Chimpanzee expert celebrates her 80th at Australia Zoo

CROWDS flocked to Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast on Sunday to catch a glimpse of chimpanzee expert Doctor Jane Goodall.

The seemingly ageless self-taught scientist was interviewed by Ray Martin for the special event which was held to mark her 80th birthday back in April.

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Doctor Goodall, who hails from the UK, spends much of her time flying around the world, speaking to politicians and others about how to better protect animal species for generations to come.

The primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace told Ray when she was a child, she was given a lifelike chimpanzee toy named Jubilee by her father and that her fondness for the toy started her early love of animals.

She still has the large toy sitting on her dresser in London, and said he’s fared pretty well.

Doctor Goodall was in her 20’s when she saved enough money to visit a friend’s friend in the Kenya, Africa in 1957.  She got a job as a secretary and eventually worked up the courage to phone Louis Leakey, a Kenyan archaeologist and palaeontologist.

Jane did not have a degree when she met Leakey for the first time as her family had been very poor.  So she read every book she could get her hands on at her local library and visited the museum on several occasions.  Turns out she knew enough to impress Leakey who proposed that she work for him as a secretary and she was sent to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

Then in 1958, Goodall went to London to study primate behaviour with Osman Hill and primate anatomy with John Napier.  Leakey raised funds and on 14 July 1960 Goodall went to Gombe Stream National Park.  She was accompanied by her mother, and admitted to Ray that she would often leave her mother at the camp from dusk until dawn and even overnight on some occasions.  Doctor Goodall said her mum was not especially fond of the snakes, scorpions and other critters that would crawl into the tent where she slept.  But it was in Gombe where she made her first big discovery, concluding that she had witnessed a chimp use a long piece of grass to fish termites out of their nest, a sign of tool making.  Her discovery forced a worldwide re-think and attracted the attention of National Geographic.

Leakey arranged funding and in 1962, he sent Goodall to Cambridge University where she obtained a Ph.D degree in Ethology.  Her thesis was completed in 1965 under the tutorship of Robert Hinde, former master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, titled “Behaviour of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee,” detailing her first five years of study at the Gombe Reserve.

She told Ray on Sunday she still had reason for hope.  Doctor Goodall spoke of how she has watched the successful re vegetation of forests in villages where people where starving and chimpanzees where at risk of dying out. She spoke of how she sent in a troop of Tanzanians to speak to locals in their language to come up with a plan that would suit both humans and animals alike.

The sprightly 80 year old, who had her straight grey hair tied back in her standard ponytail, encouraged the audience to avoid being overwhelmed by the world’s problems by first thinking locally and doing some small thing to make a difference.  She went on to say that if everyone did something there would be a global benefit.

Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which gives volunteers a chance to get their own “hands on” experience in areas where chimpanzees reside.  The Roots and Shoots program is another one of her ideas and takes experts in to schools to encourage children to act now to make sure animals will be around for future generations and to hopefully influence their parents too.

The video presentation concluded with some footage of Jane and chimpanzee carers releasing an orphaned female back into the wild in Gombe.  The animal walked free from its cage and had a quick look around at its new surroundings before turning back and hopping up on top of its tiny prison.  She turned to Jane and wrapped her long arms around her neck and put her head on her shoulder – holding her in a long embrace before gently releasing her, hopping down and strolling off into the dense forest.  There was hardly a dry eye in the place.  Jane then told the crowd that one of the carers asked how the chimpanzee knew just what Jane had done for her species over these past almost 60 years.

Doctor Goodall was joined onstage by Australia Zoo’s Terri and Bindi Irwin.  Terri spoke of how she had queued for hours to see Jane after seeing her speak in the US when she was younger, even ordering pizza from the line, but she had to leave when she got called in to work.  So yesterday was the first time Terri got to meet her idol face to face.  Little Bob sat and watched from the audience, mum Terri telling Jane he chose her over going to the skate park.

A couple of other famous faces were spotted in the audience yesterday including Ben Zabel and Tim Dormer from Big Brother, proving Jane’s reach is far and wide.

After her talk Doctor Goodall stood and walked to where a young woman was holding a tiny baby and simply said thank you, before walking slowly past the rest of the audience members that had gathered to take photos and tell her how grateful they were for this chance meeting.

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