shifted from primatology to conservation — efforts that were particularly stepped up when high human birth rates and periodic influxes of people fleeing wars in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to high population density around the park. Deforestation and loss of chimp habitats became painfully clear when, in 1992, Goodall flew over Gombe and witnessed the almost total loss of trees.

“She realized the problems faced by the villagers, such as poverty, lack of clean water, education and primary healthcare, and overused farmland were intrinsically related to the environmental issues,” Humphrey said. “She saw that there were more people living around the park than the land could support.”

Today, Goodall works to keep the institute’s various efforts afloat — a daunting challenge, given the significant resources needed to carry on the research and operations — while trying to impart her message of conservation to future generations.

At the Sept. 28 event, held at the home of Bill and Michelle Lerach in La Jolla Farms, guests will be treated to refreshments by Snake Oil Cocktail Co. and an intimate poolside dinner with Goodall.

The event will include a live auction with unique items like a trip to see the sandhill crane migration with Goodall; a VIP safari tour at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with a private dinner prepared by celebrity chef Brian Malarkey; a framed tool used by a chimpanzee, featuring Goodall’s signature; and more.

For more information about the benefit dinner and to purchase tickets, visit For more information about Goodall and the JGI, visit

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