Jane Goodall’s biographer called her “the woman who redefined man.” That redefinition began in 1960, in what is now Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. Goodall arrived with no formal training in primatology, and without even a college degree. But she was patient, observant, and smart, and she quickly overturned some prevailing wisdom about primates — human, and otherwise. After she watched a chimp strip the leaves off a twig, and then use the stick to catch and eat termites, she showed the world that humans weren’t the only animals to fashion and use tools. Her mentor, the anthropologist Louis Leakey, telegrammed a now famous response: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”
In the decades since, Goodall and her followers have deepened their understanding of chimpanzee culture. They have charted complex family networks, and watched chimps at play and, troublingly, at war.
Goodall’s work has propelled her into the rarefied world of scientific stardom. In 2002 she was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Less than two years later, she was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (the equivalent of knighthood). She has also become an environmental activist through Roots and Shoots, a youth program that includes about 150,000 people around the world.
What would you like to ask Jane Goodall?