In July 1960, Dr. Jane Goodall, Ph.D. DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace, made the move from England to what is now Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park to begin an immersive field study of human’s closest living relatives: chimpanzees.
Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), sat down for a virtual conversation with world-renowned conservationist and ethologist Goodall on Tuesday as part of an exclusive in-person first look into the upcoming NHM exhibit about the scientist, Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall.
Goodall opened up about her life story from a child who dreamed of living with animals in Africa to becoming an illustrious ethologist as an adult. In addition to educating the world on the importance of preventing the extinction of chimpanzees, Goodall has inspired generations of scientists and activists to take interest in anthropology and environmental justice.
“Realizing the closest living thing to us today is the chimp gives you an opportunity to stand back and say, ‘well, gosh, we share all these genes with them,’” said Goodall, who stressed that the difference between humans and chimpanzees is intelligence.
During her career, she discovered that chimpanzees made and used tools. Goodall came to better understand chimps as individuals with emotions, personalities, and long-term bonds. This was a radical idea, once rejected by the scientific community and dismissed by her peers at Cambridge University.
“You shouldn’t have given the chimpanzees names. That’s not scientific. They should have numbers,” Goodall said. “You can’t talk about their personality, their mind or their emotion because that’s unique to us. You can’t have empathy with your subject. You’ve got to be objective.”
However, it wouldn’t be until National Geographic began documenting the behaviors of chimpanzees and proving Goodall’s observations that scientists would believe her findings. This ultimately redefined how humans viewed themselves in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom.
“How bizarre that the most intellectual creature to ever rule the planet is trashing its only home,” she said.
Some changes Goodall believes are necessary for the survival of the planet include placing consuming pressure on environmentally harmful and unethical or exploitative industries and banning the practice of conventional farming.
The biographical exhibit will be on view at the NHM from Nov. 7, 2021 to April 7, 2022. It will feature “a life-size replica of Dr. Goodall’s research tent, ‘immersive displays of Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, a hologram of Dr. Goodall sharing her memories from Gombe and “digitally rendered chimpanzees in a multiscreen experience,’ according to the NHMLAC website.
Visitors will be able to wear Goodall’s many hats as a primatologist, anthropologist, peacemaker, conservationist, mentor, and so on, exploring how a young girl from London, England with a love of nature, who recalled sitting in a chicken coop for four hours to observe where eggs came from, became a world-famous ethologist and radical environmentalist.
Tickets are currently available to purchase online on NHMLAC’s website.