Celebrating Dr Jane Goodall’s record-breaking chimpanzee study as it marks 63 years


The inspirational Dr Jane Goodall is celebrating her 89th birthday today, and to mark the occasion, we’re delving into her record-breaking work with primates.

Jane, who is a member of the Guinness World Records Hall Of Fame, is known around the globe for her passionate conservation work.

The primatologist and anthropologist holds the record for the longest-running wild primate study, initially kicking off her Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve study when she was 26 years old.

That means the study will celebrate its 63rd anniversary on 14 July 2023.

jane goodall holds two chimpanzees

Jane began her work in what is now Tanzania’s Gombe National Park in 1960 and it continues to this day under her Jane Goodall Institute, which she founded in 1977.

Gombe is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and is one of Tanzania’s smallest national parks, covering just over 50 square km (19 sq mi).

While it may be small, it provides a vital habitat to around 150 chimpanzees and many other species.

Jane’s study has logged more than 165,000 hours’ worth of data through the observation of more than 320 named chimpanzees who’ve lived in the park over the decades.

The research has been the basis of more than 430 academic papers and has supported dozens of graduate students in their master’s and doctoral-level university studies.

Jane’s tireless work to protect chimpanzees has brought her countless awards over the decades.

She’s been made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE), has been handed the Légion d’honneur, the Medal of Tanzania, and has been appointed a UN Messenger of Peace.

Her love of primates began at a young age, when rather than a traditional teddy bear, it was a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee who was her favourite childhood toy.

Devouring the pages of books like Doctor Dolittle, The Jungle Book and Tarzan, Jane was just 10 years old when she set her sights on travelling to Africa to see the animals she’d read about with her own eyes.

She once confessed that not many people understood her dream at the time.

jane goodall with chimpanzees

“Everyone laughed,” she said. “World War II was raging; Africa was far away; my family had little money, and I was a mere GIRL!” 

But her mother told her not to give up on her ambitions and to take advantage of every opportunity that came her way.

It was during a visit to Kenya in 1957 that Jane arranged a meeting with famed palaeontologist Louis Leaky.

She wanted to talk to him about his ideas that studying primates could help us learn more about human origins.

Originally, Louis took Jane on as a secretary, but he quickly realized that her potential was being completely under-utilized.

jane goodall kisses a chimpanzee

He arranged for her to be tutored by leading primatologists with the aim of making her his official assistant, and three years later, he sent her off to Gombe, where her record-breaking research programme was born.

When Jane first began observing the chimpanzees, they would run away whenever she got close, but before long, they welcomed her into their home.

She said: “One never-to-be-forgotten day, I saw a group of about seven chimpanzees grooming and playing on the other side of a narrow ravine. Intending to get a little closer, I misjudged distance and emerged from the vegetation very close to them. 

“Of course, I expected them to run, but to my amazement they looked up at me, then carried on grooming and playing. I was accepted. It was the proudest moment of my life.”

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