Blog Post

The National Geographic Museum Releases a Virtual Tour of its Current Exhibition “Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall”

For the first time, the National Geographic Museum has developed a virtual tour of the "Becoming Jane" exhibition and we invite you to explore with us.

As we collectively navigate a world of change and take a moment to collect our thoughts, what stands out above all else is the importance of community and connection. Families, organizations, individuals, and many others visit the National Geographic Museum each month to experience the wonder of the world: rarely seen artifacts, iconic photography, powerful storytelling and much more.

Unfortunately, during the last several weeks, many institutions have closed to flatten the curve of COVID-19, and our museum is no exception. On March 13, 2020, we made the decision to temporarily close the National Geographic Museum, including our current exhibition, “Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall,” produced in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute. While we understand that this may be disappointing to some, at National Geographic, the health, safety and well-being of our community comes first.

The story of Dr. Jane Goodall—DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace—is a story of extraordinary scientific achievement and inspiration. “Becoming Jane,” showcases Dr. Goodall’s life and legacy and underscores her message of hope, compassion, and altruism. One of Jane’s greatest reasons for hope is the indomitable human spirit. As Dr. Goodall recently said in a video message on her Facebook page:

"Let’s all use the gift of our lives to make this world a better place, especially at this time. Together, we shall get through this really difficult time and we shall have learned what’s truly important in life: family, friendship, love and above all—our health. - Dr. Jane Goodall"

In this spirit, our goal is to continue to share Dr. Goodall’s message with our community and with people around the world—at a time when we need it most. For the first time, the National Geographic Museum has developed a virtual tour of this exhibition and we invite you to explore with us.


As we enter the exhibition, we are introduced to three iconic National Geographic magazine covers featuring Dr. Jane Goodall—from the first cover in 1965 to the most recent in 2017. The covers seamlessly transition to scenery of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Jane conducted her groundbreaking behavioral research on chimpanzees. A computer-generated image (CGI) of a wild chimpanzee greets us with its famous pant-hoot, and Jane begins to narrate her extraordinary story. After her introduction, she explains that we share 98 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees.

“Like us, chimpanzees have individual personalities,” she says. “Some are smart, some very shy, some aggressive, and some are rather mischievous.” All of a sudden, the CGI chimpanzee returns and begins to curiously jump from screen to screen—very mischievous indeed!


We continue with Jane’s formative years as a curious child with an undeniable connection with the animal world. Despite the challenges of growing up in England during World War II, Jane’s mother Vanne supported her early curiosity. When Jane was around four years old, she was determined to understand where eggs came from. One day, Jane disappeared for five hours. Just as her parents were about to call the police, she emerged from the henhouse where she’d been patiently observing the hens—one of her first animal observations—in order to learn how an egg was laid.

Also in this room is one of Jane’s earliest and most beloved treasures—her plush chimpanzee, Jubilee—given to her by her father in 1935 when she was a baby. Her beloved plush was named after the first chimpanzee baby born at the London Zoo, who himself was named in honor of King George V to celebrate his 25th year on the throne—his silver Jubilee.

This room also includes some of Jane’s other prized possessions, including her books! Jane spent much of her time reading in the beech tree at her childhood home. She was captivated by the stories of Doctor Dolittle and Tarzan.

“They inspired me to understand what animals were trying to tell us,” she says. “And instilled within me an equally strong determination to travel to Africa, live with animals, and write books about them.”


We turn the corner to learn about Jane’s journey from England to Kenya. Since Jane’s family had very little growing up, she could only afford to go to secretarial school. However, her dream to study wild animals remained. Jane took various jobs, including working at a film studio and as a waitress in order to save money. At 23, she was finally able to afford a ticket aboard a ship to Kenya to visit a family friend. Her interest in wildlife eventually led to a meeting with famed paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey. As fate would have it, he needed a new secretary.

