National Geographic Documentary: ‘Jane’, a biography of Jane Goodall.

A week ago, 12 Mar 2018, the National Geographic Channel broadcast a documentary that it had produced about the life and work of the World renowned naturalist Jane Goodall. Directed by Brett Morgen the film consists of an interview of Jane Goodall as a voice over for footage of her throughout the career. Much of the film used was derived from more than 100 hours of previously unreleased footage taken by Hugo van Lawick, Jane’s longtime collaborator and husband. The image below shows Goodall and van Lawick together with their son Hugo, nicknamed Grub.

Jane Goodall with Hugo van Lawick and son Hugo (Credit: The Times)

Now everybody knows that Jane Goodall has revolutionized our views of mankind’s closest relations in the natural world the chimpanzees by her intimate and long term observations of a group of chimps who resided in Gombe national forest in Tanzania. What few people know however is that Jane was initially sent to Gombe by the noted paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey as a part of his study of early human evolution. You see Leakey believed that the closest we could come to being able to study the behavior of our ancestors of two or three million years ago would be to study our closest surviving relatives the chimpanzees. The image below shows Louis and Mary Leakey with their most famous find the skull of the early hominid Zinjanthropus.

Louis and Mark Leakey with Zinjanthropus (Credit: History Channel)

Leakey distrusted the prevailing theories about human evolution, indeed even in the 1960s there were still anthropologists who believed that humans had originated not in Africa but in central Asia despite there being absolutely no evidence to support this hypothesis. So for the job of observing chimpanzees Leakey choose his young English secretary, a woman with no university degree but who did love animals. He choose Jane Goodall.

The best part of the documentary was in fact Jane talking about her first months in Gombe. Leakey had been able to secure only enough money for Goodall to spend six months studying the chimpanzees there and any more money, and time for further study would depend on what, if anything she could discover about chimp behavior.

Upon arriving in Gombe Jane was immediately in her element. She genuinely did love animals and the outdoors and she was very happy spending her days walking around and observing the Tanzanian forests. Trouble was that she may have loved being with the chimps but they certainly didn’t return that love, not at first.

For the first five months Jane could only study her subjects from afar, the chimps ran off any time she tried to get close. By binoculars and telescope she was learning some interesting details of chimp behavior but nothing Earth shattering. Jane was quite concerned that her money would run out before she could get a real close-up look in the private lives of chimpanzees. (How many scientific discoveries do you think have been lost because of a lack of money???)

Then one day an older male chimp whom Jane had named David Graybeard did not flee as she came closer. In a breakthrough that lasted several hours she watched David Graybeard from a distance of only a few meters. Within days the entire troop had ceased to be afraid of her and Jane was able observe her subjects as close up as she desired.

It was also the male David Graybeard who gave Jane her first major discovery. One day she watched in astonishment as the chimp took a thin reed and, licking it first, he shoved it down a hole into a termite mound and when he pulled it out he gobbled up the termites that clung to it. The image below shows a chimpanzee using a reed as a tool.

Young Chimpanzee ‘Fishing’ for termites (Credit: BBC)

At that time no one thought chimps used tools but there he was, using that reed as a tool to obtain some necessary protein for his diet. A few days later Jane watched as several of the chimps not only used reeds and twigs to pull out some termites but were actually altering their twigs, stripping off the leaves in order to make them thinner and pointier. They were modifying if not making tools. This was the discovery Jane needed and when she announced her find the National Geographic Society, which had supported Leakey for many years, gave her all the money she required to continue her work.

There was one catch, the Geographic wanted a professional nature photographer to come and document her work. The man they sent was Hugo van Lawick who would become Goodall’s husband as well as chronicler.

In the years that followed Jane made other important discoveries. She watched as the male chimps hunted small monkeys for food, they actually succeed a higher percentage of the time than lions do. She also observed our relatives as they committed murder, even fights between groups that can only be described as wars.

In all Jane Goodall discovered that chimpanzees are very much like us. They can be tender and nurturing, Jane says she learned a lot about being a mother from a female chimp named Flo. Yet at the same time they can be viscous and brutal. All in all their behavior is not very different from our own.

