Primatologist shares stories from lifetime of research

Famed primatologist Jane Goodall greeted her audience in Lisner Auditorium Monday night by imitating the chimpanzee sounds she first heard in a Tanzanian jungle 50 years ago.

Since her first exploration in 1960 – which Goodall described as “ridiculous and crazy” – she has transformed the world’s understanding of chimpanzees and their behavior. She was on campus Monday night to hand out seven Global Leadership Awards to recognize contributions others have made to the betterment of the planet.

Awardees included actress Charlize Theron – who was not present at the ceremony – and the National Geographic Society, among others.

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Goodall spoke about her experiences in chimpanzee orphanages, her struggles as a young female scientist and her dream date – Tarzan.

“People were skeptical because I was a woman,” Goodall said of her first excursion, adding that she was only allowed to go on the trip because her mother would be accompanying her.

“My mom was the world’s best chaperone,” Goodall said.

On one of her initial excursions, Goodall said she was walking along the shore when a black mamba, one of the world’s most poisonous snakes, washed up on her foot.

“I knew there was no anti-venom, and I couldn’t do anything but wait to see what it would do,” she said. After a fierce stare-down, the snake was swept away by another large wave and Goodall was unharmed. “I’ve never been so relieved.”

A big fan of coffee, the British native said when traveling in the U.S., she is forced to make her own coffee.

“The coffee you have here is not very good,” she whispered. “We call it cricket pee.”

Goodall has devised a creative system to get her coffee fix on the go, by using pantyhose as a filter.

“If you squeeze out the pantyhose really well, you can even wear it again,” she said.

When asked about her favorite drink, Goodall quickly replied, “Whiskey. No ice.”

Goodall also spoke about her work over the past two decades, which has focused on developing Roots and Shoots, a youth-led campaign to protect the natural world. The organization has spread to 151 countries, with the most recent chapter established at GW this month.

“The power of our youth is huge,” Goodall said, explaining that Roots and Shoots members work to spread her message of sustainability. “They’re my greatest hope for the future.”

When asked about the role of youth in sustainability efforts, Goodall said, “If I have a mission in life, it’s giving people hope, and if I have hope, it’s because of the youth.”

But to the young crowd, she cautioned, “You’ve got a big job ahead of you.”

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