Jane Goodall, primatologist and frequent flyer

2014-02-10 19:25
Primatologist Dr Jane Goodall. (File, AFP)

Primatologist Dr Jane Goodall. (File, AFP)

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Johannesburg - Jane Goodall, who turns 80 this year, knows how to work a crowd.

In a packed auditorium, the elegant primatologist from Britain whooped like the chimpanzees she first studied in Tanzania in the early 1960s. She hugged an academic just like, she said, chimps do.

She talked about her crush, as a "romantic little 10-year-old", on Tarzan, the fictional figure raised by apes.

"What did he do? He married the wrong Jane," Goodall lamented to laughter at the University of the Witwatersrand, whose officials wished her a happy birthday.

Her birthday is actually on 3 April, and Goodall said she was perplexed by the hoopla.

Goodall, a protégé of anthropologist Louis Leakey, documented the relationships and other behavioural patterns of chimpanzees, finding parallels with human conduct that spurred debate about evolution.

Now she is an environmental activist, travelling 300 days a year to speak for those species, as one admirer put it, "who cannot speak".

The woman who said she got "depressed" in the early days of research, when chimpanzees vanished into the forest at her approach, is also part of popular culture.

Peace messenger

The United Nations designated her a peace messenger. Goodall's character has popped up in television parodies.

A celebrated photograph shows a chimpanzee reaching out to her in a kind of "ET" moment, reminiscent of the finger touch between alien and child in the science-fiction movie.

"There's no really sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom," Goodall said in an hour-long speech that was part autobiography, part save the planet.

She acknowledged that chimpanzees don't gather in auditoriums, send robots to Mars and communicate with words.

Creatures can be sneaky, though.

One of Goodall's favourite stories is about an aquarium where fish were disappearing after closing time. A camera was set up to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Goodall's 22-page resume, posted on the website of the Virginia-based institute that carries her name, lists the many advisory boards she sits on, honorary degrees and awards (well over 100, including Dame of the British Empire and French Legion of Honour).

She gives talks with a stuffed monkey propped on the podium. She has also travelled with a rock from the prison island where Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader who died 5 December, toiled in a quarry for years.

She has planted trees in Singapore, voted on favourite artwork by chimpanzees (the winner used only his tongue), picked up $1m from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen last year to study and protect gorillas in Africa and ridden in a carriage as grand marshal at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

Next month, she'll view a migration of sandhill cranes in Nebraska.

Last year, the release of Goodall's book about trees and plants, Seeds of Hope, was postponed because some passages were lifted from online sources and not properly credited.

She said in a statement that she agreed to delay the book and "correct any unintentional errors".

The publisher, Hachette Book Group, lists an April release date.

Read more on:    jane goodall  |  johannesburg  |  animals  |  environment  |  research

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