No one can doubt that Louis Leakey made a terrific choice in selecting Jane Goodall to carry out a study of our relatives the chimpanzees. And you’ll be making a terrific choice if you take some time to watch The National Geographic Channel’s documentary ‘Jane’!


Star Talk for 15Oct17. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with Jane Goodall.

Last night on Star Talk, seen Sundays on the National Geographic channel, host Neil deGrasse Tyson had a very interesting and important interview with Jane Goodall, the noted anthropologist and one of the most influential scientists of the last fifty years. Doctor Goodall is of course best known for her intimate studies of Chimpanzee behaviour, studies that have taught us as much about ourselves as our closest relatives.

Neil began the interview by asking Dame Jane, she has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, how she first got interested in science. Goodall’s answer was rather typical of many scientists. From her earliest days she remembers liking animals and when she was four she and her family visited a relative’s farm where she was given the job of collecting eggs.

After asking the adults where the hole was that the eggs came from, and being given an unsatisfactory answer, Jane proceeded to follow a hen into the henhouse and watched her for four hours. She was gone for so long that her family thought she was lost, the police were even called. Still, she found out where the eggs came from. The image below shows Neil with Jane Goodall.

Jane Goodall with Neil deGrasse Tyson (Credit: Star Talk, National Geographic Channel)

Every time I’ve seen Jane Goodall interviewed she never fails to mention her mentor the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, the man whose discoveries at Olduvai Gorge in what is now the nation of Tanzania gave us the first evidence for the earliest tool using hominids.

In the early 1960s Leakey had learned much about the physiology and tool making abilities of those hominids but “behaviour doesn’t fossilize” and he realized that the best way to understand the behaviour of our ancestors would be to study our closest relatives the Chimpanzees.

Leakey reasoned that any common behaviour shared between ourselves and chimps would probably also be shared with our ancestors. The person he choose for the job was Jane Goodall, who didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree at the time, but she liked animals.

Goodall spent the next five years at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania revolutionizing the field of animal research by almost becoming a member of a group of Chimpanzees. Her biggest discovery in those years was the tool making ability of chimps, behaviour that at that times was believed only humans possessed. The image below shows the first photograph of a Chimpanzee using a tool it had made for catching termites from a mound.

First Photograph of a Chimpanzee using a Tool (Credit: Star Talk, National Geographic Channel)

Goodall then returned the UK to get her doctorate, her thesis was ‘The Behaviour of Free Living Chimpanzees’. After receiving her degree Goodall returned to Gombe and spent over thirty years studying the Chimpanzees there. She made many more discoveries, such as the fact that chimpanzees hunt; by cooperating they’re actually successful more often than lions are.

Goodall also saw the dark side of chimp behaviour, murder, rape and even war between different groups. Jane Goodall certainly fulfilled Louis Leakey’s desire to learn about the behaviours we share with the chimpanzees.

As always Neil deGrasse Tyson was joined by a couple of guests in the studio at the Hayden planetarium. One was the comic Chuck Nice, a frequent guest who always succeeds in bringing a few laughs to the discussion. The other guest was Anthropologist Jill Pruetz who had clearly been inspired by Jane Goodall in her early life. Doctor Pruetz, who is studying Chimpanzees in Senegal, discussed one aspect of chimp behaviour that even Doctor Goodall missed; Culture!

You see Doctor Goodall spent her career studying a single chimpanzee group in a small area. It wasn’t until other researchers like Doctor Pruetz studied chimps in other parts of Africa that Chimpanzee culture became evident. The evidence of different types of tool use, different styles of nest building and other behaviours, even differences in vocal calls (Language!!!) Show that chimps in different regions have differences that can only be described as cultural. Yet another way that chimpanzees resemble us.

Jane Goodall’s legacy lays in illustrating humanity’s true place in the World, in showing us how we are not as different as we’d like to think we are. The show Star Talk continues to be a place where scientists like Jane Goodall, and their discoveries can be discussed.