Half a Century Among the Chimpanzees of Gombe

Jane Goodall scans a hill, looking for chimpanzees.

Fifty years ago, Jane Goodall embarked on the adventure of her life.
Living among the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream Reserve of Tanzania, she
was fulfilling a childhood dream of living in Africa and studying animals. After the
chimps became used to her presence, she began to make amazing discoveries,
including the use of tools. Coverage of her expeditions in the pages of National
made the young Englishwoman a household name. Now Goodall
spends her days traveling the globe advocating for humane treatment of animals
and encouraging young people to be better stewards of the planet through her
program, Roots and Shoots.

Goodall rarely gets to spend time with her beloved chimps at Gombe, but despite
the hectic travel schedule, she says she only has to recall those early days
sitting among the chimps to feel a sense of peace:

“Sunset, evening, up in the mountains, is the most beautiful time of the day to me, the heat during the day can be intense, particularly during the rains and the humidity is high—in the evening it is cool—it is peaceful—it is quiet. The mountains are exceptionally beautiful in the evening and at night. When I sit up in the mountains alone in the evening, when I am up in the mountains at night, peeping at a group of chimpanzees, these are amongst some of the most memorable moments…”

Her letters from “Chimpland,” are among the treasures housed in the Society’s
Archives. Goodall was a prolific and talented letter writer who regularly updated
members of the research committee on what was going on at camp. From the
first dismal days when the chimps would flee from her, to her gradual earning of
their trust, to the observation of shocking events such as chimp warfare, it has
always been easy for this archivist to get lost in her letters.

The Archives is open to NGS staff for research purposes and open by
appointment only to non-staff. To get a flavor of Goodall’s epistolary talents,
check out Africa in My Blood, edited by Dale Peterson.


About Cathy Hunter

I have worked as an archivist at National Geographic for over 20 years and particularly love learning more about our old expeditions.
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