At the time, Dr. Leakey was making groundbreaking discoveries about human evolution. Since chimpanzees and humans share a recent common ancestor, he believed that learning about chimpanzee behavior would provide insights into the minds of early humans. Dr. Leakey was impressed with Jane’s intelligence and patience. In 1960 he asked Jane to travel to Gombe Stream Reserve in Tanganyika (now Tanzania, having gained its independence in 1961) to observe wild chimpanzees. Her dream of living with wild animals was finally coming true.


Ahead, we walk into a replica of Jane’s research tent in what was then known as Gombe Stream Game Reserve—affectionately dubbed “Chimpland” by Jane. At the time, a young woman like Jane had to have a chaperone, so her mother Vanne—who’d always been supportive of Jane’s dreams—accompanied her to Tanganyika, now Tanzania.

For the next six months, and without any formal training or a university degree, Jane undertook the first formal long-term study of chimpanzees living in the wild. Every day, Jane woke before sunrise and returned to camp after dark. While in the field observing the chimpanzees, Jane took extensive, meticulous notes on their behavior. In the evenings she transcribed her notes into a comprehensive journal by lamplight. The only tools Jane took into the field were binoculars, a notebook, and a pen or pencil. She dressed in the same simple outfit each day: a khaki shirt and shorts, and sandals or sneakers.

Jane and Vanne were lucky to have developed relationships with the local residents, who were crucial to Jane’s early work. Vanne set up a clinic to help nearby community members who had fallen ill. Her kindness created support for Jane’s work, which was returned when both Vanne and Jane contracted malaria. Their cook, Dominic, was invaluable in nursing them back to health. On days when Jane returned from the field feeling dejected at the slow pace of her work, Vanne would cheer her up with stories about the people she met throughout the day.


At the end of the tent we approach a hologram of Jane. We’re invited to take a seat around the campfire and listen as she recalls her memories of Gombe, accompanied by images from the National Geographic archives.

Her story is one of perseverance, dedication, determination and sometimes frustration. The holographic Jane shares how, after weeks of diligent searching for the chimpanzees, she finally found them, only to have them run off every time she got close. However she later discovered a peak near the camp that served as the perfect vantage point to observe the chimpanzees at a distance. Using her spotting scope—on display in the case behind us—she began to learn more and more about their daily behavior. This area is particularly special: the audio you hear reflects real sounds of Gombe at night, including the birds, bugs, breeze, and lapping water of Lake Tanganyika.


Now we enter the museum’s 3D theater to virtually travel to the forests of Gombe National Park. We listen as Jane reads from her field notebook and explains her many challenging days of observation.

“I felt frustration, even despair,” says Jane. “But my determination to succeed grew stronger. I often thought ‘this is where I belong. This is what I came into the world to do.’”

Her patience paid off when she spotted two male chimpanzees. She named one Goliath for his imposing size, and the other David Greybeard, who remains her favorite. Giving research subjects names rather than numbers was unorthodox, and Jane was challenged for some of her methods. But her research has stood the test of time. Her steadfast determination 60 years ago led to significant discoveries that transformed our understanding of chimpanzees, and ultimately humankind.

Jane concludes the video with a final message. “As we continue to study these amazing beings,” she says. “We not only learn more about them, but about ourselves as well.” The Jane Goodall Institute, which celebrates 60 continuous years of research in Gombe this year, continues this vital work.


As we exit the theater, we learn more about Jane’s findings. She discovered that chimpanzees have complex social structures, individual personalities, intelligence, and intricate bonds between mothers and their young. Some of her more significant discoveries are detailed in three holographic videos that bring Jane’s field notebook to life. The illustrations leap from the notebook and explain how Jane discovered similarities between humans and chimpanzees: they make beds (or tree nests), are omnivores, and engage in a kind of warfare.

To our right, we hear the voice of Bill Wallauer, scientific advisor and filmmaker for the Jane Goodall Institute, who explains how chimpanzees communicate through vocalizations and body language. The Chimp Chat interactive feature encourages us to match the many vocalizations of a chimpanzee. If we do so correctly, the chimpanzee on the screen confirms whether we’ve done a “good job” or if we need to “try again.” How well can you match these chimp vocalizations?

