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Dr. Jane Goodall plants seed of hope at UTSC Watts Lecture

Dr. Jane Goodall's advice for young people pursuing their dreams;

Though she’s just about to celebrate her 80th birthday, Dr. Jane Goodall is not one to rest on her laurels.

The world-renowned primatologist and chimpanzee expert, in town as part of a cross-Canada speaking tour, delivered a message of hope to a packed audience at the 37th Watts Lecture. “The world is a mess, there’s no question about it,” she says, “but my biggest reason for hope in the future is the imagination we possess to find solutions to the problems we’ve created.”

Dr. Goodall maintains a busy schedule. When she isn’t traveling the globe for speaking engagements, she's raising awareness for the many causes supported by the non-profit organization bearing her name. And 55 years after she started her research on wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania, she remains on top of current chimpanzee research and recently co-authored a peer-reviewed study.  

From an early age Dr. Goodall was fascinated with animals. It was her dream to one day travel to Africa and study first-hand the exotic animals she read about in books. Without a formal university education and after years of saving money, she finally made the trip to Africa, connecting with famed anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis Leaky who introduced her to the Gombe reserve.

Dr. Goodall, who holds the title of UN Messenger of Peace and Dame of the British Empire, was the first to observe that chimps make and use tools in the wild. “It was a radical discovery because back in the 1960s it was thought only humans used tools,” she says.

The discovery would launch her career, garnering international attention and research dollars in the process. It was also during the peak of her career when she began to focus on advocacy work. After witnessing the immense suffering of chimpanzees held in close captivity and the ecological destruction and extreme poverty experienced by those living next to the Gombe reserve, she became an activist.

“From the beginning it was never about a bunch of arrogant rich white people going into a poor African country and saying ‘this is what we are going to do to better your lives,’” says Goodall. “We worked with local Tanzanians and the government to provide support. That’s how it all began.”

Today the Jane Goodall Institute supports a range of global projects including community-based conservation initiatives, chimpanzee sanctuaries, primatology research, a youth empowerment program called Roots & Shoots and micro-credit programs to support sustainable businesses started by women.

Dr. Goodall spoke passionately about the need to make positive change, no matter how small or incremental. “Many, especially young people, feel hopeless and helpless because they have lost all hope for the future,” she says. 

“It’s simply not true that we can’t do anything about it. If you care about the future then discover your passion, get off your stump and make the world a better place.”

For more information about the programs and volunteer opportunities through the Jane Goodall Institute click here.


Established in 1970, the Watts Lecture series is named in honour of Fred Watts, a geography professor and a founding member of UTSC. Notable past speakers include former Prime Ministers Lester B Pearson and John Diefenbaker; environmentalist and award-winning science broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki; scientist and astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar; and Lieutenant-General the Honourable Roméo Dallaire. 

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