🗞 Fitting in: How Jane Goodall learned to watch our animal cousins

Peace Hero: As a girl, she watched and learned from our fellow creatures; today she works for peace between humans and Nature

Jane Goodall was 5 when she decided that she just had to know where eggs came from.

She knew they came from hens. But how?

So she toddled off to the hen-house. She crawled inside. The hens clucked a bit. But they soon got used to the quiet little girl in the corner. Jane watched.

Curious Jane toddled off to the hen-house…

Hours passed. Jane watched. Finally, a hen laid an egg.

So that’s where they come from!

She ran back to her house to tell her mum. Her mum was quite cross – she’d been looking for Jane for hours, terribly worried something had happened to her. But she saw how excited Jane was – and so she sat down to listen to her.

People have been listening to Jane’s tales of the natural world ever since – for more than 80 years!

An animal childhood

Jane grew up loving animals. When she was a baby, her father gave her a toy chimpanzee. She took him everywhere with her. Little did her dad know how important chimps would be in Jane’s life.

Even today, Jane goes everywhere with a toy monkey. Hear her explain where this one came from, why he’s called Mr. H – and what the ‘H’ stands for!

When she was a child, growing up in England, Jane also loved dogs and horses.

An African dream

She dreamed of going to Africa to study animals. But when she left school, Jane had to get a job.

Then one day a friend invited her to visit her parents’ house in Africa. Jane said yes, even though in those days it was a really long journey – 2 or 3 weeks on a ship!

In Africa, she met a famous scientist who asked her to help him study chimpanzees – some of mankind’s closest relatives. It was dream come true!

Jane got to know chimps well!
Credit: Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic
Moving in with cousins

How do you think Jane found out how the chimpanzees lived? Well, she went to live with them, of course!

Like those hens when she was little, the chimps were a bit bothered at first, and tried to keep away. But Jane watched and waited.

I wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets through patient observation. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could.

Jane Goodall
Meet David Greybeard, Jane’s first “friend” among the chimps
Credit: Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic
David the Tool-maker

Jane learned things no one else knew. One day she saw a chimpanzee called David Greybeard do something special – something that scientists thought only humans did. Thanks to Jane, David helped change the way we think of our place on planet Earth.

David Greybeard yanked a thin branch from a tree. He stripped the leaves off. Then he stuck the stick into a termite mound (that’s a nest of termites, an insect a bit like an ant).

David pulled his stick back out. Termites were clinging to it. He licked them off. Yum! Termites are a tasty treat for chimpanzees.

Watch a chimp “go fishing” for termites and hear Jane explain.
Not so special people

Jane realised that David had made a tool. Until then, scientists thought that we humans were totally unique – one of a kind – because only we make tools to help us do things.

Jane told them they were wrong. Quite a lot of stuffy old scientists didn’t much like being told they were wrong by this young woman who hadn’t been to university. But she was right.

The lesson? Humans are special, but not so special. We share our planet with billions of living creatures and plants who have just as much right to it as we do.

Raising the alarm

Jane went on to discover how much danger the chimpanzees and other wildlife were in from humans chopping down forests, building more and more machines, making the land and sea dirtier and dirtier.

She warns people to treat our shared planet with more respect. And she helps people see that our selfishness is hurting us too – for example, from things like coronavirus. (See our story on Jane’s ideas about COVID-19 here.)

The United Nations, the club for the world’s governments, made Jane one of its Messengers of Peace. For our own good, she says, we must make peace with Nature.

… and finding solutions

Jane also shows young people that there are solutions – we can all make a difference.

Her organisation for children, called Roots & Shoots, is getting ready to celebrate the International Day of Peace on September 21. We at WoW! will be joining them.

Jane shows children how to talk like a chimp in this Roots & Shoots video. Now it’s your turn!

Until then, we hope you’ve enjoyed our short summer series on Peace & Peacemakers.

If you haven’t done so yet, read here our story on how we can all be peacemakers, here for how childhood lessons helped Nelson Mandela prevent a war in South Africa and here for how Marshall Rosenberg invented a way we can make peace with those around us every day.


We human beings have turned the planet into our toy, harming other life on Earth; now we find that hurts us too.


Jane Goodall showed us how to see ourselves as part of Nature; caring for our home planet is good for us too.

Grown-ups’ follow-up

You can read a fuller biography of Jane on the website of the Jane Goodall Institute. You’ll also find links there to the Institute’s other activities, including its preparations for this year’s International Day of Peace, on September 21. Our summer series on peace and peacemakers has been run in partnership with them.

You might also find useful the Jane Goodall Institute site in Belgium.

And you can find out more about Jane’s youth organisation Roots & Shoots here. Like WoW!, they believe that children can have an impact in changing their world and encourages them to have confidence in their own talents.

Finally, treat yourself to a thoughtful 10-minute interview Jane gave to Canadian television:

Alastair editor of WoW!

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