Today, April 3, 2009 marks the 75th birthday of Dr. Jane Goodall – world renowned chimpanzee expert, dedicated conservationist, and UN Messenger of Peace. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Global Explorers’ “Citizens of the World” awards ceremony here in Denver where Dr. Goodall was the guest of honor for her Roots & Shoots program (www.rootsandshoots.org).
During her acceptance speech, Jane reminisced about her childhood, sharing stories that highlighted her enthusiasm for science from a young age. When she was a year and a half old, her mother found her with earthworms in her bed because she was trying to figure out how they could walk with no legs. At the mature age of four, she hid in a hen house to discover how eggs could make their way out of a hen – the hens didn’t appear to have any holes big enough. The answer came with patient observation.
Fast forward a little more than two decades to the summer of 1960, and an aspiring research scientist sets off for the African continent. A 26-year-old Jane Goodall arrived on the shore of Lake Tanganyika at Gombe National Park to study the area’s chimpanzee population. Although it was unheard of for a woman to venture into the wilds of the African forest at that time, the trip fulfilled her childhood dream, inspired by Tarzan’s adventures, of working in Africa. Jane’s work in Tanzania would prove more successful than anyone could’ve imagined.
Big breakthroughs in science weren’t immediate for Jane. At first, she had a difficult time making simple observations because the chimps fled in fear every time she got close to them. Her mother accompanied her for the first few months and provided encouragement. The day after her mother left, Jane had her first big discovery. The morning was wet and she was making her way through the damp vegetation when she saw a chimpanzee hunched over a mound of termites. She watched as the chimp used a blade of grass to fish termites out of the nest. The chimp had fashioned a tool and at that time, tool-making was thought to be reserved for only human primates. A sharp line was blurred.
Because of her research, we now know that chimpanzees hunt for meat, use tools, and have diverse personalities. The longer Jane’s research continues, the more it becomes obvious how like us chimpanzees are. We do have more than 99% of our DNA in common.
Travel offers the participant the power of observation – the same power that has driven Jane’s discoveries. Whether you’re watching animals in their natural environment, visiting with indigenous communities deep in the jungle, or sharing a meal with locals in a neighborhood restaurant, observation is often the most rewarding aspect of the traveler experience. That’s why I do it time and time again.
Next month, the co-founder of Reefs to Rockies is headed to western Tanzania to visit Gombe National Park. 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Jane’s arrival at Gombe, and Reefs to Rockies is excited to add this remarkable destination to our portfolio in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted.