How a Brave Moment Changed the Course of Dr Jane Goodall’s Life


She’s famous for chatting to the chimps in chimpanzee, but the acclaimed ethologist has been moved by human endeavour too. As told to Di Webster.

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

1957: My first experience in the wild was when the archaeologist Louis Leakey took me, his wife, another young English girl, Gillian, and a few Kenyans along on his annual search for human fossils in the Great Rift Valley. All the animals were there – giraffes, zebras, leopards and lions – and one day, walking out on the plains, Gillian and I almost bumped into a rhino. Fortunately, the wind was blowing from him to us. He trotted back and forth with his tail up making pftting sounds. He knew something was there, but he couldn’t see us. It was really exciting. Another time we were in the gorge and when I looked back there was a full-grown male lion following us. Gillian was scared and wanted to hide in the thick vegetation. I said, “No! He can see us better in there than we can see him, so we should go up onto the open plains.” That night around the campfire, Leakey decided I was the person he’d been looking for to study the chimps. He said I’d acted in exactly the right way. 

Gombe Stream, Tanzania

1960: When I first arrived in Gombe, I was living my childhood dream. As the years went by and I learnt to navigate the steep hills and forests and got to know the chimpanzees – all of this on the longest and second-deepest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika – it touched my heart more and more. I couldn’t have been in a more idyllic place. In the very early days, I was accompanied by Rashidi, one of the local guides, but they soon decided I was crazy anyway, so most of the time I was on my own. My first encounters with chimpanzees were disastrous because they would take one look and run away. The first time I got close to a group, I expected them to run as usual, but they stayed. They glanced at me, the males went on grooming and the young ones went on playing. It was magic; they had finally accepted me. My heart was filled with happiness; it was very beautiful.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris 

1972: I’d gone to Paris for a conference and I’d always wanted to see the cathedral, so I went on my own. I was going through a bit of a sad time in my life. I walked in just as the rising sun was shining through the great rose window. There was a wedding, which I didn’t see, but the organs suddenly came alive with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which is an amazing piece of music. I stood there and realised that nothing in this life happens by chance. It was a magical, life- changing moment for me. I thought of all the people who built that great cathedral and all the people who had worshipped in it, and I thought of Bach creating that music. All of it came together in that one instant. 

Think Inc., in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute Australia is currently hosting An Evening with Dr Jane Goodall at venues throughout Australia and New Zealand. For information and tickets, go to

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