The home of the chimps

Jane Goodall, c.1965
Photo: CSU Archives/Everett Collection

14th July 1960 was a pivotal moment in the annals of primate research. It was on this day, with nothing more than binoculars, a notebook, her boundless curiosity, and the company of her mother, that 26-year-old Jane Goodall first stepped into the wild and untamed landscape of Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, marking the beginning of an extraordinary journey that would forever change our understanding of the natural world. Lacking formal scientific training, Goodall relied on her innate observational skills and remarkable patience—virtues that would prove invaluable in the years to come. This diary entry documents her arrival at the park, an exhilarating day on which, as luck would have it, Goodall spotted a wild chimpanzee for the first time.

The Diary Entry

14th July 1960

We woke at dawn … Left about 9 and arrived about 11. The fishermen were all along the beaches frying their dagga fish. It looked as though patches of sand had been whitewashed. Above, the mountains rose up steeply behind the beaches. The slopes were thickly covered with accacia and other trees… Every so often a stream cascaded down the valleys between the ridges, with its thick fringe of forest — the home of the chimps.

The lake water was so clear I could scarcely believe it.

Our tent was up in no time, in a clearing up from the fisherman’s huts on the stony beach. We had some lunch together, and then Ma and I spent an exhausting and hot afternoon setting things in order. I say exhausting because I had a foul sore throat, turning into a cold.

Then, about 5 o’clock, someone came along to say some people had seen a chimp. So off we went and there was the chimp. It was quite a long way — too far to tell its sex or even see properly what it looked like — but it was a chimp. It moved away as we drew level with the crowd of fishermen gazing at it, and, though we climbed the neighbouring slope, we didn’t see it again. However, we went over to the trees & found a fresh nest there. — Whether that day’s or the day before I couldn’t tell. We returned to the beach and walked back.

We all had dinner together, and after long chats, & helplessly endeavouring to hear the news, Ma and I thankfully retired to bed.

Further Reading

There exists no published volume of Goodall’s diaries, but on occasion entries pop up on the website of the Jane Goodall Institute, the conservation organisation she founded in 1977. There are, however, two published volumes of her letters: Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters: the Early Years, and Beyond Innocence: An Autobiography in Letters: The Later Years.

In 1991, she established a program under the Institute called Roots & Shoots, which inspires young people worldwide to become changemakers, engaging in projects that safeguard their communities, wildlife, and the broader environment.

Jane Goodall’s TED Talks are all excellent and can be watched online.

In 2020, when the pandemic hit, the National Geographic Museum released a virtual tour of their exhibition, Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall. You can see it here.

Jane Goodall at Wikipedia

Diary entry courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute.

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