Jane’s breakthrough research came when she witnessed a chimpanzee, David Greybeard, use a twig to fish for termites in a mound. This was a revolutionary moment: David made and used a tool! Jane observed David carefully select a piece of grass or a twig and then strip its excess leaves and branches from the main stalk to then insert it into the mound. When he withdrew this simple tool, it was covered in termites for him to eat! Before this moment, toolmaking was thought to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. This breakthrough allowed Jane to secure additional funding to continue her research. It was this groundbreaking observation that changed how we define chimpanzees—and ourselves.


While Jane was learning about the behavior of chimpanzee mothers and their infants, she became a mother herself. In 1964, she married Hugo van Lawick, a photographer assigned to document her work for National Geographic. Three years later, they had a baby boy named Hugo Eric Louis, affectionately referred to as Grub.

“There is no doubt that my observations of the chimpanzees helped me to be a better mother,” Jane recalls. “But, I found also that the experience of being myself a mother helped me understand chimpanzee maternal behavior.”


We enter the next room to learn about the moment when Jane evolved from scientist to activist. From the 1960s and well into the 1980s, Jane helped establish the Gombe Stream Research Center, and she published a number of scholarly articles and books. In 1977, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global community-centered conservation organization that advances her vision and work in more than 30 countries around the world. JGI aims to understand and protect chimpanzees, other apes, and their habitats, and empower people to become compassionate citizens in order to inspire conservation of the natural world.

At a scientific conference in 1986, Jane learned of the plight facing wild chimpanzees all across Africa—they were disappearing. On display is a program from the conference that ultimately led Jane to leave behind her field work in Gombe to dedicate the rest of her life to helping other animals, people, and the environment.

This room highlights a number of strategies developed by JGI to help chimpanzees. A diagram details the four main threats to chimpanzees in the wild: habitat degradation, disease, hunting, and illegal trafficking for the pet/bushmeat trade. An interactive display explains how JGI scientists utilize digital mapping to help understand chimpanzee habitat degradation.

To mitigate these threats, Jane pioneered ‘Tacare,’ a holistic, community-centered conservation program that partners with local communities to create sustainable livelihoods while promoting environmental protection. GIS visualizations of habitat restoration show chimpanzees have three times more forest today than they did a decade ago. We also watch a powerful film about Wounda, who was rescued from the bushmeat trade by JGI’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary and was eventually able to live on one of Tchimpounga’s sanctuary islands.


Jane has five reasons for hope: the passion of young people, the human brain, the resilience of nature, the power of social media, and the indomitable human spirit. She firmly believes in the importance of empowering young people to fight for social change. In 1991, JGI developed the Roots & Shoots program, which provides resources to encourage and motivate young people to take action on issues important to them. Today, the program empowers youth in all 50 states in the U.S. and over 60 countries to use their voices and ideas to address the community issues that matter to them most.

A life-size video of Jane implores us to join her on her mission to make the world a better place. “Every individual matters, has a role to play, and makes an impact on the planet every single day,” she says.

In the room behind her is a massive projection of the “Tree of Hope.” The kiosks in front of the tree ask us to take a pledge to join Jane in her efforts to conserve the natural world by making a positive change in our daily lives. Our pledge becomes a leaf, which is then added to the tree’s branches among all the other pledges made since the exhibition’s opening. Standing back and looking at the tree is a powerful symbol of the collective change we can create when we each do our part.

National Geographic is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with “Jane Goodall: The Hope,” a new documentary celebrating Jane’s unparalleled career. It premieres April 22, at 9/8c on Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo MUNDO, Disney+ and Hulu.

"Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall” is produced in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute. Special thanks to our creative partners Falcon’s Creative Group for developing the exhibition intro video, the hologram of Jane and contributions to the memories video, Chimp Chat, the 3D tour to Gombe National Park, the augmented reality experience, and Jane’s Call to Action; and to NeoPangea for creating the hologram of Jane’s field notebook, the habitat degradation map, and the “Tree of Hope.

For media inquiries please contact Lexie Simpson at

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