Today’s Factismal: The world’s most famous primatologist, Jan Goodall, turns 80 years old today.
Back in 1960, there was a clear dividing line between humans and the rest of the animals kingdom. Humans had families, used tools, and communicated with language and animals didn’t. It was something that everyone just took for granted.
Everyone except for Jane Goodall, that is. Jane wanted to learn more about the chimpanzee and, instead of studying them in a lab or a zoo as was the standard at the time, she went out into the jungle where she would watch them every day. The more she studied them, the more she realized that everyone had it wrong.
She saw chimpanzees using tools. She saw chimpanzees eating meat (which was another thing that everyone thought they didn’t do). She saw chimpanzees using language (yet another “they don’t do that” moment). And she saw chimpanzees building families (you guessed it – another hypothesis busted).
At first, other primatologists didn’t want to believe her and said that her work was shoddy. Then they said that she wasn’t objective enough because she had named the chimpanzees instead of just numbering them. Then they said that she had created the very behaviors that she saw. So they went out to the wild to document he chimpanzees and prove her wrong. But a funny thing happened; the other primatologists saw the same things that Jane had seen. And so our understanding of chimpanzees became broader and the line dividing human from animal became fuzzier.
Her work with chimpanzees continues today. If you’d like to get involved, then check out her website at the Jane Goodall Institute: