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That girl was Jane Goodall, and while she grew up determined to share a forest home with African animals, she may not have expected that doing so would lead her to fame as a naturalist, one who changed forever the way we see the chimpanzee, our closest primate relative. It also captures some of the chimp behaviors, from tender hugs to ruthless killing, that intrigue the scientists who investigate the origins of our own habits. The idea that we have much in common with chimps, including more than 98 percent of our genetic code, is now widely accepted.

But chimp life was still a mystery in , when, on a trip she had saved for years to make, a year old Goodall arrived in Kenya to visit a high school friend.

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Once there, in an effort to realize her dream of studying wild animals, she contacted Louis Leakey, a prominent anthropologist working at a Kenyan museum who would later become famous for his discoveries of early human remains at the Olduvai Gorge. Goodall, an Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus at National Geographic, talked to us about the beauty and importance of the Serengeti, and how JGI is working to protect and preserve the park for generations to come. See an interactive experience on the Serengeti lion.

For me, the Serengeti is one of the seven wonders of the world. Nowhere have I felt more strongly the essence of the Africa of my childhood dreams.

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It is the last intact, fully functioning savanna wilderness ecosystem in the world. Vast herds of zebra and wildebeest migrate north from their calving grounds in the southern part of the ecosystem in February to the [Masai Mara National Reserve] of Kenya for the dry-season months of July and August. The largest herds of savanna elephants in Africa roam its grasslands. The Serengeti—especially during this migration—gives one a sense of Africa when the world was young. The sheer immensity of the short-grass plains is awe-inspiring. To be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles, stretching as far as the eye can see—and the sounds and the smell—this is the essence of Africa.

It stays in your heart forever. Read about the great migrations in National Geographic. The park is also important economically—it generates tens of millions of tourist dollars annually—and most people have it on their "bucket list" as a place to see at least once in their lifetime. Tourists come to the Serengeti to witness the migration, but also to see the large numbers of predators that the wildebeest and zebra support, including lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards.

They are numerous. Highly organized international criminals raid the park to harvest ivory from the elephants.

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Thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes in both Tanzania and Kenya are killed by local citizens [and put up for] sale at local markets. Other threats include deforestation, demand for grazing land, and over-aggressive expansion of tourism. Two parallel initiatives are underway to stem the slaughter of elephants and to establish alternatives for local poachers. It features advanced satellite-mapping technologies, coordinated by Environmental Systems Research Institute Esri , and community development and outreach, using methods pioneered by [JGI].

See pictures of Jane Goodall over the years.

Jane Goodall

Esri is mapping the Serengeti park and adjacent wildlife management areas using geographic information systems GIS. These GIS maps will enable park authority staff to track the movement of the herds and the presence of ivory hunters and other poachers. TANAPA and Esri are also developing a pilot program to identify which aspects of the data flow are most crucial to ranger patrols as they monitor, [track, and capture] poachers.

They are also working on systems to allow data gathered in the field to be transmitted directly to park authorities via mobile devices in real time. Members of the surrounding communities will also benefit directly from geospatial mapping through improved land-use planning. For example, local farmers will be given handheld devices to download satellite data useful for agriculture, such as soil type and moisture.

This information can help farmers know when—and what—to plant for maximum benefit. Although these farmers are already experts, having raised crops such as millet, sorghum, and coffee for generations, the new data will allow them to plant [crops] that are best suited to local microenvironments.

These new technologies are crucial to protect the park, but they are not sufficient. We also need to have the full support of the village communities bordering the Serengeti to ensure the park's long-term survival. Besides the agricultural assistance provided to local farmers, we also aim to improve the general health and education of villagers and help them generate more income. Very little was known about wild chimpanzees at the time. Mister Leakey believed that learning more about these animals could help explain the evolutionary past of humans.

I wouldn't have aspired to that. I mean, I had no degree. I wasn't qualified, I thought. He thought differently. Louis Leakey thought Jane Goodall would be a perfect candidate for the job. She had spent much of her time reading and writing about animals. And, she was not a trained biologist. He believed this would keep her mind open to new discoveries. Observing chimps was not easy work. They were very shy and would run away whenever Miz Goodall came near.

She learned to watch them from far away using binoculars.

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Over time, she slowly gained their trust. She gave the chimps human names such as David Graybeard, Flo and Fifi. Giving the chimps human names was a very unusual method. Most researchers would have identified the animals using numbers instead of names.

But Miz Goodall believed that to understand animal behavior, the observer had to see the animals as individuals, not as interchangeable objects. Watching the chimps, she learned that they have very different personalities, with complex family and social relationships.

Early on in her work at Gombe Miz Goodall made some very important and surprising discoveries. For example, many people then believed that chimpanzees only ate vegetables and fruits. But she observed that they were also meat eaters and skilled hunters. A few weeks later, she made an even more surprising discovery. She saw chimps making and using tools to help them trap insects. It was thought that only humans did this and that this set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Jane Goodall wrote Louis Leakey to tell him about her discovery.

He responded by saying: "Now we must redefine 'tool', redefine 'man', or accept chimpanzees as human. Up to this point, Jane Goodall still did not have a degree. She returned to England to begin working towards a doctorate in animal behavioral science. She received her degree from Cambridge University in nineteen sixty-five. Jane Goodall spent many years studying chimps in this area of Tanzania.