In Bustle’s 28 Q&A Series, Successful Women Describe Exactly What Their Life Was Like At 28 – What They Wore, Where They Worked, What Stressed Them, And What They Would Do, If Anything Else. , differently. This week, primatologist Jane Goodall looks back on her third year of chimpanzee research in the forests of Tanzania.
Five years before she was 28, Jane Goodall had traveled to Kenya to visit a school friend, whose family lived on a farm outside of Nairobi. There she had met renowned anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey – a fortuitous encounter, as they were hiring Brits in their twenties to be their assistant. At 28, she was working in the forests of Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania, studying chimpanzees in their natural habitats. She had already met David Greybeard, a chimpanzee who used twigs to extract termites from their mound, which proved that humans weren’t the only species that made and used tools. And as she neared the age of 30, Goodall began working on a doctorate. in Ethology at the University of Cambridge.
“Thanks to David Greybeard for showing me the tool he was using, the [National] Geographic Society agreed to fund my research, ”Goodall told Bustle during a video call. “They funded a filmmaker, Hugo van Lawick, who came to document what I was learning, and eventually I married him. So it was his film, along with my detailed notes, that ultimately convinced the scientific community that humans weren’t the only beings on the planet with personalities, problem-solving minds, and most importantly, emotions.
Today, almost 60 years later, Goodall lives in Bournemouth, England, in the attic of his late grandmother’s house. She spent the last year here with her sister, niece and grandnephews. She sits in the same garden she loved as a child, under the same tree she used to climb. “I called him Beech and spent hours up there doing my homework, reading books, being around the birds,” says Goodall, who is now 87. “I have half an hour in the middle of the day to sit under Beech, having my sandwich, accompanied by a robin and a blackbird.
Given her affection for nature, it’s no wonder she has partnered with the United Nations Environment Program for a new initiative called Trees for Jane, which directly supports’ indigenous and frontline custodians. of forests ”and encourages everyone to plant your own trees if you can.
Below, Goodall reflects on his life at 28, WWII, and dating advice.
At 28, you were two years in research at Gombe and had made some of the most important discoveries of your career. What were you interested in doing next? Did you have a plan?
No, my plan was to continue because there was so much to learn. I didn’t want to stop. I had just grazed the edge. Chimpanzees can live 60 years and everyone is an individual. To truly control their behavior, it takes years and years. We are currently in our 61st year of studying the same chimpanzees in Gombe. We are about to start the fifth generation.
Living on land in the forest seems to be an interesting configuration. What was a typical day for you? Did you have free time on weekends?
Every day I set the alarm. I got up while it was still dark. I took a cup of something from the thermos, a piece of bread, and then I went into the mountains. Sometimes I put peanuts in my pocket, sometimes I don’t bring anything. And I came down from the mountains just as night was falling. Then I had a supper, prepared by the cook. Simple, very simple, [we had] very little money at the time. And then I wrote my notes [of] everything I had seen during the day, first in hand because we couldn’t afford a computer. Chimpanzees don’t have weekends, so neither do I. So it was my day, from dawn to dusk.
When Hugo and you started dating, you were on a lot. It wasn’t a typical start to a relationship. Was there anything young people today could learn from your relationship?
Now, we got thrown together. We were there, both animal loving, both loving being in nature. So it was pretty inevitable that we would decide, well, let’s do it together. And for a long time it worked really well. We were a good team, with me watching, Hugo recording it. Hugo is editing the films. Hugo takes pictures. Hugo satisfying [National] Geographical with its pictorial track record and me satisfying them through writing.
I don’t think I have any advice for young people. I was going to say you should share the interests. We have shared interests up to a point. And then things took a turn for the worse because we didn’t share everything. But there are really successful marriages where husband and wife have very different professional interests. So I don’t think it’s for everyone. It just depends on their personalities.
You have become a global icon in the conservation world. Was there a time when you realized you were becoming some kind of celebrity? How has your life changed?
It all started when I helped organize a conference to bring together people who study chimpanzees in different parts of Africa. When I started it was just me. In 1986, there were six more field sites. It was then that I realized how quickly the number of chimpanzees was dwindling. The forests were disappearing. So I went to this conference as a scientist – I had my PhD. at that time – and I left as an activist. That’s when I started traveling around the world, I guess, in 1987, because I had to find the money to do it.
And about being an icon, more and more people gradually recognized me because of [National] Geographic, because I was their cover girl. People would come and say, “Oh, you’re Jane Goodall. Can I have a signature? I was horrified. I wanted to hide. I hated. I was very shy. And I used to walk through airports with my hair loose [to hide my face]. I didn’t like it at all.
But at one point I realized that I wanted to save the chimps and the forests, so let me take advantage. I started carrying small brochures and started the Jane Goodall Institute. I had to put up with it. It’s like there are two Jane’s. There’s this one talking to you in the house where I grew up, and then there’s the icon. They are separate and yet they are the same.
Tell me about the house you are in now.
It was my grandmother’s, and me, my sister and my mother came here when [World War II] exploded. [My uncle] came every other weekend after being a surgeon in London. During the war, we had to provide rooms in the house to anyone who needed accommodation. If you had a spare room, that’s what you had to do for the war effort. So they gave us two women. We didn’t like either one very much, but they were there in the house. And that’s how I was during the whole 5-10 year war. And now my sister lives here with her family: her daughter and two grown grandsons. So we were together during the pandemic.
Is there something you would tell your 28 year old self to do differently?
I would suggest my 28 year old self do exactly what she did. So she made mistakes, but she learned from them. No one else was studying chimpanzees at that time. It was unexplored. And come to think of it, I think I made the right decisions.
What do you think your 28 year old self would think of Jane today?
She just thought, “Oh, that can never happen,” and shrugged and continued what she was doing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.