Jane Goodall: "Tarzan should have married me"
I was an extremely happy teenager, having grown up in a very close family. Life was wonderful, even though we were all just recovering from the war and no one had any money. I was a shy child, but I loved to have fun and I was very determined. I think I was better at things than I thought I was. My mother made sure I read and read and read. I’d love to find a young person to work with now who is like I was then – I had such a passion.
I became obsessed with the idea of going to Africa when I was a very young girl. I read the Tarzan books and of course I fell completely in love with Tarzan. I felt he’d married the wrong Jane – it should have been me. I was very jealous of Jane. My mum saved up to take me to see a Tarzan film at the cinema but a few minutes in I got very upset and had to be taken out. I said: “That wasn’t Tarzan.” Johnny Weissmuller was not how I imagined Tarzan at all. And to this day I’ve never ever watched another Tarzan film.
I knew I wanted to go to Africa and be with animals, but I wasn’t thinking about it from a career point of view at all. In those days girls were all supposed to wait for the white knight to come along and sweep us up in matrimony and we wouldn’t have to worry about a career. I was just dreaming of the jungle and the wild open plains. When I told people what I wanted to do everyone laughed. Where would I get the money to do that, they said – and anyway, I was a girl! But my mother was amazing. She just said, if you really want something worthwhile, never give up.
It wasn’t reading books or working with chimps that convinced me animals could think and feel. It was my dog, Rusty. We spent every waking hour together. I can still remember clearly the day he died. I was about 20. I was in London out to dinner with my boyfriend and I got the call. I tried to carry on normally but I burst out crying. I was utterly devastated. The deaths of some of the chimps I’ve worked with were very upsetting but it wasn’t the same as Rusty. The chimps were their own selves, they were quite separate – Rusty was part of me. I could never have left England when he was still alive.
When I finally got there, Africa was everything I’d dreamt it would be. I had a wild time on the boat going over – flirted outrageously – then I went up on the train from Mombasa through Kenya. I was picked up at the station and we drove off in the dark and I saw an aardvark and a giraffe. In those days it was still wild, untouched Africa. There were no roads, no trails – just us and lions and rhinos and African wildlife. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It was magic, magic, magic.
If I had been told back then [I would be living] the kind of life I’m living now I would have given up. The idea of speaking to audiences would have utterly terrified me. That wasn’t the life I wanted to live. When I began my work studying primates I knew I was different to everyone else in the field. I was female and I didn’t have a degree and I had my own ideas about animals. When Louis [Leakey, Kenyan archaeologist who raised funds for Goodall’s chimpanzee research at Cambridge University] got me in to do my PhD they told me I’d done everything wrong. They told me only humans had emotions. I was utterly shocked but I remembered Rusty and I knew they were wrong.
In 1950, the year Jane turned 16... President Harry Truman orders the development of the hydrogen bomb... Charlie Brown makes his debut as Charles Schultz’s Peanuts is first published... The Korean War starts... The first TV remote control, the Lazy Bones, is marketed...
The Jane Goodall Institute is an international wildlife and environment conservation organisation. For more information visit www.janegoodall.org