‘Chimp champion’, Dr. Jane Goodall, visits U of T Mississauga

Image of Dr. Jane Goodall
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 10:47am
Kimberley Wright

When shy British secretary, Jane Goodall, entered a remote corner of the Tanzanian jungle to observe wild chimpanzees, she had no idea her work would span 50 years, or that her breakthrough discoveries would revolutionize the way we view chimps and other mammals.

The famous primatologist, and UN Messenger of Peace, spoke to more than 1,100 University of Toronto Mississauga students, staff, faculty, and community members on September 18, as part of the university’s Snider Lecture Series. Wearing her signature ponytail and carrying a plush toy monkey, the 78-year-old Goodall reflected on her life’s work at the Gombe Stream Game Reserve.

“When I arrived at Gombe, the chimps would take one look at me and vanish into the vegetation,” Goodall said. “I knew that if I didn’t see something exciting in the first six months, the funding would evaporate, the expedition would be over, and I would let down my mentor, paleontologist Louis Leakey.”

Then, within four months of spying her first chimp, Goodall made several crucial observations: chimps make and use tools, and they eat meat.  The discoveries gained worldwide attention and National Geographic stepped in to fund her ongoing research. Over the decades that followed, Goodall recorded, in minute detail, every nuance of chimp behaviour, revealing that chimps are capable of love, hate, laughter, violence, and forming lifelong attachments.

In 1986, Goodall left the jungle to campaign for wildlife protection and environmental conservation. She travels and lectures 300 days per year to fundraise for the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global environmental and humanitarian non-profit, and Roots & Shoots, a youth organization that empowers young people to tackle global issues and become environmental stewards in their own communities.

“The idea for Roots and Shoots was born on my veranda in Tanzania,” Goodall said. “Twelve young people gathered to discuss their commitment to animals and the environment, and now that passion—that hope to heal the planet—has spread to over 131 countries, and 16,000 active groups.”

Camilla Oblak,  a first-year psychology student attending the event, said she has admired Goodall since high school. “I was very interested to hear Dr. Goodall talk about her work, and particularly her childhood,” Oblak said. “She is so inspirational. I am definitely going to look into her organizations.”