Every year, millions of people visit the continent of Africa to take in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of its fauna and flora. Whether it’s the plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya, the roaring cascade of the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe/Zambia or the vast deserts of Namibia, Africa has long since had a hold on man’s imagination. The routes we traverse across this great continent, metaphorical and otherwise, were mapped out by the intrepid men and women of yesteryear – explorers with a notebook and a thirst for adventure. In this series, we profile a safari icon of the past one by one and pay homage to the work they did.

We began the series by getting to know the man behind the walking safari, Zambia’s Mr Norman Carr (which you can read here). Next up, renowned for her amazing work with chimpanzees, it’s Jane Goodall…

Born in England in April of 1934, Jane Goodall possessed an extraordinary affinity for animals from a very young age. Born to a businessman father and an actress mother, Jane’s interest was said to be sparked by a gift given to her by her parents while she was still very young. The gift was of course a stuffed toy chimpanzee, initially thought to be too scary a toy for a toddler by her parent’s friends, which brought about her continuing love for, and fascination of, our primate cousins.

Jane in her early years

After having worked for several years in England after completing her high school education, Jane was presented with an opportunity to travel to Kenya at the age of 23 to visit the farm of a family friend. Immediately enamoured by the mystique of Africa, Jane set about looking for a job there that would enable her to stay on the continent she was fast falling for. It was a little later, in 1957, that Jane secured employment as a secretary for a Kenyan firm. Little did she know how much the position was going to change her life…

After a short while in her new role, Jane was given advice by a friend to contact prominent Kenyan archaeologist and paleontologist, Louis Leakey,purely about the possibility of meeting to discuss African wildlife. Fortuitously, Leakey just so happened to be looking for a researcher to assist him on his study of primate behaviour. He kept that part of the job to himself for the time being, instead offering Jane the chance work for him as his secretary in Tanzania. Jane was elated and immediately agreed to the job that took her that much closer to her beloved chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees – Jane’s life and passion

Jane moved to Tanzania shortly after accepting the job and began in earnest her work for Mr Leakey. Leakey was impressed by her enthusiasm and ability, and, in 1958, he sent Jane to study primate behaviour in London with renowned experts Osman Hill and John Napier. In 1962, Leakey then arranged for Jane to study towards a Ph.D in Ethology at the prestigious University of Cambridge. With an aptitude that was clear to all, Jane became only the 8th person in the University’s history to obtain a Ph.D without having first obtained an undergraduate degree.

With her new-found knowledge and contacts, Jane returned to the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania upon completion of her thesis (titled “Behavior of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee”) where she continued her remarkable, almost personal relationships with the resident chimpanzee population. Jane immersed herself in her study of the animals and spent almost every waking hour being amongst them. Her knowledge of the primates was surpassed only by her love for them; and so Jane fast become renowned as the leading expert on Chimpanzees.

Jane as she was most comfortable

In 1997, Jane established the Jane Goodall Institute as a means to protect and preserve the chimpanzees and their habitat. Recognising the importance of education, the Institute set about establishing “sustainable development programs that engage communities as true partners” (from the Jane Goodall Institute). The community outreach has proven successful as the Institute continues to this day to champion the rights of the endangered animals.

With speaking engagements and honorary doctorates from the world over, Jane is still as active today as she was decades ago in her attempt to safeguard chimpanzees for generations to come. She is a true Safari Icon and all of us at African Safari Consultants salute the good work of her and her Institute!

To Jane!