In 1957, 23-year-old Jane Goodall travelled on a passenger liner from her native England to Nairobi, Kenya. She had meagre savings and no university degree, but hoped to fulfill her lifelong dream of working with African animals. By luck or destiny, Goodall met famous paleontologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey, who offered her a job as his personal secretary. Three years later, upon Leakey’s request, Goodall was tramping through the forest in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park to study chimpanzees. It was there that she made a groundbreaking discovery: she observed chimpanzees using grass stems to fish termites from a mound, forcing the science world to rethink the definition of humans as “tool makers.” 

In the late 1980s, Goodall’s life changed again. She had become fully aware of the environmental destruction and animal cruelty happening in the world, and started travelling almost constantly to educate the public about these issues. Unlike scientists who spell out doomsday scenarios, Goodall believes that we still have time to save planet Earth – as long as we act fast and work together.

This year Goodall turned 80 years old, but she hasn’t slowed down. She’s travelling more than ever to share her knowledge and to inspire change. One of Goodall’s 80th birthday wishes is to expand the youth-led community action and learning program, Roots & Shoots, that she initiated in Tanzania in 1991. The program has spread to more than 130 countries, including Canada, and has supported more than 150,000 members pursuing a wide range of projects that help animals, people and the environment. Goodall plans to remain a public presence for many more years to come, but Roots & Shoots is already building her legacy and shaping the next socially conscious and sustainably minded generation. 

Read A/J's inspiring interview with Goodall, "Learning, Leadership & Hope" in the Education issue, available now.

Jane Goodall and colleagues arrange the release and relocation of several chimps from cramped confines in Burundi to a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya in this 1995 video.

Video by National Geographic Television/National Geographic Creative. 


When you think of a big tree, it starts out as a little seed. And if you pick up the little seed when it begins to grow, it seems so weak. It may have little tiny shoots and little roots, but those little roots can work through rocks and eventually push them aside to reach water. And that little shoot can work through cracks in a brick wall and eventually knock it down to reach sunlight. So think of the rocks and the walls as all the environmental and social problems we inflict on the planet. Roots & Shoots is about hope.
– Jane Goodall

Video courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute Canada / Shannon Litt.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a freelance journalist based in Sydney, Australia. She recently completed her PhD in creative writing at Macquarie University, and is the creator of EarthVoice Podcast

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