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Jane Goodall Institute Honors National Geographic on 50th Anniversary of Gombe Chimp Research

Half a century after beginning her storied field research on the lives of Gombe’s chimpanzees, Jane Goodall and her non-profit institute have bestowed their Global Leadership Award on National Geographic, which funded much of her pioneering work. By Ford Cochran

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As celebrated in the October 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Jane Goodall’s arrival on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in what is now Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. Her decades of painstaking field research on wild chimpanzees there upended long-held beliefs about their behavior–and about the most fundamental distinctions between humans and primates. Combined with her groundbreaking scientific techniques and discoveries, Goodall’s subsequent passionate devotion to wildlife conservation, education, and other humanitarian causes has made her, by any standard, a living legend.

Even before she’d earned her first university degree–not the conventional bachelor’s, which she skipped, but rather a Ph.D. from Cambridge–National Geographic supported her fieldwork with research grants at the behest of her mentor, famed anthropologist Louis Leakey. NG featured Goodall’s work in multiple magazine articles, television specials, and books, and ultimately recognized her lifetime of achievement by naming her an Explorer-in-Residence.

Last night at D.C.’s George Washington University, the Jane Goodall Institute honored the Geographic in turn with its Global Leadership Award for Social Responsibility, given to a “corporation of business that has taken significant steps to better our world through responsible business practices.” Other honorees included Charlize Theron for Responsible Activism in Media and Entertainment, Mark J. Plotkin for Global Leadership, Rick Asselta for Excellence in Education, and three young people–Kai Neander, Jessica French, and Arun Krishnamurthy–for Global Youth Leadership. The three earned recognition for their work with the Jane Goodall Institute’s international youth program Roots & Shoots.

Accepting National Geographic’s award, Executive Vice President Terry Garcia recounted Goodall’s long association with the Society. He noted that her devotion to conservation as well as scholarship paralleled the evolution of the Geographic’s own mission from “the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge”–exploring to learn new things about the Earth, filling in blanks on the map, then sharing what we’d learned through our media–to “inspiring people to care about the planet”–still exploring and sharing, but also motivating people and giving them the tools to help appreciate and conserve what’s extraordinary about our world.

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In one of the evening’s lighter moments, when asked who her dream date would be, Goodall responded with a laugh: “Tarzan, of course!” But she’d never be the meek “Jane” of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ serial novels, she went on to explain.

On a more serious note, when asked what keeps her awake at night, Goodall noted her concerns about human cruelty, and about the future of Gombe’s chimps and other wildlife. “It’s said that we don’t inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children. But that isn’t really true. We’re stealing, stealing, stealing, stealing it from our children and their children and grandchildren.” Photo of Jane Goodall with a chimpanzee by Hugo Van Lawick; photo of Goodall with Terry Garcia by William Atkins courtesy the George Washington University

Ford Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild–a digest of Society exploration, research, and events–and the Ocean Now blog. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.

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More posts by Ford Cochran

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