When it comes to conservation, few names are as recognizable as Jane Goodall. Her time in Africa studying chimpanzees gave us a new understanding of primate behavior and humanized a species that had long been misunderstood.
A new National Geographic documentary, Jane, compiles never-before-seen footage into an intimate portrayal of Goodall's first years in the jungles of Tanzania. Back in a time when women in science were few and far between, the 26-year-old set out to study primates in action, equipped with nothing but a high school education and a profound wonder for the natural world. Met with opposition in all corners (British authorities actually objected to a young woman heading out into the jungle alone at first), Goodall persevered, continuing to visit the creatures she loved so much again and again.
Shot by wildlife filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, whom Goodall would later go on to marry, Jane closely follows the young naturalist and captures gorgeous moments along the way. It shows her experience living among the chimps and emerging with the conclusion that they have complicated, funny, smart, and sometimes aggressive personalities, just like humans. Back then, her findings were ridiculed by many in the scientific community. The idea that animals could share so many similarities to humans was written off as preposterous. It wasn't until last month—more than 50 years after her original expedition—that new research confirmed what Goodall knew all along: Chimpanzees and humans share more similarities than differences.
It's almost hard to believe that the film was shot in the 1960s, and it shows an environmentalist who was truly light-years ahead of her time. Today, in an age when the number of chimps in the wild is down to about 340,000, compared to 1 million in 1900, the species needs Goodall's help more than ever. She continues to be a vocal activist for animal rights, with her foundation's youth program Roots & Shoots stretching across 15,000 chapters around the world from Burundi to China, making it one of the largest conservation movements ever.
At the age of 83, Goodall still travels 300 days out of the year.