Given the prestigious award for showing that chimps have personalities, feel emotion and make and use tools like humans, the famed conservationist is still working to protect them and the environment
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Jane Goodall
Dr. Jane Goodall
| Credit: The Jane Goodall Institute/Derek Bryceson

Mother Teresa has received it. So has the Dalai Lama.

And now, Dr. Jane Goodall, the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, has been named the recipient of the 2021 Templeton Prize Laureate — one of the world's most prestigious individual lifetime achievement awards, it was announced Thursday.

Starting in 1960, at age 26, Goodall, now 87, spent decades studying chimpanzees in the wild in the remote forests in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park.

Jane Goodall
Credit: Tim Cole

In what would become groundbreaking research that revolutionized how we think of primates and ourselves, she saw firsthand how chimps — including the kind and gentle David Greybeard (among many others she named, including Flo, Fifi and Frodo — were interacting in a complex social structure.

Cinema For Peace Gala 2018
Dr. Jane Goodall
| Credit: Franziska Krug/Getty

She saw firsthand how they comforted each other, kissed, hugged and built and used tools — behaviors that up until that point, scientists only believed humans were able to do.

"They are so like us," the UN Messenger of Peace told PEOPLE in 2020.

Goodall, who founded the eponymous Jane Goodall Institute, which helps protect chimpanzees, other animals and the environment, is the first female ethologist and the fourth woman to receive the landmark award.

Valued at more than $1.5 million, the Templeton Prize is one of the world's largest annual individual awards and the largest that Goodall has ever received, the John Templeton Foundation says in a release.

The award, started by the late philanthropist Sir John Templeton, is "given to honor those who harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind's place and purpose within it," the foundation says in a release.

"Unlike Goodall's past accolades, the Templeton Prize specifically celebrates her scientific and spiritual curiosity," it adds.

Foundation president Heather Templeton Dill, who is Templeton's granddaughter, said Goodall's "discoveries have profoundly altered the world's view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity in a way that is both humbling and exalting."

"Most importantly, throughout her career, Dr. Goodall has championed the value of all life forms on Earth, changing both scientific practice and the culture at large," Templeton Dill adds.

In her acceptance speech for the prize, Goodall said, "I have learned more about the two sides of human nature, and I am convinced that there are more good than bad people."

Goodall went on to say, "I can identify closely with the motto that Sir John Templeton chose for his foundation, How little we know, how eager to learn, and I am eternally thankful that my curiosity and desire to learn is as strong as it was when I was a child."

The legendary conservationist joins past laureates such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu in receiving the award.

Mother Teresa was the first to receive the prize in 1973.

Goodall is showing no signs of slowing down. Besides trying to protect chimpanzees and battling the climate crisis, she has a new book coming out in the fall, called The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.

Late last year, she launched the Jane Goodall Hopecast.

She continues to harness the power of youth with JGI's Roots & Shoots and its National Youth Leadership Council.

Goodall will participate in the 2021 Templeton Prize Lectures in the fall.