Jane’s love of animals was fostered in childhood, when her father gave her a stuffed chimpanzee as a toy, and all the books she wanted to read were about animals.
She dreamed of going to Africa, studying animals and writing books about them, and this dream began to come true when a schoolfriend invited her to visit her family in Kenya. Jane worked night and day as a waitress to earn enough for the voyage.
In 1957, aged 23, she arrived in Kenya. She met anthropologist and palaeontologist Louis Leakey and was soon working for him as his secretary. He was so impressed with her knowledge and passion for Africa and its wildlife that he took her on a fossil-hunting expedition to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
Jane recalled: “I could have learned a lot more about fossils and become a palaeontologist.
“But my childhood dream was as strong as ever – somehow I must find a way to watch free, wild animals living their own, undisturbed lives. I wanted to learn things no one else knew, uncover secrets through patient observation. “I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could.”
In 1960, Leakey chose Jane to travel to Gombe reserve to study chimpanzees in the wild. She immersed herself in her new life learning how to get close to these elusive wild animals, and made the groundbreaking discovery that chimpanzees could make and use tools, something previously believed to be the sole preserve of humans. After presenting her evidence of a chimpanzee modifying a twig then using it to entice termites out of a mound, Leakey sent a telegram saying: “We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human.”
She also revealed that chimpanzees have deep family relationships spanning generations.
Returning to Britain, she studied for a PhD at Cambridge – one of just a handful of non-graduates ever to study for a doctorate.
In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute to support the research in Gombe and scale up the protection of chimpanzees in their habitats in Africa.
Jane soon realised that it was futile to study and protect wild chimpanzees without involving the local people.
This led to the founding of the TACARE programme. Tanzanians worked on sustainable programmes to benefit their local community, who then became partners in conservation.
In 1991, in Dar es Salaam, Jane met Tanzanian school students who confided their own deep concerns. This led to the first Roots & Shoots group. The humanitarian and conservation programme empowers young people to become involved in projects for their community, animals and the environment.
The Jane Goodall Institute also cares for wild chimpanzees in sanctuaries in Republic of Congo and South Africa, and works to improve the conditions of captive chimpanzees in many countries.
In 2002, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Jane to serve as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2004 and, in 2006, received the French Legion of Honour, as well as the UNESCO Gold Medal Award.
Now 84, Jane still travels the world more than 300 days a year campaigning, speaking and inspiring the next generation.
She continually urges her audiences to recognise their personal power and responsibility to effect positive change through consumer action, lifestyle change and activism.
“Every individual counts,” she says. “Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference every single day.”