The 86-year-old world-renowned conservationist reflects on all she's accomplished in the last 60 years and all she has left to do to protect chimpanzees — and the planet

By KC Baker
July 14, 2020 12:42 PM
Advertisement
Dr. Jane Goodall
Shawn Sweeney

Like her childhood idol, Dr. Dolittle, Dr. Jane Goodall has quite a way with animals.

Take June 20, 2013, for instance, when the beloved conservationist and animal welfare advocate and her team at the Jane Goodall Institute's Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo released a rehabilitated chimpanzee named Wounda into the lush island sanctuary site.

In a stunning video that pulled at heartstrings around the world, the chimp reached for Dr. Jane, as she likes to be called, moments after being released, and embraced the British ethologist, holding her tenderly before disappearing into the forest.

It’s not like they’d spent a lot of time together.

“We met that day,” Goodall, 86, tells PEOPLE.

Since July 14, 1960, when Goodall arrived in Tanzania at the age of 26 to begin studying chimpanzees in the wild, she’s gotten to know dozens of them — including their likes and dislikes, quirks and idiosyncrasies.

“I knew them so well,” she says.

On Tuesday, Goodall and her eponymous nonprofit, the Jane Goodall Institute, are marking the 60th anniversary of the day she and her fiercest supporter at the time, her mother, novelist Vanne Morris Goodall, traveled to what is now Gombe Stream National Park to begin groundbreaking research that revolutionized how we think of them — and other living creatures including ourselves.

Goodall is hosting a Facebook live event at 12 p.m. ET to commemorate the anniversary at facebook.com/janegoodall.

Goodall was the first-ever person  to show that chimps communicate like humans, have personalities like humans and use and make tools.

“They are so like us,” she says.

While she is proud of all she and the JGI have accomplished over the years, she says she isn’t doing much celebrating because chimpanzees are in such danger right now, for many reasons, including COVID-19.

Dr. Jane Goodall
Shawn Sweeney

The deadly disease which is wreaking havoc worldwide “will creep towards Gombe. Chimps are susceptible to all our contagious diseases, particularly to respiratory ones,” she says.

“The forests have been destroyed,” she continues. “They are hunted, killed, trafficked. It's hard to actually celebrate.”

On the other hand, she says, “We can celebrate the fact that we’ve been there for 60 years.”

In that time, she and her team at the JGI have worked hard to protect chimpanzees and the environment — something she is still working hard to do, even during the pandemic.

Dr. Jane Goodall
Franziska Krug/Getty

In 1986, she walked away from the forests of Tanzania so she could begin telling the world about the plight of the chimpanzees she came to love so much.

The hope for the planet lies in its youth, says Goodall, who started the Roots & Shoots program at the JGI in 1991.

"I hope to leave my mark by empowering young people to take action," she told PEOPLE in 2010.

The program "began on my porch with just a few students in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1991. They are creating a better world for generations to come."

Started with 12 young people, Roots & Shoots is now active in more than 65 countries — and is still growing. “I want it to go everywhere,” Goodall told PEOPLE in 2017.

For more information on the Jane Goodall Institute, visit its website here.